Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:2-4 NKJV
It's the most wonderful time of the year...well, it's supposed to be anyway. It can be a very painful time of year. It can be a time of sorrow, of loneliness, and of depression. Yes, it is the season when we pause to thank God for HIs blessings and a time to rejoice for the giving of the greatest gift that was ever given. But there are people who are hurting. There are people that are facing struggles in their lives that they have no idea how to face, much less survive.
I have always loved this time of year. I never understood how anyone could be depressed or sad during this holiday season of family, thanksgiving, and celebration of the birth of Christ. And here I am at the close of the year 2013, and I understand. I find myself in a place I have never been before. I find myself stripped of who I thought I was and left to figure out who He means for me to be. I find myself in a place of not feeling completely safe anywhere, at least not safe enough to bare my heart. I have lost trust in many, and find myself truly alone with some things known only to God. The girl who loves Christmas and puts up too many trees, doesn't care if she has even one. I am broken.
So what does a Jesus girl do when she feels this way yet knows that this season was made to celebrate Him? She sits up until two in the morning, cradled in her Daddy's lap, and cries. She reminds Him how she once loved this season so dearly. She reminds Him of what He has taken and what He has allowed Satan to take. She reminds Him that she has tried to live for Him, and yet He seems to have forgotten all that. She reminds Him that she can only take so much and yet the arrows continue from all directions . Then she cries some more and she remembers that there is nothing she can do to be good enough to deserve even a look in her direction from the Most High God, She remembers that God gives and He takes away. She remembers that Satan is real and powerful and that God allows human choice and human love is not like God love. She remembers that the Bible promises that Satan will make things difficult for someone determined to serve her God, and so she stops crying long enough to pray for a hedge of protection around her children to shield them from Satan's attack, to at least give them some time to heal. She prays that she herself can protect them in her own strength in some ways, while praying for God's protection in all areas of their lives.
And then He speaks....quietly and tenderly. He whispers 2 Corinthians 1:2-4. He reminds me that He is my God, the God of all comfort. He whispers that He has always been there for me and that He will continue to be my Hope and Strength. He then whispers that I will be comforted and am required to comfort others with the same comfort that He has given me. He reminds me that this year of loss, this year of hurt and confusion, this year of unexplainable loneliness, has taught me many things. He reminds me of His strong arms that held me through each and every heartache. And then He tells me to take what I have learned and give to others the comfort and love that I so want for myself. He encourages me to look around me....really look around me and see the pain. He wants me to see those who are lonely. He wants me to see those who are suffering the loss of a loved one this holiday season. He wants me to see the abused and hurting child. He wants me to reach out to the wife who feels alone and to the one who has been left alone. He wants me to love the widow and the elderly. He wants me to notice the woman who is just struggling to keep her head above the water, and the one who seems to have it all, but knows that she is coming apart.
And so what did I learn? I learned that my Father wants me to give what I need. I learned that my own healing may come from my trying to help others to heal. And so in the wee hours of the morning, I made a commitment to the God who formed the universe and who dries my tears. This holiday season will be the year of 100 gifts. Not the ones already on my list, but other gifts to other people, some who would never find themselves on my Christmas list. Not necessarily a physical gift, but probably in some form. A gift to someone who is hurting or experiencing a stressful time. A gift that says I'm thinking about you or you are in my prayers. A gift that says God loves you and I am glad that you are in my life. A gift of comfort. friendship, and kindness.
And so I face this holiday season with its insecurities and pain. I am determined that I will celebrate this wonderful time of year. I will not let Satan rob me of its joy. Yes, it's been the hardest year of my life. But I serve a God who loves me and cherishes me, and during this season of remembrance of His blessings I will celebrate even among the tears. This will be the year of 100 gifts as I celebrate the greatest Gift of all.
Then they cry out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He brings them out of their distresses.
He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still. Psalm 107:28-29 NKJV
I woke up to the storm. I didn't realize that it had grown into a storm. I had seen the clouds, but clouds seem to always be present. Even the big fluffy cumulus clouds can temporarily hide the sun, but I have grown to accept that the clouds come and go. This year has been particularly cloudy.
I woke up to a tsunami. This wasn't the usual light rain and gray skies. This wasn't even like when I had experienced the earthquakes or tornadoes. This was a full blown tsunami. And as if that wasn't enough, I found that I had been relocated to a tiny island in the middle of an ocean waking up alone to a tsunami. I wasn't sure how or when I had gotten here, but I knew who had brought me. The island was incredibly small. There was no shelter anywhere on the island except for one tall, skinny palm tree that barely had any leaves and not a lot of girth. There are not a lot of things that I truly fear, but I found myself in a place where fear abounded. All I knew was to hold on to that tree.
I'm still here on my little island alone with this tree. At first it didn't look like that much to me. It seemed to be too skinny to hold up during a storm like I am finding around me. It wasn't a tree of great girth really, although it had grown to be quite tall. Turns out it's roots were deep and well grounded which surprised me with it growing on such a tiny island. Turns out that it was made just right for a storm. It could bend to the point of almost breaking, and yet it's roots and strength were able to bounce back meaning it could bend, but not break. And so I hold to the tree. It's size is just right for me to be able to wrap both my arms and legs around it. I have even found that sometimes my head can rest against it in such a way that I find some shelter from the wind and rain even though the leaves are few.
So who brought me to the island? His name is Satan. He knows me better than most. He knows where my strength resides, yet he knows the weak places and it is there that he works. He picked this island just for me. He knew what I feared the most. He left me here with no boat and what appeared to be no shelter. He saw the tree, but he didn't know what it was made of, or Who planted it. At face value, the tree doesn't look like much, but the Maker of the tree knew what He was doing.
The storm is rough and raging. The tree bends under the pressure of the wind and the tremendous waves that insist on beating it over and over. Sometimes as I hold on to the tree, it bends so close to the ground that I am sure it cannot withstand much longer. But it's roots are deep....apparently deep enough to hold on even in the biggest storm. And it's tall rather than having a large girth which seems like a weakness, but you see it reaches toward Heaven. That tree has grown toward the Light. Beyond the roots and the need for the Light, the Maker used something different when making this tree. Something that Satan couldn't see or understand. This tree that stood vulnerable alone on this island was what he could see, but he didn't understand that the tree isn't made of things that break very easily. The tree consists of years of love, commitment, and learning how to ride out a storm. And so I will continue to hold on to my tree....this tree of faith.
Sometimes I listen to others tell about their life with God and I don't understand. I listen as they talk about not really feeling threatened by Satan and some act as if he doesn't exist at all. I hear them talk about these preachers that they hear on television and how it seems as though they believe that God just sits on His throne in Heaven and waits to hand out rewards and blessings.
A member of my extended family once told me that she wanted to introduce me to God. I was pretty insulted because I've known Him personally for about 34 years now and her introducing me just didn't seem necessary. I wasn't really interested in anything she had to say, but there were times when I was caught in situations where she got a chance to share with me about God. I don't know Him like she does. She knows someone who can be manipulated by the actions of humans. She knows someone who rains down blessings on those who produce magic formulas. She believes that if you do A, B, and C, then God has to follow up with D and E. She believes that if you tithe, read your Bible methodically, go to church, and hand out some tracts from one of her Word of Faith ministers that God owes you rewards for your efforts.
She's right....I don't know him. I have no idea who he is.
I have to be honest. The hardest thing I have ever done in my life is to serve God. What do I mean by that, you ask. You see, the God I know is the God of the Bible. I don't remember ever reading where you could work a formula with God. I know a God who is not controlled by human forces. He is not swayed by our futile attempts to make Him anything less than what He is,
I know the God of Job. I know the God who asked Satan where he had been, knowing the answer was that he was roaming the earth seeking whom he might devour. And what did God do? He pointed out His servant Job, a man who although he wasn't perfect, was an upright man who tried his best to serve God. God basically said, "Have you checked out my boy named Job? Have you seen hid dedication to me?" And Satan said of course he loves you, why wouldn't he? And what did God do? He basically gave Satan power to touch anything Job had except he couldn't take his physical life. God sat back and let Job lose everything he had. Yes, he rewarded him beyond measure, but he let him be tested in ways that most of us could not hope to withstand. He allowed him to be pruned so he could grow and influence those who would study his life.
I know the God of Hosea. Hosea was a man of God. God told him to take a wife....an immoral, promiscuous woman who had no capability to be faithful to him. Hosea followed God and found himself in a relationship with a woman who mothered children for him to father that were not all his. She was restless and unfaithful, and what did God ask Hosea to do again and again? Hosea was to take her back, just like God did for Israel and for us. Hosea represented a picture of God's love for us.
I know the God of David. The God who saw the heart of a simple shepherd boy and chose him to be a king. The God who taught David to trust Him...enough trust to face a giant that no one else was willing to face. The God who loved David through his battles....both the successful ones and the not so great ones. The God who gave him consequences along with blessings.
I know the God of Paul. I know the God who watched a man named Saul who vehemently hated Christians. A man who had such passion and dedication to persecute the people of God. And what did God do with this man? He chose him. He met him one day on a road and changed his name to Paul. He took the same passion and dedication this man possessed to do wrong, and channeled it to make him a great influence on generations of Christians. He used who he was but changed his direction.
I know the God of Michelle. He has given her an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with the Most High God. He has taught her that He is in control and she isn't. He has taught her that sometimes you have to be hurt in order to grow. He has taken someone who had no real story and given her a story that has become her own. He has shown Himself to be a God who loves unconditionally and without reservation. He loves with the love of a parent. Sometimes He applauds from the stands, sometimes He brings out the paddle, sometimes He says no to something she really wants, and always He waits to hold her when she cries. She knows a God who has allowed her to walk through the valley of the shadow, yet never left her alone. She would rather walk in the deepest darkest hell with Him, then to go alone in any glorious light. He is hers, and most importantly, she is His, and nothing else matters.
What shall I render to the Lord
For all His benefits toward me? Psalm 116:12 KKJV
What can I give God to repay Him for all the things He has done for me? The truth is that I can never begin to repay Him for what He has given me, but there is something that He wants, and that is my heart. He wants me to give Him my life.
As the holiday season approaches, our hearts and minds tend to turn more toward serving others. The approaching holidays cause us to think of others and what it is we can do to help. It is often during this time of year that we turn our focus to where it should be all year long.
Sometimes we find ourselves so stressed and busy during this time, that we miss what this time of year is really all about. This year I have found myself facing the holiday season in the middle of so many changes in my life. This has always been my most favorite time of year, and yet so many things are different. I could easily sit back and make excuses why this year I am taking a year to rest, but I can't. You see, God has blessed me beyond measure. He has continued to have His hand on my life not only in the good times, but also in the most difficult. So in the words of the writer of Psalm 116:12, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?"
There is a song entitled "Light Your World" that is sang by New Song. The chorus is as follows:
"Light your world, let the love of God shine through
In the little things you do, light your world
And though your light may be
Reaching only two or three, light your world."
I think what God wants most from us, other than to be saved, is to demonstrate His love toward others. I believe that God asks us to show Him our gratitude for the things He has given us by sharing his love with others. I also believe that He calls us to get out of our comfort zone and reach those that frankly we would rather not. I believe sometimes it isn't enough to just drop a toy or two into the donation box, but to get our hands dirty in the helping.
So this holiday season, how will you show God gratitude for all the blessings that He has bestowed on you? Will you give of your time? Will you get out of your comfort zone and be the hands and feet of Christ? Will you be like the little boy in the song and visit a widow? Or maybe God is telling you something like He is me,...start celebrating this holiday season by blessing those who have hurt you.
I encourage you to pause and ask God what it is that He wants from you. Ask Him what you can do to show His love. Whatever He asks, do it. Be a person who says yes to God. You will find that if you follow His lead, the blessings will be too many to count and you find yourself asking the question, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?