Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Surviving Christmas

Dear Friends,

Christmas time, for some, is one of the hardest times of the year. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as the loss of a loved one, heartbreak, poor health, financial worries, difficult family relationships, loneliness etc. Then, on top of this, is the guilt we feel for not being filled with the Christmas spirit as we think should be.

In these situations where is the peace and joy that God promised us?

Coming up to Christmas I can struggle with mixed emotions. I am looking forward to the four of us (my husband, Jason, myself and our kids) all being together. But I'm also feeling physically unwell at the moment. This can take the edge off of things, and if I'm honest, does also mean that a part of me dreads this season. I would like to be really looking forward to Christmas, preparing our home for visitors, wrapping presents, baking treats etc.  But it's hard when you just don't feel well and don't have the strength or capacity to do these things.

I thought today I would share with you some tips that you may or may not feel are helpful for surviving Christmas. Actually, not just surviving it, but actually in some degree be blessed by it. So that we can experience the peace and joy that comes from God. 

"Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, [the shepherds] and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:9-14 (NLT)

(The following suggestions are ones that I have learned over time to put into practice and are also ones that I am still learning to practice.)

So here goes:

1. Stop comparing your Christmas festivities with someone else's or with the picture in your head of what Christmas should be like. Don't think you need to make it a perfect Christmas. Or that you need to do it all or have it all. Cut yourself some slack. I tell myself that although I would like to do some Christmas baking, I need to accept that it's not possible this year and actually my family won't be missing out just because I haven't done extra baking. In fact, we will be better for it as I won't have pushed myself past my own limits.

I could try to force myself to do all the things I think should be done. I could put myself under far too much pressure to achieve the perfect Christmas. But if I did, I would be in no fit state to enjoy any of our celebrations. I would far rather have stored up a bit of energy so that I can be there for my family and we can enjoy the day together.

2. Learn to let some things go. It really doesn't matter in the scheme of things if I'm not able to clean our home from top to bottom. (I would probably be the only one to notice the dust anyway!) The layer of dust can wait till after the Christmas season. Learn to prioritise - recognise what is important and let go of the less important stuff.

3. Buying Christmas gifts - Jason and I spread much of this out during the year and then keep it safe in our 'Present Cupboard' where we also keep a list of what we've bought and who it's for. The New Year's sale is always great for getting bargain gifts, and we also look out for gifts when we are on holiday. This cuts out a lot of the stress of having to buy everything at the last minute and fighting your way through the bustle of crowds of shoppers. There's always some presents we need to buy nearer to Christmas and rather than go alone I find it so much more enjoyable going with Jason and making a day of it and a time to enjoy each others' company. Who could you go shopping with? A good friend? A spouse? A son or daughter?

4. Learn to delegate (yes, I do know how hard this is for some of us!) Don't try to do everything yourself. Ask for help. Accept your strengths and also your weaknesses. For example, Christmas dinner is now always given to Jason, to do. He's good at it. It's his gifting. It's definitely not mine. I don't need to give myself the unnecessary stress or hassle of trying to do something which is not my gifting. I am, however, very good at cleaning the kitchen once the meal is over.

5. Make the most of the holiday season to spend some quality time with family and friends. Enjoy the gift of having time together. Create some wonderful memories and traditions together. Be there for each other. What I remember most from my Christmases over the years is not who got me which present but who we shared Christmas with and our time together. Such as having my grandparents stay with us over night Christmas Eve when my sister and I were children, so that we could then enjoy opening our presents all together the following morning.

6. Take time to focus (or refocus) on God and his Son. In the midst of it all, don't forget what it's all about. Without Jesus there would be no reason to have Christmas. I've written before how I find listening to Christian music a great blessing. Well, this time of year, I like to listen to carols. Going to Christmas events at church also helps me to focus on the 'Reason for the Season'. I am looking forward this week to going  to our 'Carols by Candlelight' Service.

During holiday seasons, we can be so busy that our daily time alone with God can be easily nudged out if we're not careful. So I still find it vital to spend some time alone with him and re-focus my attention on God.

When God the Father sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to the earth, he sent us the gift of love. His gift of love is a gift that keeps on giving. It's also a gift we can share with others. My prayer for me and you is that we will again experience God's gift of love this Christmas and that we will have the opportunity to share that love with others this Christmas time. 

"For God so [greatly] loved and dearly prized the world, that He [even] gave His [One and] only begotten Son, so that whoever believes and trusts in Him [as Savior] shall not perish, but have eternal life." John 3:16 (AMP) 

To Think About:
Which of the suggestions mentioned above do you think will be helpful for you to put into practice?

How can you focus (and re-focus) on God and his Son, Jesus?

If you have ideas on what helps you during the Christmas season you may like to share them in the 'Comments' section, so that others can also be.


Friday, 9 December 2016

Have you ever treated God like some kind of Father Christmas figure?

Dear Friends,

As a child, I loved the run up to Christmas. When we were young, my sister and I would always write a letter to Father Christmas to tell him know what we would like for Christmas. My list usually consisted of a Sindy doll, some notebooks, some reading books (mostly Enid Blyton ones), and chocolates. I would also end with ... and anything else you (Father Christmas) might like to give me. (Just in case I had forgotten something.) I didn't want to miss out on anything that he might like to give me! It was always exciting to go down the stairs on Christmas morning to our living room and see the room transformed with presents near the tree.

Remembering childhood Christmases has made me wonder if there are times when I begin to think of God as I do about Father Christmas. I wonder if there have been times, even without realising it, when you too have muddled up the two in your thinking?

Father Christmas is usually only thought about at Christmas time. He is pretty much ignored the rest of the year.  As children, we only thought about him when it came to telling him what we wanted for Christmas from him. Our communication with him was all about what he would give us. Giving him a list of our wants, even if we did try to make it a very polite letter with a please and thank you.

Do you only think about God at set times throughout the year - Christmas, Easter, weddings, the occasional Sunday etc?  Do you only pray when you want something from him?  Do your prayers consist of a shopping type list of things you would like him to do for you?  Or is he an important part of your everyday life. Someone who you share your hopes and dreams, your fears and your worries, your joys and your sorrows with. Do you seek his wisdom and guidance and help as well as presenting your requests before him? 

"Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God." Philippians 4:6 (AMP)

Is your relationship with God a two-way thing, in which you give yourself to him and choose to live for him rather than for your own selfish desires?

When children write to Father Christmas they write with the expectation that he will bring them what they have asked for.  For many it doesn't enter their heads that he might not give them just what they've asked for.

Have you gone to God with the attitude that God should give you everything you've asked for, just as a spoilt child might do?

Yes, God loves to give us good gifts, but he doesn't always give us what we ask for. He knows what is best and right for us. He knows when to give a gift and when to withhold it. Sometimes his reply is a "no" because he knows what we're asking for is not for our good. Sometimes it's a "no" because we ask from wrong motives. 

"Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure." James 4:2b-3 (AMP) 

Sometimes his reply is a "not yet" because he knows the timing is not right and he wants us to learn while we wait.  And sometimes he gives us something different to what we have asked for.

When we ask something from God which is in line with his will, we can be confident that he will answer our prayers.

"This is the [remarkable degree of] confidence which we [as believers are entitled to] have before Him: that if we ask anything according to His will, [that is, consistent with His plan and purpose] He hears us." 1 John 5:14 (AMP)

I'm glad he doesn't answer all my prayers with a "yes". He knows me better than I know myself and he knows just what I need better than I do.  I can trust him in this. I can have confidence in his answers.  

We can have confidence to enter in to his presence and bring our needs before him because Jesus has opened the way for us to be in God's presence. 

"Therefore let us [with privilege] approach the throne of grace [that is, the throne of God’s gracious favor] with confidence and without fear, so that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find [His amazing] grace to help in time of need [an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment]." Hebrews 4:16 (AMP)

To Think About:
Do you have a constant relationship with God or do you only think about him when you want something from him?

How can your communication with God become more of a two-way conversation and less about talking at him with a list of requests?

If you have the confidence that your prayer is in line with God's will then can I encourage you to keep praying and not give up.


Friday, 2 December 2016

A Month of Thanksgiving

Dear Friends,

If you read my blog post at the beginning of November, you'll know that I had made the decision that for this month I was going to thank God daily for three things he had blessed me with from the previous day. 

I wonder if any of you also took up the challenge and if so how was it for you?

I was chatting with my Mum about my challenge and she shared with me how she had been doing a similar thing for a few years now. She took it a step further and had been writing the things she was thankful for in a book. I thought it was a great idea so I have been doing the same. I had a spare notebook at home which has become "My Book of Thanksgiving".

I highly recommend you find someone mature in their faith who you can talk openly and honestly with about your Christian journey. We can learn so much from one another. We can also provide each other with encouragement and support.

I don't have a great memory, so it was definitely a good idea for me to write down what I am thankful for. My memory is so poor that often by the next day I have forgotten what I was thankful for. It works much better for me if I write it down at the end of the day rather than waiting for the following morning. 

It's great having a written record of what I'm thankful for. In fact, I've decided to continue to keep writing in my book of thanksgiving. It's been a good habit to develop in my life. It serves as a good reminder and it's uplifting to look back over the weeks to see the variety of things I have to be thankful for. It also helps me not to take so much for granted.

Looking back over the month of November I've noticed how often it's the small and simple things that I'm thankful for. Such as the way my niece, Abi, made me laugh as we spent the morning together. Or my Dad taking Rue (our puppy) for a walk as I wasn't able to some mornings.Or when my Mum lent me a warm cardigan to wear as I'd been cold whilst undertaking my duties as an Exam Scribe and Reader at our local school. Or my sister sending me an encouraging text when I had got a long day ahead of me at work. Or a family game of 'Ligretto'.

Of course, there were still some days when I struggled to be thankful. Those difficult days which we all have from time to time. On those days I found it even more important to focus on God and all he means to me. Such as being thankful for his presence with me on a tough day, his faithfulness, his goodness etc.

This month of thankfulness has been a positive step in changing my attitude and my mindset. It helps me appreciate so much more what I have and what God has blessed me with. I acknowledge I still some way to go yet, but that's OK, because I know that transformation doesn't happen overnight or because of my own will power. It happens with the help of the Holy Spirit and his power working in me.  As it says in Romans 12:2 "Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." (NLT)

I'm grateful that God is working on me to change me.  He won't give up on me.  He will see through to the end what he has begun to do in me.  As it says in Philippians 1:6 "And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns." (NLT)

Cultivating an attitude of thankfulness makes such a difference to our day. Especially if you are like me, and lean towards a pessimistic or negative outlook and are quite easily swayed by feelings. I believe that the more I focus on God and being thankful, the stronger this attitude will become and in time, being thankful, will become second nature. When I choose a thankful mindset, then the feelings will follow. If I'm not deliberate in doing this, then my negative feelings will determine my mindset.

When we seek to live life this way then we are doing as Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." (NLT)

To Think About:
If you took up the thankfulness challenge last month, how did it go?  Has it made a positive difference in your life?

Will you take the time to build a close relationship with another Christian? Someone you can be honest with. Someone who will encourage and support you. Someone you can learn from.

Spend some time reflecting over this past week and thank God for all that you have to be thankful for. (If you're memory is poor, like mine, ask him to remind you of all you have to be grateful to him for.)