“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
I had a chance to teach adult Sunday school at my church last week.
Here are some of my notes from the class.
Not super organized but I hope it might encourage you during the hustle and bustle of Christmastime this year.
I love Christmas time. I grew up on the east coast, in upstate NY, which meant every Christmas was white and filled with snowball fights, sledding and snow forts.
For many people though Thanksgiving and Christmas are not the most wonderful time of the year.
It can be a very painful, lonely time.
There’s the stress and overwhelm of the busyness of the season (my family is doing three concerts in two days this weekend).
This time of the year also highlights what we don’t have. What’s missing.
Two weeks also we looked at Gratitude and ingratitude.
I spoke about Simplicity and started class with talking about the question of What would you do if you won the lottery?
That question often reveals what is most important to us.
When we set aside the issue of money, it often shows us what really would make us happy, what we value, what we are passionate about and what we are called to do, our purpose.
I didn’t follow up in class after asking about winning the lottery – according to Ephesians, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, we have already won the spiritual lottery. I don’t know exactly all that entails but I do know this: it is more than enough for our doubts, distractions and fears – for our discontent, emptiness and hurts. God has already given us everything we need.
Simplicity helps with two things better than finding Balance in an upside down world.
Sometimes the search for “Balance”, whatever that means, can lead to even more stress.
Simplicity helps us experience peace and focus.
(It also helps us experience spiritual, relational, emotional health
It helps us focus on the things, the One, who is most important especially during the Christmas season.
God wants us to experience peace. (Num. 6:24-26, Jn. 14:27, 16:33, Phil. 4:6-7)
Jesus comes as “The Prince of Peace”.
He doesn’t want us to be slaves to fear. (1 Jn 4:18, Ps. 34: 4-7, Josh. 1: 5-9)
Stress steals our peace and focus away.
There are things that drive our busyness and stress:
– emptiness and a desire to feel good
– image management, the desire to look good to others
– performance, the desire for approval (this makes saying “no” to people hard)
– success, security, control
– the fear of missing out
– the desire to be good enough
– the desire to provide for your family
– “love” and “service”, the desire to be helpful
– the desire to fix things, the desire for justice
– the desire for identity and significance
– habit, “the way we always do things”
– old messages and beliefs
– expectations of others
Most of those things can be good.
But not all.
Too much of good thing can be negative.
We are also distracted and overwhelmed by the sin and darkness of the world, by ISIS, by Paris, by San Bernardino…by politics.
By pain and suffering, big and small, all around us.
In the middle of all this we lose sight of three key things
1) Who God is
2) Who We Are
3) What We Are Called To
What distracts you from seeing the goodness of God?
Distractions cause us to doubt many things about God
We doubt God’s provision because of finances. We forget that God supplies all our needs. Phil. 4:19
We doubt God’s love because of broken relationships and rejection. We forget we are loved. Gal. 1:10
We doubt God’s goodness because of pain and suffering.
We doubt God’s sovereignty when things don’t go our way, because of broken dreams. We forget that He works all things together for good.
We doubt God’s justice because of racism, abuse, corruption and evil.
We doubt God’s forgiveness because our sin is ever before us and because of our shame. We forget we have been redeemed and set free from the power of sin and death.
We doubt God’s nearness because of feeling alone, isolate and the darkness of this world.
We doubt God’s power because of anxiety, worry and stress.
Psalm 139 reminds us of God’s promises to us
As does this song, “The Lord Our God” by Passion Worship Band
Promise maker, promise keeper
You finish what You begin
Our provision through the desert
You see it through ‘til the end
You see it through ‘til the end
The Lord our God is ever faithful
Never changing through the ages
From this darkness
You will lead us
And forever we will say
You’re the Lord our God
So, what do we do? What do we do when we find ourselves stressed and overwhelmed? When when we get distracted and lose sight of God and ourselves and can’t figure out what we’re supposed to do next?
First, we take our temperature: emotionally, spiritually, relationally and physically.
Identify what is driving us. What are we telling ourselves we “should” or “shouldn’t” do?
Why are we doing what we are doing?
What do I need to trust God for? If we truly understood God’s power, provision and blessing – we would be more at peace.
In simplifying our calendars, in being more exclusive, when evaluating our use of time, our crowded schedules, our scrambling around …the question isn’t “Is this opportunity “good”?” a better question is “Is this what God really wants me to do?”, “Why is this the “best” thing for me to say yes to?”
Secondly, spend time with Jesus, in His presence. In His presence we are renewed and transformed.
We read the story of Mary and Martha together from Luke 10:38-42.
Familiar story but a good reminder to seek “the better thing” – being with Jesus.
Gal. 3:2-3 reminds us who God is, Gal. 3: 25-26 reminds us who we are.
Thirdly, care for your soul like a garden
Weed out what needs to go, weed out sin. Weed out “good” things too. But don’t just “stop” doing bad stuff. If we weed stuff out, it often just grows back.
Plant good things. As a health coach, I help people break bad habits like smoking and emotional eating. It’s hard to just stop a bad habit. What works is replacing a bad habit with a healthy one. Some wise person said there is an “explusive power of a new affection.”
(Zech. 4:6, Col. 1:9-14, Col. 3: 1-4, 12-17)
Ask God what to do – by faith, by His spirit – what do I need to simplify? What do I need to focus on? And what, or who, do I need to say “no” to? What do I need to do more? What do I need to do less?
Part of caring for your soul as garden means simplicity with your physical and emotional self-care and simplicity in your schedule.
Silence and Simplicity. This is not just for the sake of legalistically unplugging but intentionally connecting with God and listening to Him.
Sleep and Self-care.
Pruning your calendar. Slow down. You don’t have to do everything, be everywhere.
Possessions and clutter.
Gift giving. Consume less. Re-evaulate what messages are feeding your expectations about giving and receiving gifts.
Consumption of sports, TV, music, media, experiences. When will enough be enough? Sometimes what we try to fill our emptiness with leads to more emptiness.