One year, those responsible for decorating their church for Christmas decided to use the theme of “Christmas lists.” Instead of decorating with the usual shiny gold and silver ornaments, they gave each person a red or green tag. On one side they were to write down the gift they would like from Jesus, and on the other they were to list the gift they would give to the One whose birth they were celebrating.
If you were to do this, what gift would you ask for and what would you offer? The Bible gives us lots of ideas. God promises to supply all our needs, so we might ask for a new job, help with financial problems, physical healing for ourselves or others, or a restored relationship. We might be wondering what our spiritual gift is that equips us for God’s service. Many of these are listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Or we might long to show more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit: to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind and good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled (Gal. 5:22-23).
The most important gift we can ever receive is God’s gift of His Son, our Savior, and with Him forgiveness, restoration, and the promise of spiritual life that begins now and lasts forever. And the most important gift we can ever give is to give Jesus our heart.
The much-prayed-for film night at the church youth club had finally arrived. Posters had been displayed all around the village and pizzas were warming in the oven. Steve, the youth pastor, hoped that the film—about gang members in New York who were brought face-to-face with the claims of Jesus by a young pastor—would bring new recruits to the club.
But he hadn’t realized that a key football match was being shown on television that evening, so attendance was much smaller than he had hoped for. Sighing inwardly, he was about to dim the lights and begin the film when five leather-clad members of the local motorbike club came in. Steve went pale. The leader of the group, who was known as TDog, nodded in Steve’s direction. “It’s free and for everyone, right?” he said. Steve opened his mouth to say, “Youth club members only” when TDog bent down and picked up a bracelet with the letters WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) stamped on it. “This yours, mate?” he asked. Steve nodded, hot with embarrassment, and waited while the new guests found a seat.
Have you ever been in Steve’s situation? You long to share the good news about Jesus, but you have a mental list of the “right” people who would be acceptable? Jesus was often criticized by the religious authorities for the company He kept. But He welcomed those everyone else avoided, because He knew they needed Him most (Luke 5:31–32).
Emil was a homeless man who spent a whole year looking down at the pavement as he plodded around the city day after day. He was ashamed to meet the eyes of others in case they recognized him, for his life had not always been lived out on the streets. Even more than that, he was intent on finding a coin that had been dropped or a half-smoked cigarette. His downward focus became such a habit that the bones of his spine began to become fixed in that position so that he had great difficulty in straightening up at all.
The prophet Elisha’s servant was terrified as he looked at the huge army the king of Aram had sent to capture his master (2 Kings 6:15). But Elisha knew he was looking in the wrong direction, seeing only the danger and the size of the opposition. He needed to have his eyes opened to see the divine protection that surrounded them, which was far greater than anything Aram could bring against Elijah (v. 17).
When life is difficult and we feel we are under pressure, it’s so easy to see nothing but our problems. But the author of the letter to the Hebrews suggests a better way. He reminds us that Jesus went through unimaginable suffering in our place and that if we fix our eyes on Him (12:2), He will strengthen us.
Mary was widowed and facing serious health challenges when her daughter invited her to move into the new “granny apartment” attached to her home. Although it would involve leaving friends and the rest of her family many miles away, Mary rejoiced in God’s provision.
Six months into her new life, the initial joy and contentment threatened to slip away as she was tempted to grumble inwardly and doubt whether the move was really God’s perfect plan. She missed her Christian friends, and her new church was too far away to get to independently.
Then she read something that the great 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon had written. “Now contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and it must be cultivated,” he pointed out. “Paul says . . . ‘I have learned to be content,’ as if he didn't know how at one time.”
Mary concluded that if an ardent evangelist like Paul, confined to prison, abandoned by friends, and facing execution could learn contentment, then so could she.
“I realized that until I could learn this lesson, I wouldn’t enjoy those things God had planned,” she said. “So I confessed my inward grumbling and asked for His forgiveness. Soon after that a newly retired lady asked if I would be her prayer partner, and others offered me a ride to church. My needs for a ‘soul friend’ and greater mobility were wonderfully met.”
In Debbie’s new home, she discovered an abandoned plant in a dark corner of the kitchen. The dusty and ragged leaves looked like those of a moth orchid, and she imagined how pretty the plant would look once it had sent up new bloom-bearing stems. She moved the pot into a spot by the window, cut off the dead leaves, and watered it thoroughly. She bought plant food and applied it to the roots. Week after week she inspected the plant, but no new shoots appeared. “I’ll give it another month,” she told her husband, “and if nothing has happened by then, out it goes.”
When decision day came, she could hardly believe her eyes. Two small stems were poking out from among the leaves! The plant she’d almost given up on was still alive.
Do you ever get discouraged by your apparent lack of spiritual growth? Perhaps a frequently lost temper or that spicy piece of gossip you just can’t resist passing on. Or perhaps you get up too late to pray and read your Bible, in spite of resolving to set the alarm earlier.
Why not tell a trusted friend about the areas of your life in which you want to grow spiritually and ask that person to pray for and encourage you to be accountable? Be patient. You will grow as you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you.
Which of the five senses brings back your memories most sharply? For me it is definitely the sense of smell. A certain kind of sun oil takes me instantly to a French beach. The smell of chicken mash brings back childhood visits to my grandmother. A hint of pine says “Christmas,” and a certain kind of aftershave reminds me of my son’s teenage years.
Paul reminded the Corinthians that they were the aroma of Christ: “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:15). He may have been referring to Roman victory parades. The Romans made sure everyone knew they had been victorious by burning incense on altars throughout the city. For the victors, the aroma was pleasing; for the prisoners it meant certain slavery or death. So as believers, we are victorious soldiers. And when the gospel of Christ is preached, it is a pleasing fragrance to God.
As the aroma of Christ, what perfumes do Christians bring with them as they walk into a room? It’s not something that can be bought in a bottle or a jar. When we spend a lot of time with someone, we begin to think and act like that person. Spending time with Jesus will help us spread a pleasing fragrance to those around us.
We really needed to hear from God. Having been asked to foster two young children as an emergency measure just for 3 months, a decision had to be made about their future. With three older children of our own, becoming foster parents to preschoolers didn’t seem to fit with our life plan and having our family almost double in size had been hard work. Our book of daily readings by the veteran missionary Amy Carmichael directed us to some unfamiliar verses in Numbers 7.
“I wonder how the Kohathites felt?” Amy wrote. “All the other priests had ox-carts to carry their parts of the tabernacle through the desert. But the sons of Kohath had to trudge along the rocky tracks and through the burning sand, with the ‘holy things for which they were responsible’ on their shoulders. Did they ever grumble inwardly, feeling that the other priests had an easier task? Perhaps! But God knows that some things are too precious to be carried on ox-carts and then He asks us to carry them on our shoulders.”
My husband and I knew this was our answer. We had often thought of sponsoring a child from an undeveloped country, but we hadn’t done so. That would have been easier, much like the ox-cart. Now we had two needy children in our own home to carry “on our shoulders” because they were so precious to Him.
God has different plans for each of us. We might feel that others have an easier assignment, or a more glamorous role to play. But if our loving Father has handpicked us for our task, who are we to whisper, “I can’t do this”?
Jenny’s house is situated on a little country lane, which is often used in rush hour by drivers who want to avoid the nearby main road and traffic lights. A few weeks ago workmen arrived to repair the badly damaged road surface, bringing with them large barriers and “No Entry” signs. “I was really worried at first,” said Jenny, “thinking that I would be unable to get my car out until the road work was finished. But then I went to look at the signs more closely and realized that they said ‘No Entry: Access for Residents Only.’ No detours or barriers for me. I had the right to go in and out whenever I liked because I lived there. I felt very special!”
In the Old Testament, access to God in the tabernacle and the temple was strictly limited. Only the high priest could go in through the curtain and offer sacrifices in the Most Holy Place, and then only once a year (Lev. 16:2-20; Heb. 9:25-26). But at the very moment Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, showing that the barrier between man and God was destroyed forever (Mark 15:38).
Because of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, all those who love and follow Him can come into His presence at any time. He has given us the right of access.
My daughter has had a lot of ill health recently, and her husband has been wonderfully caring and supportive. “You have a real treasure there!” I said.
“You didn’t think that when I first knew him,” she said with a grin.
She was quite right. When Icilda and Philip got engaged, I was concerned. They were such different personalities. We have a large and noisy family, and Philip is more reserved. And I had shared my misgivings with my daughter quite bluntly.
I was horrified to realize that the critical things I said so casually 15 years ago had stayed in her memory and could possibly have destroyed a relationship that has proved to be so right and happy. It reminded me how much we need to guard what we say to others. So many of us are quick to point out what we consider to be weaknesses in family, friends, or work colleagues, or to focus on their mistakes rather than their successes. “The tongue is a small part of the body,” says James (3:5), yet the words it shapes can either destroy relationships or bring peace and harmony to a situation in the workplace, the church, or the family.
Perhaps we should make David’s prayer our own as we start each day: “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Ps. 141:3).