Taken from his album: 'ADORE: Christmas Songs of Worship', which can be purchased from Amazon: click right to be redirected:
Two songs to help you from Chris Tomlin. Be blessed!
The Ark of the Covenant was the place where the Presence of God rested. When it was carried by specially appointed priests, before the people, at the Lord’s instigation, great victories were won. When at rest, the Ark was laid in the Holy of Holies, where only the High Priest could enter, and that only once a year. The Presence was with Israel, but generally hidden from the eyes of ordinary people.
For David it wasn’t enough, he yearned for the Presence, knowing instinctively he was created for intimate relationship. He was a man ahead of his time, a prophet who brought the things of the future into his present. David set up a tabernacle where there was no Holy of Holies, everyone had access to the Ark of the Presence and the result was a period of unparalleled praise and worship. It was a prophetic demonstration of a time coming when the Presence of God would be accessible to all.
The circumstances of Jesus’ birth cry out to us that God comes to the ordinary in order to restore His original purpose. It’s not a tale of man’s efforts to claw his way up to an inaccessible God, but rather the story of the desire of Almighty God to come and manifest His presence & glory in the commonplace.
Christmas celebrates the Lord's fulfilment of the promise of old:
"My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
Let's make sure we don't get so busy we miss the whole point!
Make time today to be still, & ask Emmanuel to meet you where you are.
Many people feel so stressed by the demands of Christmas preparations that they don’t actually enjoy any of it. And it is quite common to hear sighs of relief after the season is over because it is finished for another year.
JOY-FILLED LIVES COUNTERACT STRESS
Our lives are supposed to be joy-filled – it’s a characteristic of the kingdom. And joy is key in counteracting Christmas-induced stress, and an essential source of energy!
The joy of the Lord is your strength
Part of living sacramentally (see last post), is receiving the blessings of each day, with thanksgiving. If we have eyes to see, our days are filled with love-gifts from the Father, designed to make our hearts sparkle. What gifts of joy can we find this season? It will be different for each of us: maybe a seasonal ornament or a letter from a friend, perhaps this year’s first mince pie or a comic Christmas card, maybe a neighbour’s Christmas tree, or a favourite movie.
And we don’t have to own things to enjoy them. We can delight in a Christmas card design without buying a pack, revel in the artistry of a window display without craving the contents, and enjoy next door’s wreath without having to compete.
Let’s cultivate child-like attitudes (Matthew 18:23), delighting in simple things (or simply delighting in things), and rediscover our sense of wonder – after all it’s an important kingdom attribute. And then let’s embrace our gifts of joy with thanksgiving.
How about keeping a list of your joy-gifts this season?
How many can you come up with?
Mindfulness is a hot topic right now, with magazines, books, tv programmes and conferences, all telling us the benefit of living in the present. Although there is an undoubted value in such a focus, the Bible tells it a little differently– it’s not just about what you do – it’s about who you’re with.
Pursuing the presence of God is the most important thing we can do. We were designed to live in His Presence – designed to have Him as our number one focus -and it is the short cut to rest.
You make known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your Presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your right hand.
In the context of His Presence, everything we do becomes an act of worship, an offering to Him.
…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
…whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
There is no division for Christians between spiritual and secular. Jesus came to redeem the commonplace and make it holy, to enable us to participate in the glory – it’s where we were meant to live. And the Name of Jesus releases His Kingdom power in our actions.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens….
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the human heart
[Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11]
In the context of His Presence, our Christmas checklists become things of beauty, and our faith-filled activities touch eternity.
So let’s combat stress by making our Christmas preparations an opportunity for sacramental living: let’s take regular pauses, where we still the demands of the soul & seek His presence (see previous posts); and then let’s offer up each activity as an act of worship, asking Him to bless and release His power & grace through them.
This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Purpose to seek His presence throughout the day, using alarm-reminders if you need to, (see earlier posts). Live one activity at a time & offer each to Him, praying over it with faith-filled prayers.
Whatever your stance on Christmas, to be at peace in this season, it needs to be a thought-through position, rather than a mindless habit, because....
“Everything that does not come from faith is sin,”
While respecting other perspectives, having spent a lot of time over the years wrestling with the issues involved, I fall firmly in the last group, & my reflections here & elsewhere on this site reflect these conclusions.
If we have decided that celebrating Christmas is a valid use of time & resources, in order to walk in rest, we need to look at the actual activities on our checklists! How many of these can we invest faith in? Are there any that are 'surplus to requirements'?
To answer that question, we need some ‘silent time’ as discussed in previous posts, sitting in the Lord’s presence with a notebook & pen ....
PONDERING THE 'TO DO' LIST
My pondering on the issue of Christmas cards, for example, goes something like this…
Why are they important? It’s an opportunity to keep in touch with old friends & family, and keeps the door open for further contact. It also presents faith opportunities. (See below)
What if we don’t send cards this year? We will need to be in touch at some time soon, or will potentially lose contact. Christmas provides a discipline to get on with the task.
Cost: numbers sent x 53p, time writing, duplicated or personal newsletter in many of them. Can I afford the time? Yes I think it’s an important investment, having relocated this year.
Creative solutions: I can send several to one person to distribute to a group, where friends or family meet regularly; send one card to another group to be displayed centrally; hand-deliver others; investigate sending some e-cards this year, and reduce the list perhaps.
Is the Lord happy with me doing this? Yes I believe He is, but I need to hold it lightly, and in years to come, continue to make it a faith-choice, rather than a mindless item on my 'to do' list.
STAYING IN REST
If we are not to be caught up in the well-documented stress of Christmas preparations, we have to stop & take stock. If we come to the conclusion that a particular activity is one we can invest faith in, then we have more chance of staying at rest in it, than if we are swept along on the mindless media-driven bandwagon. And maybe in doing so, we will also simplify our checklists?
Take time out this week to go through your ‘to do’ list. How about doing fewer things with great faith?
For more thoughts on Christmas, see:
HEAVEN SENT INTERLUDES
Silence doesn’t come easily to this modern generation. Some are unnerved by it, others despair of ever finding it in lives lived on the run. Our western society is filled with noise: traffic, voices, household appliances, radios, televisions and smart-phones, all competing for our attention. The blessing of modern technology has its downside – constant background sound.
But there are moments scattered through the day when noise subsides and quiet descends: early morning before the household is up; a mid-morning coffee break; in the store car park after shopping; a delay in a doctor's surgery; at a red light or in a traffic jam; waiting for the pick-up on taxi duty; an early arrival for an appointment; midnight hours when sleep deserts; a solitary evening by the fire…..
These interludes can be irritations in our over-crowded days, or embraced as heaven-sent opportunities for refreshment. For those who struggle with silence, taking these mini breaks are a pathway to embracing longer periods, for those who long to just stop, these intervals are a life saver. And for all of us engaged in the Christmas rush, they are opportunities to regroup and allow peace to descend.
TIME TO LISTEN
These occasions of external quiet, are opportunities for internal silence, opportunities to meet with God. And rather than being times when we come with our list of needs & desires, they are times when we still the demands of the soul and listen.
1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah, burned out & dejected, returning to Horeb, the place of covenant. There he met God. The Lord came present to him – not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but in a still small voice. The word translated ‘still’ also has the meaning of ‘silence’, and the NRSV tells it this way:
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains
and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;
and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;
and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out
and stood at the entrance of the cave.
Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Embracing silence, we can begin to hear the voice of God. It maybe indistinct at first, like tuning in to a radio frequency, but if we persevere, His voice will sound quite clearly.
Take time to reflect on these quotations from Mother Theresa:
"We cannot put ourselves directly in the presence of God if we do not practice
internal and external silence."
"In silence we will find new energy and true unity.
Silence gives us a new outlook on everything."
"The essential thing is not what we say but what God says to us and through us.
In that silence, He will listen to us; there He will speak to our soul,
and there we will hear His voice."
"Listen in silence because if your heart is full of other things
you cannot hear the voice of God.
But when you have listened to the voice of God in the stillness of your heart,
then your heart is filled with God."
Let's make the most of the natural pauses as they arise during the day. Let's use them as opportunities for a divine encounter, and let His peace descend.
Choose to take hold of the quiet intervals permeating your day. Practise stilling the soul & listening deeply. Expect an encounter with the One who loves you.
Out in the countryside, the season has changed, last leaves are falling, daylight hours are receding, and quietness is descending on the land. Despite appearances, the winter rest of the natural world is not the rest of inactivity, for the depths of the earth contain the seeds of new life, the promise of spring; this seasonal stillness is the powerful rest of recuperation and renewal.
In the city, Christmas is coming, stress levels are rising, and the media frenzy is in full swing. ‘Magical’ visions jostle for place with practical arrangements, family harmony with personal needs, gift expectations with financial constraints. And rest is a dirty word.
LEARNING THE LESSONS OF WINTER
We need to step back from one, and contemplate the other. We need to learn the lessons of winter before exhaustion sets in, relationships splinter, and the stress-wound grows. We need to take action to still the soul with its incessant demands, to quiet the mental and emotional noise.
In order to really celebrate the festival, we need to discover the power of silence. The silence which means that for a while we put down our ‘to do’ lists, our anxieties and concerns, our many preoccupations, and sit before the Lord, allowing Him to minister to us. The silence which means we come away feeling renewed and refreshed, having encountered the Source of Life.
To be sure it will take practice, the habitual clamour of the soul won’t be stilled overnight. But it’s worth persevering – to build our own internal ‘winter’s rest’.
But the LORD is in His holy temple:
let all the earth keep silence before him.
For God alone my soul waits in silence;
from Him comes my salvation.
[Psalm 62:1 ESV]
A practical suggestion: set an alarm or timer for intervals during the day. Take time out to still the soul (mind, will & emotions), & become deeply quiet. Ask the Lord to meet with you, & just be with Him.
Let me know how you get on!
Welcome to old friends and new visitors to the site.
My apologies for the absence of new blog posts over the last couple of months, due to our relocation to another county. We are now very happily settled in beautiful Northumberland, and Rhythms of Grace is being given an overhaul.
I hope the site is becoming more user-friendly, particularly for mobile users. Please let me know what you think, particularly if you find broken links, by using the comment button below.
The Seasonal Blog has been archived for the time being, and can now be found in the Rhythms for Rest section of the website. This new blog, ‘Bread for the Journey’ will take its place. The focus will be on reflections to help on the journey into rest, and will include, as before, thoughts inspired by the current season & natural world, but will also cover a variety of other topics.
I hope it will be a blessing to you!
Bread for the Journey Blog
BREAD FOR THE JOURNEY
Reflections to help combat stress, and provide support for the journey into rest and inner peace.
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