Hello Sisters in Christ! The below is one of my early blog posts, published in 2012. I enjoyed re-reading it and I pray it resonates with you this Advent. – Lisa
ALL GOOD GIVING AND EVERY PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE, COMING DOWN FROM THE FATHER. – JAMES 1:17
As Christmas approaches, I’m freshly inspired to create the perfect Advent setting in my home. I picture beautiful arrangements of greenery and berries by my front door, a lovely tree by the roaring fire, homemade cookies, and peace and harmony wafting through the house like a scent of cinnamon, cloves, and orange. I want everything on my Christmas Pinterest board to magically appear in my house. Regardless of my good intentions, my reality never seems to match my ideal. Take for example the Advent calendar that I always forget to fill until mid-December. Why on earth I bought the Advent house that has little tiny openings that hardly any candy actually fits in is beyond me. But now it’s a tradition (although an empty one, literally), so each year I bring it out and hope that I’ll get my act together a little earlier. And then there’s the nativity set with no baby Jesus. This isn’t because we’re waiting to put him in the manger on December 24th. It’s because we lost him, and every time I buy a new nativity set, I manage to lose that baby Jesus, too.
Thankfully, a meaningful Advent season isn’t dependent on a perfectly decorated house, consistent traditions, homemade cookies or Christmas cards sent out on time. What is Advent all about? It’s about getting ready, spiritually preparing, for the coming of Christ. As we wait to celebrate Christ’s birth, we remember the long wait the Israelites had as they anticipated the coming of their Rescuer – the Messiah. During their wait, God stretched out a long Advent calendar where, from time to time, they were able to “open” a gift that reminded them they were drawing closer to the realization of His promise. These gifts were prophecies that pointed to Christ, and glimpses of God’s plan of redemption. Literally hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus.
He continues to fill up a very personal Advent calendar for each one of us. Every day. Jesus (who is the giver of all good gifts) sends us reminders of His love that are handpicked for His precious daughters. Pope Benedict described this in his Apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, dated October 11, 2011. He wrote, “Faith grows when it’s lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.” When we see God’s love at work in our lives, our faith grows. Unfortunately, these graces often go unnoticed by us as we dash around, always busy, slaves to our lists of to-do’s. Perhaps this Advent season can be different. Look for His unexpected gifts. How is God helping you to experience His love today? Did you listen to a beautiful piece of music? Did you receive an unexpected kindness? Did a piece of Scripture speak to your heart and encourage you? Did your child give you an unexpected hug? What reminder of His love did He send you today? God knows what delights you. It blesses His heart when we recognize what He’s sent. I encourage you to make an Advent list, recording what He has given. We can forget and take things for granted so quickly.
For a reminder of how much God adores you and loves to lavish you with the things that delight, take a look at the Opening Your Heart Connect Coffee Talk “Priority #2: Your Heart – You Are Captivating!”
Wishing you an Advent season with time to pause and be filled with Christ’s sweet love.
As long as I can remember, I've journaled my prayers. This is how I start my time with God each day. Some people consider journaling a form of naval-gazing. I've looked at it differently; it's the way I bring my feelings and emotions to the surface and ask God to heal and order them. I know He wants a relationship with my real self- not some artificial, cleaned up version of me. When He longs to see me walk in freedom, He knows that it's going to involve my heart, not just my behavior.
A good friend of mine shared the questions she was prayerfully journaling each day, and I decided to give them a try. Most of the questions were thought provoking and interesting to pray through. But one stopped me in my tracks, because I didn't know how to answer. The question: “What are you dreaming about right now?” I wracked my brain. What was I hoping for personally? What was I dreaming might be in the future for me? I couldn't think of anything, and that felt really weird and somehow wrong.
It wasn't that I wasn't praying and hoping for anything. But I was cautious when it came to praying big dreams. That didn't feel safe. That felt like I was setting myself up for disappointment. And wasn't it selfish to think about myself? It felt wiser to keep my eyes on reality and stay away from the land of possibilities. I felt too aware of all the things that could go wrong to trust that God might want to do something beyond my wildest imaginings.
This isn't the only area in my life where I've noticed my hope is running on fumes. There are people I have loved and prayed for years, asking God to break through the walls of their disbelief and to draw them to Himself. And nothing has changed. From what I can see, they are just as closed off and disinterested in Him today as they were the day I started praying. And my prayers for them are becoming less frequent. I'm starting to give up because they aren't progressing according to my timetable. I start to wonder why I am bothering. I've started to listen to the lie that things are never going to change.
The truth is, it can be hard to find hope. Some of you know what I'm talking about. You've prayed for something and believed with all your heart that God will come through for you. And then you wait. And all you hear is silence. And all you feel is discouragement. And the promise in John 14:14 (“Ask anything of me in my name, I will do it”) starts to feel like a cruel joke, a bait and switch. So our hearts grow a little bit cynical. We don't want to be naïve. We're smarter than that. We can see the obstacles. We're very good at assessing our reality, and adjusting our expectations accordingly.
There's nothing wrong with seeing things as they truly are, but when we lose the ability to see life through eyes of faith and limitless possibility, our hearts harden against God. Our trust in Him weakens. Bitterness can set in. We may continue to pray, but our prayers become mechanical. Our hearts aren't engaged. We're going through the motions.
So how can we learn it's not hard to find hope again?
The journey back to hope begins with taking a close look at the heart of the Father.
Is our Father's heart for us? Does He love us with the kind of attention that cares about every detail of our lives? Is He only concerned with us as an “end product of holiness” or does He care about our passion and purpose, too? Does He care how we feel in the midst of our struggle, or is He just waiting for us to learn the lessons that come from hard knocks?
Lean in close here and listen, because this is a truth we need to grasp deep… your Father loves to give. He waits to be asked. Perhaps He is whispering to you the words of James 4:2 (NIV), “You do not have because you do not ask God.” He wants you to come to Him like a little child. Think about the way that children ask. They ask for the moon. They don't stop to think about what is possible. And how do most parents respond to those requests? We want to give. We stop to make sure that what is asked for is for their good, and when it is, we want to move heaven and earth to give it.
“If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:11)
The journey back to knowing it's not hard to find hope begins with taking a close look at the heart of the Father.
Your Father has already proven that He is for you. He has already proven that He will hold nothing back if it's for your good. You only need to look at the cross to see the proof of His love.
But keep looking. The cross isn't the only place you can see evidence of your Father's heart. Where have you seen evidence of Him taking care of you? What answers to prayer have you experienced today? Open your eyes.
Cultivating a spirit of gratitude will help you to keep your eyes on the heart of the Father and His never-ending involvement in your life. It will break the hold of cynicism on your heart. It will open you up to the possibility of hoping again. It will give you the courage to dream. And in doing so, you'll come to know your Father's heart.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
Note: This is part one of a two-part series on turning our hearts to heaven when we feel it is hard to find hope. The second part can be found here.
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in November 2014.