What voice are you listening to today? What truth are you proclaiming over your own life today?
I seem to readily welcome the wrestling with my past sin and shame. I open the door to my thoughts and allow them to take up space in my mind. Those thoughts then dictate my attitude and behavior throughout the coming days.
This time of year when so much is focused on Jesus‘ birth, as it rightly should be, my heart is drawn to the cross and His sacrificial death. I can’t seem to focus on his birth without jumping to the end… And what His life resulted in.
As I allow shameful memories to cloud my freedom, I am living as if something more needs to be done. As if Jesus’ life and death were not enough. As if the Lord wants me to walk around weighed down in guilt and shame as an additional sacrifice to the price He paid on the cross.
Years ago, at Christmas time I asked my daughter to paint me a couple of pictures for my prayer closet. I said I would love one of Jesus’ birth and one of the empty cross. Each morning as I spend time in my prayer closet, my eyes and heart always turn to these paintings. I need this reminder each day. I need to remember multiple times a day that there is nothing, nothing I can add on to Jesus’ life or the sacrifice He paid for me.
It is finished.
Finished is the same as paid in full.
Jesus came to finish God’s work of salvation.
In the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ sacrificial death, you will find the words it is finished. As I read those words each time, I am struck by the finality of them. It is not open ended, segueing into a need for further sacrifice or work. No. I read it again. The words read, “It is finished.”
Because of Jesus’ life and ultimate sacrificial death on the cross, the Lord sees me as righteous and I am secure.
Are you walking around with guilt and shame this Christmas season? Are you allowing your past to take up space in your heart and mind? Is yesterday weighing you down? Can you begin to consider that the word is true, it is finished. You can rest in knowing that Jesus’ work is complete. You and I can walk in freedom. We can rest in peace. We can count on the truth of his saving grace.
Psalm 7:9 O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.
Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. John 14:27.
But, not at Christmastime, Lord. You understand that I have presents to buy and wrap, food to buy and prepare, children to corral in the craziness of a changing schedule this time of year, basketball practices to get to, dinner to make, oh, and don’t forget some self-care in there too: exercise, eat well, and stretch. Lord, you didn’t mean, you have given me peace even at Christmastime.
Not as the world gives do I give to you…
The world offers me peace in the Christian yoga YouTube videos I found. The world’s peace is in letting go. It’s found in circumstances going my way. I can experience it in discovering the perfect gift found on the clearance rack at the first store I step into. Ah…an empty parking spot nice and close to the front. Is this the peace I seek?
My peace I give to you…
Jesus doesn’t offer peace based on the circumstance. Jesus offers his peace based on who He is and what He has done for us. His peace doesn’t depend on me. His peace doesn’t depend on those around me. His peace doesn’t depend on my schedule or the season. His peace depends solely on him…His life, sacrifice and resurrection, and His Spirit dwelling inside of those who place their hope in him.
Let not your hearts be troubled…
Don’t run around in a frenzy. Don’t expect others to do what you want. Don’t search for peace in this world. Don’t make yourself God in your life.
Neither let them be afraid…
Keep your heart and mind set on the Lord. Trust in His love. Trust in His goodness. Trust in His power.
Yes, Christmas peace.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
My classroom door thrusts open as my breathless daughter, 7 years old at the time, comes crashing in. Tears brimming in her eyes, short loud breaths coming from her mouth, body tense. The 5 and 6 year olds I am attempting to teach, all turn and watch the melt down that ensues.
“What is going on? What? Calm down and tell me…” I plead with her, knowing deep down she cannot even process to speak in her agitated state.
Moments later a bewildered music teacher rushes into the room, her eyes searching for Abby.
I look to her for an answer. Certain my precious daughter had been bullied and mistreated.
Mrs. Stevens, the music teacher explains, “I was just explaining the spring musical to Abby’s class. They will sing a song and there will be some speaking parts…”
“I won’t do it! No!” Abby interjects.
Mrs. Stevens continues, “The speaking parts are volunteer only. She doesn’t have to have a speaking part.”
Attempting to understand, I ask, “Is it just her class on stage singing the songs?”
“No, all 3 second grade classes will be singing together.”
I am sad. Watching my daughter overcome with fear at the thought of standing on risers in a school gym, singing with 75 other kids, my heart hurts. Why is she so fearful, panicked, and anxious?
And, how have I failed her?
Have I not complimented her enough? Given her enough opportunities to speak in front of others? Built her up? Have I become frustrated with her too many times, killing her spirit? What did I do to cause this kind of fear in my daughter?
Flash forward about 1 1/2 years…18 short months later.
Sitting in the beautiful large performing arts center, looking around at all the wired, chatty kids dressed in their white shirts and black bottoms, laughing with their friends, I wonder what my Abby will do on stage. Making no mention of nerves or fear, I wonder will it creep up just before stepping on stage? If she does go up on the stage, will she simply mouth the words? During the recorder song, will she remember which finger plays which note on her recorder?
I make no mention of the questions filling my mind. I hold back even asking, “How are you feeling?” It’s just a normal day, nothing to worry about here.
I think back to two months ago, in the car on the ride home from music class. We begin the 20 minute drive home from Granite Falls. As my mind is mulling over groceries I need to buy, what I will make for dinner, wondering about the weather for the weekend, I half hear Abby say, “Me and a couple other kids are going to say a scripture in the concert. I find out next week what I will be saying.”
Wait? What? Tune in. “What did you say?”
“Oh, Mrs. Hinman will give me the scripture I need to learn next week.”
Wake up brain. Come on. Drive and listen. Focus. Which kid is talking to me?
Trying to make sense of the words I am hearing, “Mikayla, do you have a speaking part in the concert?” I ask.
Mikayla, pulling her head away from her book, “What? Me? No. I am singing and playing the clarinet.”
“No, mom, it’s me. I do. I will have a scripture to say.”
After I ask about 100 questions, I learn that Abby voluneteered to have a speaking part, there are only a few kids that have a part like this, she is excited about it, and I am the one that needs to relax about it.
My girl diligently practices her part every day, until we realize she no longer needs to practice it. She can say it forward and backwards. She can say it at the dinner table, she can say it while on a walk, she can say it in front of her music class. In fact, I am sure she can say it in her sleep. She’s got it.
The announcements and introductions are complete and the show will begin. Mrs. Hinman, the director, explains the order for the evening and we learn Abby’s group will be performing first.
Walking up onto the risers, she sees us in the audience, a quick smile and a wave and she’s back to business. Her eyes on her director, her mouth singing. Is that her voice I hear among the 20 other kids on stage? My step-mom leans over to me, “I can even hear Abby’s voice. It’s beautiful.”
It’s her alright. Singing about our Lord’s birth. Singing with joy in her face and her voice. Singing with confidence. Letting her light and her voice shine.
Psalm 96 says, Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
3 Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.
The tears catch in my throat. I can’t swallow. Holding my phone, trying to capture this on video, my body shakes and I give in to the tears.
Boldly walking to the microphone, she clearly says her words, the Lord’s words, about Mary and Joseph coming to Bethlehem to prepare for the birth of Jesus. She speaks with clarity and certainty before returning to her singing.
Okay, I am a mess. This girl. 18 months ago, filled with debilitating fear about singing in front of her school. No evidence of fear today. Boldly proclaiming the Lord’s words. Tears streaming, I am present for the rest of the concert, but my heart is with the Lord.
Oh, He is good. He gives us a new song. His wonders never cease.
At intermission, the grandparents gush the compliments all over Abby. “Oh, you did so wonderful. We are so proud of you. You spoke so clearly.”
Abby shyly looks away, a behavior she may have learned from me.
I whisper to her, “I am so proud of you, Abby.”
“Mom, I was shivering. Just before I spoke, I was all shivery.”
“But you did it anyway, Abby. That’s true courage.”
Only the Lord can do this kind of work in a person. Only the Lord can give us this New Song. When we allow Him in, give Him permission to take up residence in our heart, our song sounds different. No longer the old fear-filled, crippling song of the past. A new song, filled with Hope, Strength and Certainty.
See one of the songs along with Abby’s speaking part here: Manger Song
Had they not seen each other for years? Were they reunited friends from high school? ‘Kindred spirits’ as Anne of Green Gables would say? Their voices rang through the library with no awareness of my 9-year old’s exasperation. The math workbook in front of her could not compete with the endless stories the two boisterous ladies shared. “Mom, I can’t focus! It’s too loud. ”
The peace and stillness of the bright, sunny library from an hour earlier was gone. Happy chatter, shrieking toddlers, shuffling books, story telling, the opening and closing of the front door, encouraging words being shared with children. None of it bad. All good, energizing, fun noises filling the large room. None of it bad, but all of it drowning the intention and desires we had for the morning. Our intention? Focused learning time at the library. Our desire? To complete school work before music class.
I leave my prayer closet in the morning, filled with the Lord’s truth, equipped with His word in my mind, peace filling my heart. My intention is to share His kindness with my family. My desire is to remain focused on His goodness from the time I step foot out of that door until the time I lay down to sleep that night.
Of course, the enemy has a different plan. A different whisper in my ear. It often comes in the way of distractions. Just like the interruptions at the library this morning, they are not bad things. Not displeasing to the Lord. Not harmful to anyone else. But, none-the-less, they are things that threaten to take away from the Lord’s desires and intentions for my day.
Find some black shoes that fit my kids for their choir concert. Decorate the house. Make a vet appointment for the cat. Teach fractions. Take daughter to new gymnastics class. Return library books. Go to 5 doctor’s appointments in a 2 week period. Teach multiplication. Buy stamps. Christmas shopping. Find a good gluten-free Christmas cookie recipe. Take daughter to basketball practice. Figure out why the library account is blocked.
We all have it. The never-ending list, the pull in many directions, the disturbances, and the drowning out of the Spirit’s voice.
Sometimes the answer is to say, “No”, to guard your schedule, and protect your family from unnecessary busyness. I am blessed with a husband who diligently protects our schedules. He asks questions such as, “Will committing to that event cause unnecessary stress? Do we have anything else scheduled that day? Will we still have a few hours of unscheduled time that weekend?”
But, sometimes the answer is to renew your focus, purpose, and heart.
Her face and voice filled with vulnerability. She shared of her struggle to focus on the Lord’s goodness throughout her day. The message at church stung. My eyes filled with tears as I could so closely relate. I long to leave my prayer closet and end the day with my heart focused on the Lord, sitting at His feet, waiting on Him, listening to Him, seeing the people in my life through His eyes. But, other voices creep, slither, and worm their way in.
Other days are filled with busyness, yet my heart remains at peace and my thoughts and actions are guided by the Lord’s voice. So, what gives? If it’s not always the busy schedule overpowering His voice, what’s the deal?
It’s my deceitful flesh. My flesh putting my needs before all others. My flesh tricking me into thinking I am doing it all on my own. My flesh telling me I am failing at all I do. I could have a clear schedule and still not be at peace in my heart, if my flesh is ruling and the Spirit is not heard.
My only hope is to pray for a Holy Spirit interruption…taking my focus off myself and on to what the Lord has for me. The way to do that is through the Word:
Romans 8:8, Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Romans 8:6, For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Romans 8:5, For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Psalm 73:26, My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
In this season filled with wonder, hope, joy, love, excitement…and distraction, may we drown out the enemies lies and attempts to steal our peace. May we immerse ourselves even deeper into God’s Word. May we quiet our souls to hear from Him.
Please keep my eyes fixed on You,
Please root my heart so deep in You,
Keep me abiding, Keep me abiding, Keep me abiding,
That I would bear fruit.
Jeremy Riddle Full Attention