“Esther was the daughter of Abihail, the uncle of Mordecai who had adopted her as his own daughter. . . . Esther gained favor in the eyes of everyone who saw her. . . . The king loved Esther more than all the other women. She won more favor and approval from him . . . He placed the royal crown on her head and made her queen in place of Vashti” (Esther 2:15-17).
Do you know any beauty queens? Let me introduce you to Esther. Esther’s Jewish name was Hadassah which means “Myrtle,” a beautiful fragrant tree. Her Persian name Esther means “star,” as in Venus, a symbol of beauty and good fortune. Esther embodied her name. Esther had natural beauty and charm that required no unique adornments to make her more attractive. She was one of the four most beautiful women in history along with Sarah, Rahab, and Abigail, according to Jewish tradition.
What set Esther apart was not only her beauty without; it was her beauty within. She modeled grace before everyone. She displayed an unusual restraint, in telling no one she was Jewish. She had a teachable spirit, following instruction. She never got a big head, thinking she knew it all. Before seeing the king, she refused pampering, excess bathing, and oil treatment. She did not succumb to the temptations around her. Maybe she had no driving ambition to be the queen. Maybe her life did not revolve around her physical appearance or making a king happy. She was content “in her own skin.” She was authentic. She was real—just the way God created her.
As a result, she found favor with all whom she came into contact from the king’s servant to the women who were competing against her for being the Queen to the king himself. She had a pleasant, delightful, and winsome demeanor. People were drawn to her. She was engaging. Perhaps those are the real reasons she became Queen.
What can we learn from Esther’s life?
Character and inner attractiveness can be cultivated. We may not get to choose our height, complexion, body size, or facial features, but we can decide to live with integrity, humility, grace, and respect for others that emanates from the inside. As we live in close contact with God, his grace, mercy, and hope will rub off on us and, therefore, be expressed to others. Let’s emphasize a joyful spirit and grace over physical appearance and outward beautifications. Inward beauty trumps outward beauty in the long run.
Circumstances cannot be controlled. While we can plan and prepare for where we go to school, who we chose to befriend, what will be our vocation; many situations are beyond our control. We can’t wait for the circumstances to be perfect. In those moments, the strength of character and personal resolve will come to the forefront. Positive attitude and hopeful perseverance will enable us to thrive even in less than ideal circumstances.
Remember Esther. She was a slave in a foreign land. At the height of competition, surrounded by sensual, greedy, superficial girls, Esther stood alone. And, amazingly, God gave her favor in others’ eyes. She’s a great model for us all.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Christians could enter a little room, push a button, and in a matter of seconds be instantly transformed from spiritual infants to spiritual giants? The physical maturation process does not work that way, and neither does the spiritual growth process. It takes effort, time, and discipline. No shortcuts exist for spiritual maturity.
The spiritual growth process involves God working in us, the individual believer working out what God is working in, teachers working with us to train and to equip, and fellow believers working together to develop Christ-likeness. The apostle Paul revealed God’s process for spiritual growth in the letter written to the church at Philippi.
God Works In
Paul wrote, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13 NIV). The initial step of faith begins the journey of God working in us. Just as a process led to our conversion, so a process moves us toward spiritual maturity. In fact, God works in us before he can work through us. Our English word energy comes from the word translated work in verse 13. It is God’s divine energy at work in us and through us to accomplish spiritual maturity. God is always at work in us in the spiritual growth process. He uses people, circumstances, and events to achieve his work. When a believer comes into relationship with Christ, their eternal destiny is altered. A radical reorientation of priorities occurs. Life’s purpose emerges. But instant liberation from every bad habit or character flaw we’ve ever possessed rarely happens. God working in us is like the landing of an invading army on a beach, and the subsequent rooting out of the enemy as the army fights and claws its way inland to occupy and control the island. At salvation, God establishes a beachhead. The total occupation will come in time as the believer grows and matures, submitting to God’s rule and reign.
Individuals Work Out
Paul added, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12 NIV). Notice that Paul didn’t say, “Work for your salvation.” To work for something means to earn it, to deserve it, to merit it. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not something we gain by doing good works. It is a free gift of God’s grace. The verb work out means “to labor to full completion,” such as working out a problem in mathematics. In Paul’s day, the word was used for “working a mine,” getting out of the mine all the valuable ore or “working a field” to harvest a bountiful crop. Today, we use the term work out to describe the physical exercise that results in health and stamina. When Paul wrote, “Work out your salvation,” he was talking about a “spiritual workout” or “spiritual training.” Spiritual growth doesn’t happen by trying harder; it comes about through training. Merely desiring spiritual maturity will never bring it about. I can try very hard to bench press three hundred pounds, but it’s not going to happen. For me to bench press three hundred pounds, I need to begin training, starting with lighter weights until I build up my muscles so I can, in time, bench press the heavier weight. Remember Yoda’s statement from Star Wars: “Do or do not, there is no try.” Training necessitates engaging in spiritual disciplines. We do the things Jesus did to live the way Jesus lived. To live a Christ-like life, we order our lives around the practices of prayer, solitude, worship, giving, sacrificing, and serving. These habits need to be consistently practiced.
Teachers Work With
Paul continued, “As you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out . . .” (Phil. 2:12 NIV). Spiritual growth rarely happens in a vacuum. Maturing believers need the counsel and guidance of teachers. Paul was a teacher to the Philippians. He had instructed and had modeled for them the Christ-like life. He was the teacher; they were the students. He was faithful to his calling; they were obedient to his instructions. Optimal growth occurs when believers fall under teachers who inspire, instruct, and challenges believers to new heights. The spiritually hungry student will be open to the instructions, insights, and guidelines of a teacher. Two key elements are necessary for effective teaching: A well-prepared, learned teacher and a teachable, obedient student. A teacher can present insightful and encouraging truth, but if the student fails to hear and to apply the truth, it becomes void. Spiritual growth demands hearing and using the truth.
Believers Work Together
Paul began his sentence by indicating his fondness of the Christians in Philippi, “Therefore, my dear friends . . .” (Phil. 2:12 NIV). Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. They were a spiritual family. Believers growing spiritually are in a relationship with other believers. Just as we have a relationship with Christ, we have a relationship with like-minded believers who are pursuing spiritual maturity and Christ-like behavior.
Business people and athletes talk about the power of a team. Well, the Christian community is no different. We are a team. We need each other. Spiritual growth was never intended to be a solo event. It was always meant to be a relational activity, where believers are accountable to each other, challenge each other, encourage each other, and provide each other support in the growth process. That is why small groups and Bible study classes are so critical to spiritual growth. Together we go farther and learn more profound truths.
Three tools are used in this partnership and process to enable believers to develop spiritually. One, God’s Word teaches us how to live.
One serious about spiritual growth will live according to Biblical principles, precepts, and promises. Therefore, a believer will read, study, memorize, meditate on, and apply God’s Word.
Two, God’s Spirit guides and informs us on how to grow. The Holy Spirit provides the power, conviction, and the direction for spiritual growth. The Holy Spirit acts as an internal warning system when we begin to make wrong steps and like an applauding crowd when we take the right steps toward becoming like Jesus. God’s ultimate purpose is to make us like his Son. God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to make God’s child more like God’s Son.
Three, God uses circumstances to mature us. Events are the problems, pressures, heartaches, difficulties, and stresses of life. We rarely grow with opportunities; we grow in the midst of obstacles. Those unfortunate events often cause suffering. And, suffering gets our attention like nothing else. C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Painful circumstances—whether we bring them on ourselves, or other people cause them, or the Devil incites them—are used by God to help us grow to Christ-likeness as we follow the Spirit’s guidance and learn from God’s Word.
The spiritual growth process won’t be quick or painless, but it will be profitable. As we submit to God, able teachers, and fellow believers, we will mature into Christ-likeness.
During the Eighteenth Century, many Quakers were wealthy, conservative slave owners. John Woolman, a Quaker, dedicated his adult life to eliminating the practice of slavery among his brethren. He spent more than twenty years visiting Quakers along the East Coast. He did not criticize people, nor did he make them angry. He merely asked questions like, “What does it mean to be a moral person? What does it mean to own a slave? What does it mean to will a slave over to one’s children?” Driven by his vision, he influenced a whole generation of people to give up slavery. By 1770, a century before the Civil War, not one Quaker owned a slave.
Certain individuals, like John Woolman, have that kind of irresistible and flaming influence that brings out the best in others. Their influence is like a fire on a cold, lifeless piece of iron. While many attempts have been made to break the iron, all have failed. But the small, soft flame curls around the iron, embracing it, and never leaving the iron until it melts under the flame’s irresistible influence.
What characterizes influencing people?
1. An undeniable dream. Woolman’s vision was to rid the world of slavery. All influencing individuals know where they are going. They have a clear sense of direction. A reason for living. A clearly defined purpose for life. Victor Hugo, the French poet, wrote, “There is nothing like a dream to create the future.”
2. An unflappable tenacity. Woolman devoted much of his adult life to his dream. Influencing people refuse to quit. Nothing will discourage them. They possess remarkable staying power. They know that life cannot deny itself to the person who gives life his all. When faced with a mountain they keep on striving until they climb over, find a pass through, tunnel underneath or turn the mountain into a gold mind.
3. An undaunted faith. Woolman believed that his fellow Quakers would see the moral light. Influencing people will not allow their principles to be compromised. They are never victims of circumstances, but victors over circumstances. They are optimistic about tomorrow. They know that when one door is shut another door that is bigger and wider a little farther down the road will be opened.
4. An unyielding compassion. Woolman saw that all people regardless of skin color deserved to be free. Influencing individuals demonstrate a care and compassion for the people they are around. Love keeps the flame of influence burning brightly. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said it this way: “The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”
John Woolman possessed each of these characteristics. Because of his efforts the Quakers were the first religious group to denounce and renounce slavery. In recounting this story, Robert Greenleaf pointed out: “One wonders what would have been the result if there had been fifty John Woolmans, or even five, traveling the length and breadth of the Colonies in the eighteenth-century persuading people, one by one, with gentle nonjudgmental argument that a wrong should be righted by individual voluntary action. Perhaps we would not have had the war with its 600,000 casualties and the impoverishment of the South, and with the resultant vexing social problem that is at fever heat 100 years later with no end in sight. We know now, in the perspective of history, that just a slight alleviation of the tension in the 1850s might have avoided the war. A few John Woolmans, just a few, might have made the difference.”
Woolman hated the idea of slavery and found it intolerable. He was determined to change the minds of his fellow Quakers. His vision, courage, and persistence transformed his church, his state, and ultimately his country.
One person can influence a marriage, family, school, church, community, nation, and world. What if each Christ-follower had such passion and conviction? What if each church had such a desire to change the world? Who will be the John Woolman in this generation?
Prayer is the indispensable and vital function of a believer. No aspect of our Christian life is more essential and crucial to our personal growth and health, and the church’s growth and health, than spending time with God. We are never taller than when we are on our knees. We are never stronger than when we are confessing our weaknesses. We are never bolder in public than when we are quiet before God in private. Those individuals that have been mightily used by God have been great prayers.
What do prayer warriors know about prayer that we need to know?
1. Prayer brings God to us. Prayer is the lifeline that saves the drowning soul. Prayer is the umbilical cord that provides nourishment to the starving spirit. Prayer is the channel by which God’s life-giving presence flows to us. The essence of prayer is to join God, not God joining us. St. Augustine, the early church father and theologian, described prayer as like a man in a hapless boat who throws a rope at a rock. The rock provides the needed security and stability and life for the helpless man. When the rock is lassoed it’s not the man pulling the rock to the boat (though it may appear that way); it is the pulling of the boat to the rock. Jesus is the rock, and we throw the rope through prayer.
2. Prayer changes us. Real prayer is not only soul satisfying; it is life changing. Richard Foster wrote, “To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. The closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ.” As we grow more and more like him we move from the rear guard to the front lines. We move from weakness to power. We move from fearfulness to boldness. We move from the comfort of the sidelines to the action of the game.
3. Prayer unleashes the power of God. Prayer is the most powerful weapon in the believer’s arsenal. Is it any wonder that the Evil One seeks valiantly to keep Christ followers from praying? The power is felt on the human front. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers.” The chief priests and elders knew that these early disciples were unschooled and ordinary men, but they recognized them as having been with Jesus. Then, the power is felt on the spiritual front. Samuel Chadwick said, “The one concern of the devil is to keep saints from prayer. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.” Prayer determines the difference between a warrior and a wimp.
4. Prayer equips us for battle. The battle is for the hearts of men and women. The war is waged as followers of Christ retake the territory of men and women’s souls that was once claimed by Satan. That’s where believers come in. God needs us on the front lines telling others about him. The war is won in the trenches of men and women’s will. We are enlisted to take the message to them. Prayer equips us for that engagement. How foolish one would be to go to battle without proper preparation, training, and equipment. How foolish are we to go to spiritual battles without prayer. We are not outfitted for the battle against evil unless we pray. John Henry Jowett claimed that “it is in the field of prayer that life’s critical battles are won or lost.” As believers and as a church we will only be triumphant in storming the lines of evil for the souls of men and women when we pray.
What would God have us do? William Arthur Wade wrote, “God wants us to be victors, not victims; to grow, not grovel; to soar, not sink; to overcome, not to be overwhelmed.” To display those traits happens as we pray. Let’s not just talk about prayer, and have seminars on prayer, and read books about prayer, and listening to sermons on prayer. Let us pray. The souls of men and women hang in the balance.
The Holy Spirit—the personal presence of God—is at work in this world. He carries out a ministry parallel to that of Jesus and permanently abides in the life of a believer. The most important characteristic of the Holy Spirit is not who he is but what he does. The Holy Spirit is not in our world just to be something. He is here to do something. While much has been written and discussed regarding the Holy Spirit’s role with believers, what does the Holy Spirit do for the unbeliever?
Billy Graham wrote in his book The Holy Spirit, “During one of our London Crusades, a Russian nobleman came one evening. He spoke no English. Yet when the invitation was given to receive Christ he responded. The trained Russian-speaking counselor asked him how, knowing no English, he had understood enough of the message to respond so intelligently. ‘When I entered this place,’ the nobleman replied, ‘I was overwhelmed with a longing for God. Tell me, how can I find him?’”
The Holy Spirit does not indwell the unbeliever, but the Bible shows that the Holy Spirit does make contact with to influence and to affect the life of the unbeliever.
The Holy Spirit convicts the unbeliever of sin. The word convict is a judicial term that finds its setting in the courtroom. A person is on trial. The evidence is presented. The jury withdraws to the jury room and then returns. The foreperson of the jury hands the decision to the judge and he announces, “The jury has found the defendant guilty.” He has been convicted. Remember the Old Testament story of the unforgettable day when the prophet Nathan stood before David who had committed adultery with Bathsheba. The king was cornered when she became pregnant, so he manipulated the death of Uriah, her husband. And then he lied about it to his nation, Israel. He lived that lie for a year, until Nathan came and stood before him. And after a brief parable regarding taking someone else’s little lamb, he stared directly at David and said, “You are the man!” And David, without hesitation, responded, “I have sinned.” In other words, “Guilty as charged!” That’s the way it is when the Spirit works. That is the work of the Holy Spirit: to convict unbelievers, to expose the depravity of their lives and prove their guilt before God.
2. The Holy Spirit convinces the unbeliever of guilt. The defendant in the courtroom hears the verdict of the jury, “Guilty.” Something inside him or her responds to that conviction with positive acceptance. “They are right. I am guilty.” It’s like being caught with your hand in the cookie jar or the teacher seeing you as you look over the shoulder of your classmate for answers to the test question or when policeman’s flashing lights come on behind your car and you look down at your speedometer to see that you are going 75 in a 55mph zone. You’re caught. You’re guilty.
3. The Holy Spirit awakens a sense of guilt in the person convicted of wrongdoing, to bring the person who has been proven guilty to the point where he or she is ready to admit it. That is the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the unbeliever: to point him or her to a fact and then persuade him or her it is true.
4. The Holy Spirit points the unbeliever to Jesus. When Jesus was on Earth in the flesh, he made some incredible claims. He said he was the one and only answer for the problem of man, that he was the perfect righteousness of God that could cover man’s sins. Yet Jesus is gone now. We can no longer see him in the flesh. We can no longer hear him speaking directly to us. So the Holy Spirit points to the fact of Christ’s righteousness and convinces us it is true.
5. The Holy Spirit points to the cross showing how much a righteous God cared about our fellowship by dying for our sins making it possible for us to be counted among the righteous. The Holy Spirit not only shows us for what we really are, he shows Christ for who he really is. The Holy Spirit’s role is not just to condemn us in our sin, but also to convince us of our need for Jesus.
6. The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of unbelievers to convict and convince them of their sin and of their need for Jesus. Only two things are needed for a person to move from an unbeliever to a believer: their own sin and the righteousness that God has provided in Jesus Christ. That’s what the Holy Spirit does to the unbeliever.
The Bible speaks of a power that eclipses the most potent
weapon, the strongest river, the largest atomic explosion, and the potential of
the human brain. It’s the wonder working power of God. The power that can
change a life, calm a soul, set a captive free, and change the world.
The word often translated power in the New Testament is dynamis, the origin of the
English word dynamite. The inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel, found a way to
take a volatile substance nitroglycerin, and make it stable. The dynamis
of God makes a volatile life stable by infusing his followers with the capacity
to do his powerful work in the world.
Our omnipotent God, through the Holy Spirit, wants to gives
us more power.
God’s power given to his people will make politicians
jealous, will amaze the naturalist, will bewilder the scientist, and will
overwhelm the executive. Each day God wants to give you and me, common,
ordinary people, as we are, his power to accomplish his work.
When the Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost
and took control of the believers’ lives, his presence had an immediate effect,
then and now.
frailties are transformed into supernatural gifts and abilities. From the
moment the Holy Spirit arrived, nothing about the disciples remained the same.
When his power fell upon them, they spoke in another language. From their lips
flowed words they had never spoken before in languages they had never learned.
These once frightened, unsure, timid, confused men never again evidenced such
reluctance is transformed into bold confidence.Before Jesus’ resurrection, these same disciples were
afraid of being found by the Jews so they hid secretly behind closed doors.
They were frozen in fear. But that was then. Now they poured into the public
streets of Jerusalem preaching Christ and urging total strangers to repent and
to believe in Jesus. Even the authorities and their attackers noticed the
difference in these men. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized
that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took
note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NIV). While they did not
look any differently physically, nor had they taken crash courses that made
them cultured and sophisticated, they were different. They were changed men.
suffering is transformed into joyful perseverance. Now bold in their
witness and strong in their stand these early disciples felt the sting of
Pharisaical blows. In an effort to squelch their preaching the Pharisees
ordered Peter and John flogged. “They called the disciples in and had them
flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them
go” (Acts 5:40 NIV). The Jewish leaders must have thought that the flogging
would shut them up for good. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing
because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day
after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped
teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:40-42
NIV). The Amplified Bible says they were “dignified by the indignity.” The
flogging, the warning, and the threat merely fueled the fire of their
determination. In fact, they left rejoicing. Joy filled their hearts. The wimps
had become warriors.
Whenever I call my IT guy, the first question he asks is:
“Is your computer plugged in?” If we want to see the power of God work in our
lives, we must be plugged in. Here’s how—
for his power. We do not have because we do not ask.
his instructions. The power of God’s Spirit comes in direct proportion to our
his majesty. Worship is the pathway of connecting with God. Remember the early
disciples were recognized as having been with Jesus.
his blessings. We must believe that God will do what he has promised.
in his service. Rejoicing in God in spite of our circumstances is a sure
indication that we know that God is in control.
Though the Bible never uses the word guidance, it does speak of a Guide. We may seek guidance, but God
provides something better—himself.
God’s guidance rests on two facts: One, the reality of God’s
plan for us. God has formed us for an “eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11) (literally, a “plan of the
ages” or “a plan for the fullness of time”) “according to the plan of him who
works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11).
The second fact is our ability to communicate with God.
Since we are communicative animals, so our Maker is a communicative God. He
made his will known to and through Old Testament prophets. He guided Jesus and
Paul. Acts records several instances of detail guidance.
And why wouldn’t God want to communicate his plan to us? We
are his children. If human parents have a responsibility to give their children
guidance in matters where ignorance and incapacity would spell danger, we
should not doubt that in the family of God the same applies. He has given us
his Word, the Bible, which in my opinion, contains 95% of his will for our
lives. He has left us the indwelling presence of his Holy Spirit to prompt and
direct our lives. He seeks his glory in our lives, and he is glorified in us
when we obey his will.
Yet many of us struggle to understand and discern God’s
guidance for our lives. We ask questions like: Should I marry or not? Should I
marry this person or not? Should we have another child? Should I join this
church or that one? Which profession should I follow? What job should I take?
Is my present line of work the one to stay in? Herein lies the major distortion
of knowing and doing God’s will. Does God lead and direct in these areas? Yes.
Does he come out and overtly tell us what to do? Rarely.
So how does God guide us? What does God’s guidance look like? Let me give you a few clarifying statements.
God’s guidance concerns itself more with our steps than our overall journey. Meaning, if we are taking the right steps the journey will take care of itself.
God’s guidance is more preoccupied with the present than with the future. God dwells in eternity; he is not bound by time. If we become preoccupied with future journey, we may miss the present step.
God’s guidance has less to do with geography and more to do with morality. His supreme plan for you and me is to be like his son (Rom. 8:29). He can accomplish that plan whether you are living in Montreal or Miami, working for ATT or BASF. In other words, it is better we make a mistake about geography than about the morality.
God’s guidance is more interested in our character than our comfort. God’s goal always has been to perfect us spiritually not to pamper us physically. Americans read the Bible with distorted lens. We read over the suffering, persecution, toil, and pain that most believers in the Bible endured. Too often we equate God’s will with success and comfort, and think we are outside God’s will when we faced with failure and pain.
God’s guidance is not insider information. Often we want to know beforehand which step will lead to money, happiness, and success. Let me give you a test. Do you really want God’s guidance? Then, how often do you seek God’s guidance when you are not facing trouble or a difficult decision?
God’s guidance is that we purse the Guide more than guidance. In seeking God, his plan will be revealed.
If the step is more critical than the journey and the
present of great consequence than the future and the Guide more essential than
the guidance, what is needed? We need to know the right step to take, what we
must do in the present, and the Guide. God does not guide us magically; he
guides us relationally. The Bible, therefore, must be studied so we may become
acquainted with the ways and thoughts of God. God’s aim is that we become his
companions that walk with him. He already knows us. Now he wants us to
understand and know him. The more we understand him, the more real the
relationship, and the more likely we are to keep in step with him, in the
direction he is taking us.
Crowds are synonymous with Christmas. The Malls are packed, the check-out lines wind around forever, the roads are crammed with cars, airports are jammed, and churches have a few more people than normal. Even our homes are teeming with additional decorations, parties, and activities.
The problem with crowds at Christmas is that they tend to trample Jesus. We get so involved in the shopping that we miss the Savior. We are so busy with travel that Jesus is left home alone. We slide into a seat at church that is not our usual place because someone else is sitting in our place and we don’t focus on Jesus because we are angry with that unfamiliarpew occupant. We are in such a hurry at Christmas that we aren’t living well, our souls are in need of a break, if not intensive care.
Richard Foster wrote in his book Celebration of Discipline, “In contemporary society our Adversary majors in threethings: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.” At no time of the year is this observation a greater reality. Could it be that the crowds, the shopping, the incessant bell ringing and music playing, the increased numbers of activities, the fast-paced lifestyles are simply a ploy of Satan to keep us from the Savior?
Crowds and clamor have a tendency to smother Jesus at Christmas. He, more often than not, is forgotten, neglected, and if we aren’t careful, destroyed.
What must we do to prevent the crowds from trampling out Christ at Christmas?
Christmas, by itsvery nature, anticipates something on the horizon the like of which we have never seen before. Yet it is possible to not see it. To miss it. To turn just as it brushes past us. And, once past, once we have missed it, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s back fade in the distance, we grasp that we have failed to notice it. So move away from the hustle and bustle. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. There will be time enough for running, for activity, for pushing, for worrying, for crowds. But for now, stay. Wait. Bestill. Something is on the horizon.
2. Find a place of quiet.
Christmas comes packaged with a lot of noise. It’s everywhere. There’s music playing, bells ringing, people chattering, paper rustling. The nature of crowds prompts noise. It can’t be avoided. The only way is to move away from the noise to find a place of quiet.
A place of quiet is not always a physical place. In fact, often when we need quietness the most, we can’t get away from the crowds. A quiet place is a place of the heart. Like the eye of a hurricane, the storm rages around us, but internally there is calmness, peace, and silence.
I know it wasn’t sung on the first Christmas morning, but it could have been: Silent Night. Listen closely to the words.
Silent night, holy night; All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child! Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace.
That’s what I want to experience, don’t you? Silence. Calm. Sleep. Peace.
Country music star Travis Tritt spent many years playing out-of-the-way joints before he made it big in the music industry. He reports that many of the bars were dangerous places, with drunken fans starting fights over the smallest matters. Crowds can easily become uncontrollable mobs. But Tritt found a unique way to keep the peace in such situations. He says: “Silent Night proved to be my all-time lifesaver. Just when [the bar fights] started getting out of hand, when bikers were reaching for their pool cues and rednecks were heading for the gun rack, I’d start playing Silent Night. It could be the middle of July—I didn’t care. Sometimes they’d even start crying, standing there watching me sweat and play Christmas carols.”
Find the time, and if you can, the place, to enjoy the silence, the calmness, the peace this Christmas. Move away from the crowds and listen to the still, silent voice of God. Find a place, a part from the crowds, to be silent. And, then, you will find the Savior.
Christmas comes every year. It’s no surprise. It’s on the calendar. Same date every year. Yet still people are not ready. It’s no different today than it was at the first Christmas. The Christmas story reveals that Jesus came to a world that he created, to a people that had long awaited his arrival, but they were not ready. Four types of people are identified.
1. The Busy
While he is not mentioned by name in the Bible, an innkeeper was confronted by a man and his pregnant wife. He turned them away saying he had no room for them. He didn’t have time for the Savior, because he was too busy. It was the census. The tiny hamlet was crowded and his was the only place for lodging. He had rooms to clean, food to serve, decorations to put up, towels to wash, people to care for. He wasn’t an evil man or unsympathetic. He was just busy. That’s all.
The innkeeper reminds me of people who become so consumed with the commotion of Christmas that they miss the Christ of Christmas. They are addicted to activity, not necessarily sinful activity, just things that keep one occupied. The clutter of shopping, parties, concerts, dinners preoccupy their day. They are too busy for the Son of God.
2. The Self-Absorbed
Standing in sharp contrast to the innkeeper is another man who didn’t have time for the Savior. Herod, the King of the Jews, was very old, very sick, and nearly dead. He was a dying man tottering on an unstable throne. Like all despots, he held tightly to the reins of power and brutally removed anyone who got in his way. Over the years he killed his brother-in-law, mother-in-law, and even his own wife. The notion of a baby “born” king of the Jews was a direct threat to his throne. No wonder he tried to kill Jesus. In his eyes, he had no choice. It was kill or be killed. He didn’t have time for another rival. He was ready to kill anyone who was a threat, even a tiny, helpless baby.
Herod is not unlike the men and women today who won’t allow anything to interfere with their career, position in life, ambition, plans, or lifestyle. They won’t let someone else be king of their lives. They see Jesus as a threat so they don’t make time for him. Allegiance to someone else other than themselves is unthinkable.
3. The Familiar
A whole group of people wasn’t ready for Jesus. And, if there were a group of people who should have been aware of the timing of Jesus arrival, it was the chief priests and scribes. They were the theologians, the religious elite of Israel. They had studied the prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah. They were encouraged to the read the signs of the times for his arrival. They preached of a Deliverer, the Anointed One, which would come to eradicate the oppressors from their country.
They were the theological experts, the guardians of spiritual truth, yet they never bothered to travel the five miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to find out for themselves if the Messiah had indeed been born. Surely they, too, saw the star. They heard the news about the infant born in Bethlehem. Why did they not make time for Jesus? Indifference. They didn’t care. They had all the facts but the Messiah was not really important to them. They didn’t have time for the Savior because they felt they didn’t need him. They were self-righteous, believing they were already all that God could ever want of them. They were sickeningly arrogant. They had no time for the Savior. In fact, when Jesus began his public ministry, it was these same men that despised Jesus and ultimately plotted his murder.
4. The Procrastinator
One other group of people was present who wasn’t ready for Jesus. They are not mentioned in this text, but they exist. They live in every age. They are the people who are not ready for Jesus because of delay. We have a name for them—procrastinators. The procrastinators saw the star, heard of the baby, knew that something strange and wonderful was happening, and wanted to check it out, but never got around to it. They were going to do it—just later. They had the opportunity of a lifetime. The very Savior of the world was within their grasp, but they put off going to the manager to see the baby Jesus.
Procrastinators are in each generation. They know what they should do but fail to act because of a lack of urgency. “There’s no hurry,” they say. There is always tomorrow. It is communicated in such phrases as, “I’ll buy the gift after Christmas, when it goes on sale.” “I’ll write the thank you note after things slow down.” “I’ll see my Dad when the holidays are over. I’ll have more time then.” “I’ll give my heart to Jesus next Sunday.” But tomorrow never comes. The opportunity is lost.
Of the four types of people mentioned above who are you most like?
Are you like the innkeeper? Are you not ready for Jesus because you are too busy?
Maybe you’re like Herod. You’re not ready for Jesus because you’re self-absorbed in your own agenda.
Or, perhaps, you identify with the religious leaders. You’re familiar with Jesus, but your heart is covered with calluses. You’ve heard the story so many times that you don’t hear it anymore and you just don’t care. So you’re saying, “Why bother?”
Does the procrastinator group resonate with you? You know the need and realize the peril, but would rather wait? Are you whispering to yourself, “There’s no hurry? I’ll make time for Jesus later.”
Let’s get ready for Christmas beginning now. Christmas is going to come whether we are ready or not. And Jesus is going to come again, whether we are ready or not. While there is still time let’s get ready for Christmas and for Jesus. And if you have to choose one over the other, it’s best to be ready for Jesus.
Christmas comes on December 25 every 365 days, whether we are ready or not. Are you ready for Christmas? Or do you need a little more time to get ready?
Christmas involves an assortment of obligations, duties, activities, observances, and traditions. These activities are compressed into our already frazzled lives. Christmas is going to come regardless of if you have sent the cards, lighted the tree, wrapped the presents, or done all the shopping. It takes a lot of time to prepare and observe Christmas traditions and activities.
If we are honest with ourselves, we don’t have time for Christmas.
Time is the one commodity that we can’t generate more of. We can make additional money. Energy can be enhanced. But we only have 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and 24 hours in a day. No more, no less.
Isn’t it interesting that time is made for consumerism at Christmas, but is time made for the Christ of Christmas?
What if Joseph said, “I don’t care what Caesar Augustus ordered, I don’t have time to go to Bethlehem to pay my taxes. I have got some bookcases to build.”
What if Mary said, “I’m too young to have a child, it will demand too much of my time, and, furthermore, I’m not married, I’ll have an abortion.”
What if God said, “Send my Son to earth? You got to be kidding, I don’t have time for those God-forsaking people. And, anyway, it is a stinky, dirty planet.”
But Joseph did not make that statement, and neither did Mary or God say those things.
Christmas is about a God who made time and came at the right time. Listen to these two verses. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born” (Luke 2:6 NIV). “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4 NIV). These verses are tied together referring to the birth of Jesus. “The baby” in Luke 2:6 refers to Mary’s baby, Jesus. A very human baby from a very human mother. “His Son” in Gal. 4:4 refers to God’s Son. A very divine baby from a very divine father. In these two verses the whole theology of the incarnation is unveiled: this baby of Mary’s, God’s only Son, was totally human, yet totally divine.
The reference to “time” in both verses arrests my attention. “The time came” and “When the time had fully come.” God made the time and at the right time in history Jesus came.
God didn’t say, “I don’t have the time.” Rather, he said, “I’ll make the time.” God’s Son was born on that first Christmas morning. And, it was all for us. God made the time and sent his Son at just the right time out of his love for you and me.