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Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Prayer

Treasured Friend,

Caregiving is never easy. And in this Christmas season with all the celebration going on around us (perhaps even without us) and with its added responsiblities and the added reminder that normalcy for us may be a thing of the past, we may be tempted to be discouraged.

In those moments when I'm watching courage drain out of me faster than my bathroom sink empties, the temptation is great to give up on expecting anything from God, to give up on even asking Him for my daily supply. Despair oozes up as courage drains down. And instead of running TO God in those moments, I'm tragically tempted to push Him away.

In case that sounds familiar to you on this Christmas week, I want to encourage you not to give up on prayer. We may not get the answers we want, just when we want them. (I got a poignant reminder of that this week.) But the blessing and the beauty of prayer is that it isn't about us at all. It isn't about getting our answers. It isn't even about giving God our want-lists. Not one bit.

No, prayer is all about the one-on-one relationship Christmas made possible -- the one-on-one relationship between our Creator God and us. He is at once supreme over the universe and intimately concerned with the intricate happenings of your life and mine. He longs to hear from us and to talk to us. He gave us the unique gift of prayer just so that could happen. He wrapped it up in love, and His Son offered it to each of us when we accepted Him as our Savior. Prayer was His idea. And in the end, it truly is all about Him.

Here's what I wrote in my book, Praying Like Jesus:


[T]he nature of gifts [is this:] They do not just please the recipient, but they also express the personality and the joyful spirit of the giver. It is as much fun to choose a gift for a loved one as it is to see her joy in receiving it.

God's gifts are no exception. James writes, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights" (James 1:17). ... The gifts God gives to us are many. Salvation, of course, is the pinnacle of these. But He also gives us abundant life; enjoyment of beauty; love, joy, and peace. Sometimes He gives us items from our wish lists. Other times He gives gifts we didn't know we wanted. And some of His gifts come wrapped in the tissue of sorrow, pain, or disappointment. The child with Down's Syndrome who becomes a sweet blessing. The parent whose funeral celebrates a God-filled life. The loss of a job that challenges a believer to attend seminary.

Hear Jesus' words in His masterpiece of oratory, the Sermon on the Mount: "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11). God's gifts, like His character, are always good. They flow out of His loving heart. But they flow the most when we humble ourselves and ask of Him. Jesus invites His followers to "keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:7 nlt).


So as you're opening a gift or two with your name on it this Christmas, remember the gift of prayer God offers to you with open hands. In this season of celebrating the coming of His Son as the Child Who would grow to be our Savior--remember to use and consider precious the gift He provided to each of us--the gift of anytime/anywhere access into His presence where we can keep on asking and know He will hear and answer.

That being said, my Christmas prayer for you this year is that you will be courageous and tenacious in lifting your heart's Christmas prayer to heaven's throneroom -- where it will be received personally and answered by Our Father Who is in heaven.

Blessings and prayers -- and Christmas Joy!

Julie

© 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christ(mas) Love

Treasured friend,


It’s Christmas. Or nearly so. The season of getting, right? The season of accumulating the biggest stack of cards and the tallest pyramid of presents, right? The season of making our lists and handing them off to someone else to fill. Oh, wait. That makes it sound a lot more like standing in line at the pharmacy with our list of prescriptions (which I did for an hour the other day to try to get Dad’s new meds filled).

Well, of course that’s not it. No, we all can rattle off the real reason for Christmas—giving, right? Well, sort of. The Christmas story in one verse pretty much boils down to: GodsolovedtheworldthatHe GAVE …
 
The way that reads gets close to my usual understanding of the verse—to me it's always been all about celebrating the giving of Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for my sin, the Savior of my soul, the initiator of my new life as a reborn-in-spirit person destined now for eternity in heaven.

But what if the real meaning isn’t about the giving any more than it is about the getting? What if the real motivation is hidden in that quickly glossed-over section of John 3:16:

For GOD so LOVED …

I suspect that the essence of the true story of the birth and death of the Son of God is wrapped up in those two words: God loved. The all-sufficient Creator of the vast expanses of universe and the tiniest quark and everything in between needed nothing. He wanted for nothing. And if He had wanted anything, He could merely breathe or speak it into existence. That, in fact, is exactly what He did when He wanted to express His vast store of creativity.

And yet, because His heart beats with kindness, with compassion, with unmerited mercy, with amazing grace, with longing, with love for the helpless beings He created in His own image—because of all that, He did something about our condition—He gave Himself away to be subjected to unspeakable torture. But again, the giving away isn’t the big story here—it’s all about that amazing God-love that was behind the scenes of the giving. Fueling and motivating and underwriting it.

In the same way, the story of holding Christmas in our hearts and expressing it year round to the people in our lives who need it daily, is equally less about the giving we do and more about the motivation for that giving. As caregivers, we do give. It’s in the job description, if you’ll recall an earlier entry in this blog. In fact, so pivotal is giving to our calling that it’s in our title!

But the motivation of the giving means everything. Do we give our time and energies to our ailing, aging loved ones out of duty. (God said to honor our parents, so I’m going to do it if it kills me?) Is it out of guilt? Is it out of a desire for others to hold us up on pedestals (what a sweet daughter you have!)? Is it out of anger or frustration? Is it out of sheer grit and determination?

Some days, our caring may be tinged with these—on our less-than-good days. But I love the truth that as believers in Christ, as recipients of the God-love that reached down to us in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, we gain the potential of reflecting and exhibiting that God-love in the real world where we live. I suppose that’s why God made such a big deal in my life earlier this year (in February, as you’ll recall) about returning to my first love in Him. Because in my growing cold of heart, my calling was running even colder yet. And He wanted something better for me, better for my parents … He wanted it all to be done in love.

Getting up before dawn to make breakfast and shuttle Dad off to his blood test--done in love. Spending the day in the waiting room with Mom preparing for her surgery—all about love. Advocating for them both--because of love. Interpreting confusing documents—even that's with love. Giving shots. Ordering meds. Just sitting and listening to whatever is most important to them—maybe the most love-gesture of all.

So my Christmas challenge—to myself first, and you’re free to take it up for yourself if you’d like—comes from 1 John 4:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12

Let’s ask for our heavenly Christmas gift this year to be all about expanding our capacity to love God and love each other as God loves us. Let’s ask for the ability to live out this love in such a way that anyone who does not know God and has never seen Him—will see Him unmistakably in us as we care lovingly for our aging parents. Maybe then we’ll all get a healthier perspective on the real meaning of Christmas:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

A blessed Christmas to you and your loved ones – from our house to yours!


Julie

© 2011, Julie-Allyson Ieron. All rights reserved. For reprint permission, email: orders@joymediaservices.com. Scriptures quoted from ESV unless otherwise indicated.