A holiday brimming with delicious food, time with family and friends, and lots of football, Thanksgiving is also a day to remember what we’re thankful for. For Christians, Thanksgiving presents an opportunity to reflect on all God has done and is doing and thank him.
Gratitude should mark the people of God, but we can be tempted to reserve it for a holiday or mealtime prayers. Paul exhorts us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” His command feels extreme—does he really want us to give thanks in everything? If so, what does gratitude even look like? How can we start building a habit of thanksgiving?
The good news is we can become grateful people by the power of the Spirit, and we can begin growing in gratefulness with one simple step: noticing what God is doing in our lives.
Paul mentions fourteen times in his letters that he thanks God for the people he’s writing to. Have you ever stopped to consider why he mentioned his gratefulness for his fellow Christians? Whether he is about to write words of rebuke or correction or encouragement, he still thanks God for the church—for people. He notices them. More importantly, he notices that God has orchestrated his relationship with them, that God put them in his life for a reason, and that God works in and through them.
Just as God brings people into our lives, he also places us in our neighborhoods, jobs, and churches. When he created the world, he put humans in it to live, grow, and take care of creation. Taking time to notice the world God put you in—your workplace, your home, your car, your church, your neighborhood park—can help cultivate gratitude in your heart. Yes, difficult places exist. Brokenness riddles our world. But God’s goodness, faithfulness, and kindness always shine forth through the brokenness for us to witness and thank him for.
Have you ever paused to notice a moment? Maybe the giggles of a playing toddler, the taste of a home-cooked meal, or the words of a hymn in Sunday worship. Or maybe you look back on past moments, spending time to reminisce with old college friends or to remember a loved one who’s passed away.
Past or present, moments encapsulate beauty. Slowing down to notice important or even seemingly insignificant moments can make us more grateful.
Taking notice of your people and your world—and seeing all of it as God-given, as proof of his love and grace—is the first step toward gratitude. When we know what to notice, we can move from simply observing our lives to giving thanks to God. Thanksgiving can look different for all of us, but there are a few practical ways we can weave it into our lives.
Keeping a gratitude journal is trendy for a reason. When we put pen to paper and list what we’re grateful for, we acknowledge what God has given us in a physical way. Regularly slowing down to thank God helps solidify gratitude in our hearts and builds our thankfulness muscle. Journals can also help us remember what God has done for us when we’re facing impossible, difficult situations. In many ways, it is an act of worship to write down what we are grateful for. Grab a journal or a pad of paper and try writing down three things you’re thankful for every day, then turn your list into a prayer of praise.
Gratitude is contagious. When we tell others what we’re thanking God for, we point them to gratefulness. Take a walk with a friend or call a family member and weave gratitude into your conversation organically. Notice how speaking with thankfulness about your life affects others. Or tell a significant person in your life that you are thankful for him or her and why, just as Paul did for the churches he wrote to.
Hardship often makes gratitude feel as impossible as asking the rain to stop pouring. When we face difficulty, the habits we’ve formed in calmer times come in handy. They give us the words to say when we have none to offer. Find verses on gratitude and memorize them (consider Psalm 100; Philippians 4:6–7; or 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Make a playlist of songs that express thanksgiving to God and return to it often. Or find a written prayer that thanks God that you can pray when words don’t come easily.
Gratitude transforms us. When we give thanks, we acknowledge God and his work in the world. We lift our eyes from looking at ourselves to see the spiritual reality of our lives.
God is at work. He always has been and always will be.
As you enter the holiday season, look for ways to build a lifestyle of gratitude. Invite your friends and family to join you and see how God grows joy, love, and hope in you as you thank him.
Publisher, RightNow Media
If you’re a decision-maker at your organization, request a free consultation to find out how RightNow Media can equip and inspire your people.
Not a decision-maker?
Tell your pastor about RightNow Media instead.
Have you ever found yourself leaving a Sunday worship service saying to yourself, “The worship was great—I can’t wait for next week”? Or maybe you've had the opposite reaction: “I love this church, but the worship was not my favorite . . .” No matter which situation you have found yourself in, we can all admit that we sometimes equate worship with the music we sing on a Sunday morning.
Our perspective of worship is often limited to what we experience at church. But Scripture is clear about what worship is—it extends much deeper than the songs that we sing. Worship is an intimate expression of gratitude for the mercies of God that he’s given to his people. And singing is just one aspect of how we worship. True worship happens when we live a life of sacrifice—when we worship as a lifestyle.
Paul had a strong grasp of what it meant to worship when he wrote to the Roman church. In Romans 12 Paul writes,
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.”
Paul appealed to the church in Rome with the truth that worship is meant to be a sacrificial offering to God. What do we sacrifice? We sacrifice our lives to God. Sacrificing time by setting aside moments to reach out to those we care about is an expression of worship. Worship is sacrificing our money by giving consistently to the local church or covering a friend’s bill. It’s also offering our gifts and talents to help others. We’re called to live a lifestyle of worship—not setting apart portions of our week for worship but instead living in a constant state of worship knowing that every moment can be an act of service to God.
So, what does it look like to worship with our lives?
First, we worship in Spirit and in truth. In John 4:23, Jesus spoke with a Samaritan woman who would become the first evangelist of Jesus’s ministry. In this passage, John records Jesus’s words as he taught the woman how we worship. Jesus said,
“But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
Worshiping in Spirit and truth means we are led by the Spirit and grounded in the truth of Scripture. We need the Spirit—he moves in us, teaching us to worship, maturing us, and rooting us in truth. Sacrificial worship begins with our relationship with the Spirit. But how, exactly, does he help us to worship? In Romans 12:2, Paul says,
“Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .”
Worship begins with internal transformation. Renewal of the mind does not come from self-improvement or the next great self-help podcast. The Holy Spirit is the one who changes us. By his power, we experience transformation in our minds, our desires, and our actions. We worship in Spirit and truth by surrendering to the Holy Spirit and allowing him to work in our hearts. When we do so, we allow him to change us, enabling us to offer ourselves completely to God.
Second, our worship is to be holy, or set apart. Paul is not calling us to worship perfectly but rather to offer holistic worship. As Jesus’s followers, how we serve, how we give, how we love—they’re all expressions of our worship.
We can often get distracted by the ways of the world and lose sight of where we orient our worship. One example is how our minds are often slaves to any form of stimulation or entertainment. We can spend countless hours streaming Netflix or scrolling through our smartphones and, before we know it, we’ve devoted half our day to mindless consumption. But Paul reminds us that in our worship we should “not be conformed to this age.” Our devotion to God should be all-encompassing, which means we cannot let sin run rampant in our lives. Instead, we should live in a way that shows our lives belong to God.
Finally, our worship is to be pleasing to God. He wants us to offer our joys, struggles, successes, and hardships to him. We please him as we move away from self-centeredness toward God-centered lives. As we do so, we begin to see that his ways are much greater than ours. Our desires and aspirations begin to align with his. Paul comments on this transformation in Romans 12:2 by saying,
“. . . so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”
Paul says when we have a lifestyle of worship, we align with the Holy Spirit, and we know and delight in the will of God. Worship connects us to our creator; it changes us and makes us more like Christ.
So, how do we worship as a lifestyle? We live a life of sacrifice. We devote every day to God. We worship in Spirit and in truth in a manner that is holy and pleasing to God. The music we sing moves us and allows us to express praise in a unique and creative way. But music isn’t the main avenue of worship—our lives are the ultimate vehicle of worship to our savior. How do you worship? How are you devoting your life in surrender to God?
Living out our worship begins with a biblical understanding of worship. Gather your family and tune into Worship in the Word. Sing along with Christian artists Shane & Shane as they share ten beautiful, simple songs drawn directly from Scripture, providing a biblical and captivating worship experience.
But despite our best intentions to engage with God every day, many of us struggle to do so. According to The American Bible Society, 181 million Americans opened a Bible in 2021. Of those 181 million people . . .
If you have struggles, doubts, or fears when it comes to engaging with God’s Word, you are not alone. Millions of Christians desire to spend more time with God, but don’t know how.
So, how can we spend daily time with God when obstacles get in our way? To answer that question, we’ll start by digging into what God’s Word says about spending time with him.
Spending time with God isn’t just something we should do for him—it’s something he wants to do with us. We serve a personal, caring God who invites us to come to him for rest (Matthew 11:28–30).
If we approach God with a humble heart, we have freedom in the details of how we engage with him. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” God cares more about our heart posture than our method of relating to him.
Starting a new habit is overwhelming when we try to do it on our own. However, when we depend on God for help, we are empowered to change by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 12:1–2 encourages Christians to surrender to God’s renewing sanctification that will help us look more like him. We don’t need self-help; we need to depend on God for true transformation.
Let’s get practical about how we can spend time with God regularly in 2022. There will be some reflection prompts in the following section, so make sure you have somewhere to record your answers.
There’s a big difference between saying to yourself, “I’ll spend time with God at some point,” and “I will spend thirty minutes with God at [time] and [place].” The clearer your plan, the more likely you are to make it happen. Take a moment to write down your plan.
Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” One of the best tools we have for habit change is the accountability and support of one another. If you want to spend more time with God, it will be helpful to tell trusted friends so they can keep you accountable. Brainstorm a list of possible accountability partners and plan how you will stay accountable to them.
Think of the things you do every single day and ponder how you could integrate God’s Word into those pre-existing routines. For example, if you usually watch TV before bed, try putting your Bible on your bedside table and reading before you go to sleep. If you’re in the habit of listening to the news on your morning commute, try listening to worship music or a sermon. The options are endless. List three things you do every single day and brainstorm ways to invite Jesus into those routines.
Spending time with God doesn’t have to be a chore. You don’t have to do the same thing every day. Remember, God cares more about our heart posture than our method of relating to him. You can switch up your routine by listening to a Christian podcast or watching a Bible study video. RightNow Media has a vast library of biblical videos you can use as a starting point for your devotional time. These videos can help you better understand Scripture, live by biblical values, and learn to share your faith with others.
You can also browse our Men’s, Women’s, Youth, and Kids libraries to discover video content for everyone.
It takes time for habits to form and change, and the journey won’t be perfect. Instead of getting discouraged by your struggles and slip-ups, use them as opportunities to grow closer to God. Remember, he wants to spend time with you. Whether you’re reading the Bible, watching a RightNow Media video, or journaling your prayers to God, each interaction with him will sanctify you to think, act, and love more like Jesus.
Jesus’s resurrection, as “O Holy Night” says, is the breaking of a “new and glorious morn.” That hymn, in fact, bears great significance for us this Easter season. In its first few lines, we find incredible hope:
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Jesus’s birth held the promise of a new hope for those who were there to see it. Joseph and Mary and the shepherds were certain of the significance of the child laying in that borrowed feeding trough (Luke 2:7). The “Savior . . . who is the Messiah, the Lord” was “born for [them]” (Luke 2:11, CSB).
Thirty-three years later, the “new and glorious morn” was replaced with hopeless mourning. Jesus’s lifeless, broken body was being placed in a borrowed tomb, and the holiness of that first night was being called into question. The stars that shined so “brightly” at his coming were now dimmed with his apparent departure. The joy of the weary world gave way to deep, guttural groans of lament.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve chose to pluck a fruit that they weren’t yet allowed to harvest, and the thorny consequences of that first sin affect us to this day. With one ill-advised bite, the garden became a graveyard that spread death around the globe.
In John’s gospel, we first meet the resurrected Jesus in a graveyard outside the tomb he had once occupied. Mary, soaking the ground outside the tomb with her tears, hears the voice of someone behind her, presuming him to be the gardener.
What’s a gardener doing in a graveyard before sunrise?
Mary’s assumption about the man in the garden, who we know is Jesus, points us to a deeper truth. Jesus, beginning with his death and resurrection, is turning a graveyard into a garden, undoing the curse of sin. He is inaugurating and cultivating the new creation. He is resurrecting this death-soaked world.
The world now has a reason to rejoice.
We celebrate Easter because at the resurrection of Jesus—the new and better gardener—the world is in bloom again. We wear bright colors, sing resurrection hymns, and feast with family and friends because we carry with us the thrill of hope, for “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”
We couldn’t sing “O Holy Night” without the empty tomb of resurrection morning. The “night of our dear savior’s birth,” would be like any other night if not for the thrilling refrain: “He is risen! He is risen, indeed!”
If you’re interested in learning more about the life of Jesus of Nazareth and the impact of his ministry, check out Journey with Jesus with Dr. Tony Evans, Chrystal Evans Hurst, and Priscilla Shirer.
We all know that prayer is an important part of the Christian life, but if we’re honest, finding time to pray can seem impossible. It’s hard to pause to pray throughout the week when work, family, and an overloaded schedule seem to take up most of our free time. We all have a lot going on, but we don’t have to let busyness stop us from spending time with God. In fact, we can’t afford to let busyness stop us—prayer is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life because it is how we communicate with God. We cannot properly serve a God we don’t talk to.
If we’re going to see prayer as an important part of our daily lives, let’s keep a few things in mind.
The Bible makes it clear that prayer isn’t optional—prayer is a command and is essential to following Jesus. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (emphasis mine). Think about your current prayer life and ask yourself, “Do I really talk to God about everything?” Many of us would admit that we have a habit of inviting God into the large-scale issues of life, while leaving him out of what we might consider miniscule. But leaving him out of the little things can subtly lead to a lifestyle of independence and isolation. Every Christian is called to pray in every circumstance.
Prayer keeps us in check and helps us remain dependent on God. We all have the tendency to think we have life figured out—with Google, opinions on social media, and readily available advice from friends, it’s easy to think we have our lives under control. But as helpful as our friends and internet resources are, we need the Spirit of God to generate a spiritual life. When we pray, we’re showing God that we know we need him. We cannot make it through this life without his guidance, his wisdom, and his input.
No relationship we have can thrive if we don’t spend significant time with the other person—the connection we have with friends, family, or significant others will eventually fizzle if we don’t make quality time a priority. The same is true for our relationship with God. If we want to know God deeply, then communication is key.
As believers, much of how and why we pray is rooted in how well we know God. Because we know he expects holiness, our prayers must include repentance. Because we know he is a generous God, our prayers must include thanksgiving and gratitude. Because he is a good and kind God, our prayers should include our adoration and praise for him. The more we know him, the broader and more intimate our prayers become.
There are many ways we can enrich our life of prayer. Take a moment to read through these suggestions and reflect on the prayer life you currently have and what kind of prayer life you want.
God desires to be involved in our daily routine, thoughts, and decision making. Say a prayer of thankfulness when you find a great parking spot on a busy day. Ask him to help you stay focused when a work project is frustrating. Pray for wisdom when your toddler throws a tantrum in the grocery store.
When you can’t form the right words to say but are filled with emotion, you can allow the words of Scripture to become your heart’s prayer. Read your favorite psalm or passage and allow those verses to be your prayer. Meditate on them, memorize them, or read them aloud.
God is our creator and, as the psalmist says in Psalm 139:2, he knows our thoughts from far off. There’s no need to hide our true feelings, frustrations, or questions from God—he already knows and wants us to bring those feelings to him. When we pray, we have the freedom to be honest in his presence knowing that he will guide us into all truth, correct any erroneous thinking we might have, and comfort us.
Sometimes, the best way to enhance our prayer life is to form a routine. When we intentionally incorporate prayer into our daily lives, it will become a natural habit. An easy way to get started is to try out one of the devotionals on RightNow Media. Prayer and the Psalms is a ten-day devotional that takes you through several psalms to learn more about prayer.
When we start to invite God into the everyday—even mundane—parts of our lives, we move past solely making requests and walk into trusting him with all our thoughts and troubles. Prayer is how we learn to worship him fully, know him as our friend and savior, and lean on him as our only hope.
Summertime can feel like an obstacle to overcome for parents of school-aged kids. How do we keep our kids busy without over-scheduling them? How do we manage our own responsibilities while also ensuring our children’s minds don’t wither away from hours of screen time? Can anything keep kids interested, occupied, productive, and even learning during summer vacation?
Remember playdough, finger paint, and crayons? Toddler days were messy! But while the medium may (or may not) change, our kids’ creativity doesn’t. Let’s occupy their busy minds by filling their busy hands with opportunities to create. Adapt the following ideas to the ages and abilities of your children.
Set up a dedicated spot in your home—a table, nook, or entire room if you have it—for artistic endeavors stocked with a supply of paper, pencils, paint, and other creative tools. Name a particular hour of your day as “art class” and explore a passion or talent your child may possess. And if you just can’t handle glitter, paint, or modeling clay, find a friend who can and trade playdates with them. When my kids were between five and twelve years old, I always loved taking them to my friend Susie, who, as an actual artist, was happy for them to join her kids in making a huge mess on her kitchen table. They came home with glittery hair, colorful smudges, and shining eyes as they showed me their newest handmade treasures.
Books are the doorway to the future, exercising children’s imaginations, thinking, comprehension skills, and creativity. Stories help them understand the world and imagine a new world in which they can play a part. The power of reading inspired Dolly Parton, for instance, to create her Imagination Library, which sends a book per month to children from birth to five years old.
While babies are napping, toddlers can enjoy “rest time” with books until they doze off. Older kids can settle down during the heat of the day with a reading hour. Or jazz up your routine with a weekly trip to the library where they can discover new stories and foster a lifelong habit of reading.
Begin with the best book in the world, the Bible. A short time reading God’s Word will start every day with pure goodness. Don’t make it complicated—even opening your physical Bible and then retelling the story in your own words teaches your children the value of hearing from God every day. Let them participate and help you as they are able. Maybe have them draw a picture depicting something from the story that day.
Once they start reading, many children begin dramatizing the stories they love. Do your kids enjoy imitating or quoting their favorite characters and scenes? Clean out your closets and offer your rejects or old favorites to a costume bin. Encourage the kids to act out their morning Bible stories, write screenplays, get into character, and become someone new on stage. Cheer on your cotton ball-bearded Moses and blue sash-draped Mary. Ooh and aah when “Jesus” multiplies the cheese and crackers. Always say yes when they ask if you want to watch.
Reading often leads to writing. Keep old school notebooks from the recycle bin, tear out the used pages, and reuse what’s left as “dreaming and drafting” notebooks. Let your kids’ creative instincts run wild! Don’t worry about penmanship or grammar. When they feel they’ve completed a poem or short story and are ready to share, help them re-write it neatly or even type it into the computer (we can’t ignore sneaking in easy learning). Print out a final version to share with friends and family. Celebrate your child’s imagination and hard work.
Storytelling takes many forms, and video is easily the most popular type of media right now. Disney, for example, rules the screens in many households. The kids will ask to watch their favorite episodes or movies all day long, and we are often tempted to let them vegetate in front of the screen. But why not put the camera—or your iPhone—into their hands instead? Using free apps such as iMovie or InShot, young aspiring producers can learn basic editing skills for photography and video. Movie night can take on a whole new angle.
Let’s encourage our kids to tell stories that reflect their faith and God’s character. The original kids’ series The Creators, a product of the RightNow Media video production team, tells the story of a group of friends who join forces to create films that are “meaningful, virtuous, and good.” The Creators weaves biblical truths into engaging stories with humor and the right dose of seriousness. Perhaps a short time in front of a show will inspire your kids to produce their own series!
When God created humans, he made us in his image (Genesis 1:27). That means we are made to be creators too—it’s part of our DNA and our purpose. Who says we have to wait until we are adults to make wonderful things?
Let’s be honest—being in control can feel really good. Whether it’s perfectly planning a family vacation or having free creative reign over a project at work, being in control gives us a sense of power that can feel downright exhilarating. When we’re in control of a situation, there’s a level of predictability that puts us at ease and, for a moment, makes us feel like we can predict our future. But control also feeds our belief that we’ve got the skill, foresight, and wisdom to prevent any uncomfortable elements of surprise from entering our lives. And that is a lie.
If we take a step back and look at our desire for control, we’ll see a unhealthy and unrealistic strategy to mask our anxiety—anxiety that we should bring to the feet of Jesus. We might think that being in control is offering us security and safety, but control can strip us from experiencing a beautiful life of faith. It can make us hold onto our idols with a tight-fisted grip and rob us of the ability to mature in Christ.
This isn’t to say that we have no control in this life. After all, God has given us free will and agency to steward our lives, decisions, and the responsibilities he’s given us. Sitting around hoping that God does everything is unrealistic—we still have to make decisions, act in obedience, and use wisdom to walk through this life. But our goal should be to live with God, not by our own power and in our own way. So, how do we use the control God has given us while relying on his sovereignty?
God wants us to rest—and not just by getting enough sleep or relaxing on the beach. When we feel like we have to be in control, we cannot rest. If my present and future depends on me, an afternoon off could be disastrous! What if an email goes unseen? What if my child misses out on an opportunity because of my inaction? Rest is not an option if we have to be gods of our own destinies.
A desire for control creates an inability to rest in the provision of God. He is in control, even when it may not feel like it, and he asks us to trust him with our futures, expectations, and hopes. When we are afraid or worried about tomorrow, we can cast our cares on him because he knows exactly how to handle our needs and our hearts. And, when we trust him, we can live free from worry because we know our good Father is at work, even when we sleep.
If we want to find rest, we have to begin with acknowledging God—not just turning to him when all else fails. However, releasing control is anything but easy. Learning to rest comes with time and allowing the Holy Spirit to help us.
To relinquish control, you will have to surrender your whole life to God. If you’re anything like me, then when you think of “surrender,” you think of someone throwing their hands up during a fight—giving up, vulnerable, with nothing left to give because they’ve run out of options. They’re at the will of their opponent. But when we surrender to God, we’re releasing our problems into more capable hands. In Matthew 11:28–30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take up my yoke and learn from me,because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (CSB).
It is exhausting to walk through life trying to control everything around us. We are eager to take on burdens that we weren’t meant to carry. Surrendering control is not about giving up, but about God working through our confusion.
Trusting God can be hard when we find ourselves in situations that we weren’t prepared for, nor have the energy to fix right away. Unforeseen circumstances—bills for unexpected expenses, getting fired, or receiving really bad news from the doctor—can leave us in a pit of anxiety. But even when we can’t see the outcome of our circumstances, God can.
Part of learning to trust in God is remembering that not only is he in control, but he’s trustworthy. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us that we should trust in God and not lean on our own understanding. When we rely on our own futile understanding of life’s circumstances, we’re making decisions based on limited knowledge. When we relinquish control and trust God, we are doing exactly what he has called us to—walking by faith and letting him be God.
We’re not going to know everything ahead of time. We can’t. As believers, we stop looking into crystal balls that promise to tell us the future and trust the God who is with us. We cannot know what will happen in five minutes, but that ignorance forces us to trust God moment by moment and through all the surprises in life.
At the end of the day, we can only control so much—our character, our behavior, and how we choose to respond to our circumstances. Relinquishing control—especially when we’re used to holding tightly to our plans and decisions—can be really difficult. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can begin to make choices that lead us into a deeper trust in God, the one who has good plans and hope for our lives.
Consider your life and relationship with control—ask God to help you let go of everything that you’ve been holding onto so that he can lead you to his glorious future.
We all want to experience the freedom of authenticity, but how do we get there? In Discover Your True North, Bill George writes, “Self-awareness is the foundation of authenticity, and thus it is at the center of your compass.” If we want to start off the year leading others in the way God has designed us to authentically lead, we must be keenly aware of the person in the mirror.
Self-awareness begins with the difficult work of self-examination. Yet many of us are unwilling to jump into the deep, dark, and uncomfortably cold waters of self-examination, which can feel like an attack on our identity. What if we discover that sometimes we are weak, wrong, or unpleasant?
The apostle Paul addresses the topic of self-awareness with the church in Rome: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3 ESV). This passage comes off the heels of Paul urging the church to be transformed by the renewal of their minds through the gospel message. The gospel tells us that we are weak, wrong, and unpleasant at our core, but God’s grace has rescued us and given us a new identity, which is rooted in Christ’s righteousness (2 Cor 5:21). So, when we peel back layers of ourselves through honest reflection, we may still find difficult realities of the fleshly nature hanging around, but our sober-mindedness reminds us that God’s love surpasses them all (Rom 8:38–39).
As those loved by God, we are free to ask ourselves the tough questions of self-assessment because God’s love for us will never change.
Paul goes on to explain another essential aspect of our identity in Romans 12. He tells us that, as individuals, we all have a responsibility to contribute to the whole body of Christ. Typically, our self-perception has a tremendous effect on our behaviors, which means that how we view ourselves has a direct impact on others. If we think too little of ourselves and believe we cannot be a positive influence on our brothers and sisters in Christ, we may rob them of the joy of God expressing himself through our giftings. On the other hand, if we think too highly of ourselves, we may miss God expressing himself through others’ gifts or even suppress others from using their gifts if we are in a position of authority over them.
In essence, we are free to be honest with ourselves because we are ultimately validated by Christ, and our self-perception greatly influences our relationships with others. Now, you may have a firm grasp on your self-awareness. Or perhaps you are just starting your journey to discovering more about how God has designed you. Many of us find ourselves somewhere in between. Regardless, we can all benefit from asking ourselves the hard questions.
Here are a few areas of our lives we can practice asking ourselves self-examination questions as we start off the year. Take time to think through these questions and consider asking a trusted person in your life to weigh in on your answers.
Paul challenged Timothy, a young ministry leader, in 1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV), “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul urges Timothy to pay close attention to the way he lived because it painted a poignant picture of the effectiveness of the gospel to those following him.
We must be willing to do the difficult and uncomfortable work of self-examination by asking ourselves questions that get to the truth.
In turn, the truth will set us free to enjoy God, the community he’s given us, and the work he’s called us to do.
Yes, it is bright, merry, joyful, and the most wonderful time of the year. A season to celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. But it can also be the most difficult time of year for those who are lonely, are walking through the loss of a loved one, or have contentious relationships with their family. Even some of our most treasured Christmas songs are complicated. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was written from the point of view of World War II soldiers, dreaming of home while living in the horrors of war, while Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” resigns to “muddle through, somehow,” hoping her troubles will be gone next year. That’s not very merry or bright.
Even so, Andy Williams was right: Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. But the contrast of love, joy, peace, and hope with the reality of the wounds, wars, and worldliness of our daily lives can be jarring. How should we, the church, respond to the Christmas season in light of the pain in the world?
One solution is to ignore the darkness that surrounds us, to not talk about the news and ignore the struggles of the holidays. But that won’t do, especially for the people commanded to be light in the darkness (Matthew 5:14). We don’t have the option of hiding under a bushel to preserve our peace.
Another response would be to reject the joy of Christmas in an effort to highlight the necessary needs of the world, becoming cynical toward the ignorantly holly-jolly attitude of the season. Joylessness is not an appealing option, especially for those of us who love the decorations and music of Christmas. But a muted, honest response may feel like the only way to address the real hurt in the world around us. Is this season about Christ or the excess of materialism? Where is the joy we sing about for the starving in Yemen? Where is the peace that is heralded through the speakers of our shopping centers? Why is it here but not in Ukraine or Uvalde? In this world, Christmas can feel like glossy wrapping paper around a lump of coal. Like Frank Sinatra sings in the too-often-ignored carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”:
Yes, the world is broken and can appear hopelessly irreparable. And, yes, our cultural values have infiltrated Christmas. But cynicism towards Christmas isn’t a path to wholeness. Quite the contrary: our only hope in life or death is that baby in the manger, the “reason for the season.” The world needs our celebration of Jesus. We can’t solve a crisis on the other side of the world, but we can share the joy of Jesus’s birth with everyone we meet.
So, we cannot avoid the complications of Christmas, but we also cannot reject the happiness of the holiday. We walk a third path, the way of Christ, of intermingled joy and sorrow. We groan and weep because of sin and its effects but we can do nothing but rejoice in the hope we have found in Christ (Romans 8:22–25; Philippians 4:4–5).
Just think about the way we celebrate Christmas. In the coldest season of the year, when darkness overwhelms our non-working hours, we emblazon our homes with lights and warm ourselves with hot chocolate. We brave the winter weather to be near to family, bearing gifts to (what can seem like) everyone we know. We focus on giving, serving, and compassion toward the needy in our communities. We defy the present darkness to proclaim our hope in Jesus (John 1:5). That is the Christian life!
The spirit of Christmas is neither avoidant nor despairing; it is defiantly hopeful. We are caught between the two comings of Christ and choose to live in the assurance of the second while acknowledging that we can do more to spread light of his first. Yes, we are awash with pain, loneliness, grief, war, poverty, and illness, but it will not always be that way. We can stand where and sing triumphantly with Frank Sinatra into the wintery night:
Merry Christmas. Come, Lord Jesus.
The Christmas season is full of light, joy, and beauty. At the center of our celebrations and family traditions is a vulnerable baby in a feeding trough—Emmanuel, God with us. As Christmas approaches, the season of Advent offers us a chance to reflect on our savior, his purpose, and the surprising ways he invited people near to him.
To help you and your church reflect on the coming, or advent, of Christ, pastor Derwin Gray spent time with our team filming Advent, a five-part series exploring the ways the birth of Jesus changes everything. We caught up with Derwin after he preached at the RightNow Conference to hear about his experience making this series and his hope for everyone who watches it.
Derwin: Filming with the RightNow Media team is not only fun—because they are all hilarious and we have good chemistry because they are great people—but also, they have professional expertise. The way they are able to take content and match it with locations and editing encourages me in my faith. I am excited about this Advent series because they make me better than I am!
Derwin: The biggest thing I learned about Advent was a greater awareness of God’s heart. Advent means “arriving” or “coming.” In the beginning, the Father had already determined that Jesus was going to come and reconcile all things to himself. The way he goes about that is beautiful, mysterious, life-giving, and powerful.
Derwin: I want them walking with Jesus more. Jesus is not just a Sunday friend; he is an all-week, all-the-time companion. He’s Lord. He’s Master.
The beauty of Advent is that we see the beauty and vulnerability of God entering into humanity in a fragile state and form. We see God use people to do incredible things! You don’t have to be the biggest or the best. Mary was just a teenager. Joseph was just some guy! God takes ordinary people and does extraordinary things.
So, I want people to be overwhelmed with God’s grace and the gift of his Son this Christmas.
Can we just skip the first seventeen verses of Matthew? The real story of Jesus starts when Joseph struggles with Mary’s news that she’s expecting a baby that isn’t his. At Christmastime, we want to read about dreams and angels and a baby’s birth, not a long list of “begats.”
Actually, no. Biblical authors always write with purpose. During this Advent season, as we anticipate the second coming of Jesus by contemplating his first coming, let’s consider what Matthew is teaching us through the orderly genealogy.
Including Jesus’s ancestry proves he was born specifically into the family of David. By tracing a direct line from David to Jeconiah to Joseph, Matthew demonstrates that Jesus was a legitimate son of David, qualified to become the future king of Israel.
The names Matthew includes are also important to understanding Jesus. Readers can go back to the Old Testament to learn more about each ancestor mentioned. Careful readers will notice that among forty-two generations in Matthew’s list, five included the mother along with the father. We are meant to note those breaks in his pattern and explore why their stories might be significant.
“Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar . . .” (Matthew 1:3)
How do you preach a family-friendly sermon about an abandoned daughter-in-law (Tamar) who seduced her father-in-law (Judah) and was declared righteous for doing it? It’s difficult, but knowing the tradition of Levirate Law helps: Judah was morally bound to provide a husband for Tamar after his two oldest sons died, but he refused. Tamar later pursued the justice owed to her by tricking (a very willing) Judah into sleeping with her. Though ready to condemn her apparent immorality, when Judah realized what had happened he admitted, “She is more righteous than I” (Genesis 38:26, NIV). She birthed twin sons, one of whom became a forefather to David and eventually Jesus. The woman often labeled “prostitute” was actually pursuing righteousness—and God blessed Israel through her.
“Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab . . .” (Matthew 1:5)
The Canaanite prostitute had heard about the nation of Israel, and their mighty God, long before they prepared to overrun her city of Jericho (Joshua 2). When she realized Israelite spies were in her inn, she hid them from her own authorities and proclaimed her allegiance to Yahweh, “for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on earth below” (Joshua 2:11). Turning her back on her own people and choosing God took guts. Rahab went from the ultimate outsider—an immoral foreigner—to becoming a leading insider, accepted as a faithful member of Judah. She eventually married their leader and became a noteworthy link in the Messianic line. Her courage and faith demonstrate for all of us that God restores the repentant and welcomes all who call on his name.
“Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth” (Matthew 1:5)
Another foreigner grafted into Jesus’s heritage, Ruth came to faith through grief. A Moabite woman, she married an Israelite man who died within ten years, leaving her childless. But her devotion to her grieving mother-in-law, Naomi, reflected the unconditional loving-kindness of Israel’s God whom she pledged to serve. Ruth is, above all, loyal, just as Yahweh is. She, too, married into the leading family of Judah and became a critical link in the long line to the savior.
“David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife . . .” (Matthew 1:6)
By avoiding her first name and instead referencing her by her murdered husband’s name (2 Samuel 11), Matthew highlights Bathsheba as a victim. The reference isn’t so much about her as it is about David’s actions toward her. Having abused his power as king and taken her to his bed, then murdering her husband after a failed attempt to cover up the resulting pregnancy, David is the sinner in this story. In his parable to David (2 Samuel 12:1–14), the prophet Nathan confronts him with his guilt, prompting David’s confession that he indeed had sinned. But God chose to fulfill his covenant with David despite David’s evil behavior, because he is a faithful God. Even our worst sins will not discourage him from his purposes. What about Bathsheba? God raised her up through her son Solomon, who became king after David thanks in part to her advocacy (1 Kings 1:15–35). By God’s grace she survived heartbreak and grew into a woman of strength and influence.
“. . . Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:16)
The culmination of Jesus’s genealogy centers on his mother, Mary. The rest of chapter one (vv 18–25) assures readers that Mary’s child comes from God himself, that Jesus is the long-promised Emmanuel that Isaiah predicted (Isaiah 7:14). We can explore Mary’s point of view in Luke 2, where we see her willing submission to God’s challenging but amazing call on her life. She was Jesus’s first disciple, believing in him from the very beginning and faithful to stand with him through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
The Advent season gives us time to reflect on the first coming of our savior and the longing that God’s people felt as they waited for him. But he did come! Jesus was born—Emmanuel, “God with us”—as part of an extended family whom God worked through to bless the world. As we anticipate his second coming, Jesus’s family line can teach us much about how he wants us to live: faithful, obedient, loyal, courageous, repentant, forgiving.