One of my favorite moments of the year is on Christmas Eve when, at the conclusion of our church’s candlelight service, we erupt with the powerful song “Joy to the World.” Because our church practices Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas) as a season of preparing our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we wait to unleash this song until that holy moment—then our voices raise the rafters. The song is the perfect conclusion to Advent, since joy is at the heart of everything Jesus does for us.
It was the night before a job fair, and my husband was discouraged. Past attempts to land a job had failed, and he felt that meeting with recruiters would only lead to more dead ends. But he realized God was greater than his fears (Isaiah 41:10), so before practicing possible interview questions, we decided to meditate on specific, encouraging passages of Scripture. We also prayed and recounted God’s numerous blessings. By the end of the evening, we both experienced a sense of peace even amid our fears.
Amanda Varty was diagnosed with a chronic illness and lay confined to a bed in a darkened room for nine years. Usually too weak to go to church, one Sunday she felt compelled to ask her husband to take her to a service. As Amanda worshiped God, she felt strengthened in her body, but weakness returned when she went home.
In 1995, Gary Chapman published his influential book The Five Love Languages. In it, Chapman argues that love isn’t expressed through a single means, but that each of us has different ways in which we express and receive love—what he calls love languages. With this, he dramatically expanded the ways in which we understood how to love and be loved by those around us!
I’ll never forget what one of my older friends said when her son died unexpectedly: “Heaven seems nearer.” Although she was a widow who had endured hardship and pain, she lived her life with verve and joy. In her sadness over losing her son, she sought God’s perspective and, in doing so, felt the distance lessen between God’s kingdom on earth and His kingdom in heaven.
In my view, besides our relationship with God, each of us typically desire three key treasures—health, possessions, and family. A loss to any can be heart wrenching. The Old Testament patriarch Job experienced a triple test—financial ruin, the deaths of his ten children, and painful ill health (Job 1:14-19, 2:7). We can’t imagine the intensity of pain Job had to bear.
A study conducted by a group of neuroeconomists from the University of Zurich found that people who showed generosity were happier than people who acted in a selfish way. In fact, they found that if people were even a little bit generous, they still experienced a pleasant feeling. The researchers measured activity in areas of the brain linked to contentment and generosity. Interestingly, the feeling of happiness that one experiences when giving has been termed a “warm glow.”
The ceasefire began with the sound of singing on the battlefield. It was Christmas Eve 1914, along the Western Front of the fighting in WWI. German soldiers alternated singing Christmas carols with their enemies—British, Belgian, and French soldiers. This goodwill spilled into the next day, when fighters emerged from the trenches, unarmed. They introduced themselves and exchanged small gifts. Reflecting on that experience, one veteran said, “If we had been left to ourselves there would never have been another shot fired.” A short break in hostility allowed the soldiers to see their opponents as people, not merely enemies.
I’ve seen believers in Jesus walk through fierce storms of life while trusting in God through it all. How do they do it? I’ve often wondered if it was their personality enabling them to show calm in the midst of turmoil, kindness when mistreated, and courage when most would falter.
“Let me warn you about systematic theology.” My friend started telling me of her struggles in studying biblical doctrines for the first time. “It’s hard . . . it can make you doubt, because you learn that we don’t have the answers to everything about God. Sometimes we can’t know the answers, and we have to trust that God knows them, and that that’s enough.”
“Do you still hope for peace?” a Rolling Stone interviewer asked singer-songwriter Bob Dylan in 1984. “There isn’t going to be any peace,” Dylan replied. His response drew criticism from certain quarters for being “fatalistic”. Dylan’s detractors aside, peace remains ever elusive.
I’ve recently become familiar with the growing popularity of the concept of “self-compassion”—accepting ourselves as we are and giving ourselves the compassion and grace to heal and grow, no matter how long that takes.
Augustus, the Roman emperor mentioned in Luke 2:1, was a divisive figure. He instituted the imperial cult— religious worship of emperors—which would later cause the death of many Christians. But he was also the leader who established the Pax Romana, a period of relative peace in that part of the world. Before then, the Roman Empire was continually seeking to expand and conquer. Augustus’ idea of peace, for nations to seek to live in relative harmony, was completely novel to the aggressive Roman Empire.
Since ancient times, faithful Christians have spoken about what John of the Cross called the “dark night of the soul”. This “dark night” descends upon even the most faithful believers, upon those who have walked with God for years. In this dark night, believers can feel spiritually dry for unusually long periods of time, as if they’re just going through the motions of discipleship. It can feel as if God has refused to show up, as if He’s missing in action.
It was late at night when Paul, a pastor, received the news that his wife was diagnosed with cancer. He went outside, sat on the front steps, and began to pour his heart out to God. “Why is this happening to my wife?” he asked. “She’s faithful and devoted.” After struggling for a while, Paul looked up to the clear sky and, with open hands, said, “Jesus, You know. You know, and that is enough for me.”