Even When It’s Hard


“Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.” – Ephesians 5:8b-10

Every morning I pray that the Holy Spirit would help me, for that day, to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. That is, after all, what Jesus requires of His true followers.

But what does it actually look like to “deny myself”? I have come to realize that it doesn’t mean to deny who I am, but, instead, to deny what I want. I have my likes and dislikes. I have my desires and preferences, too. But what I’m figuring out is that when those likes or preferences bump up against what Christ has planned for me that day, my desires have to take a back seat to His.

So, now I have another prayer that simply has to go with the first one:

“I want to want what You want.
But, if I don’t want what You want, I’ll do what You want anyway.”

I think that’s what it means to deny myself – to subordinate my pleasures, my comfort, and my routines to His will. To do what He wants even when it is scary or hard or confusing. Or even if I just don’t want to. No wonder it requires a cross!

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” – G. K. Chesterton

Still Under the Tree?

". . . they shall call him Immanuel - which means, 'God with us.'" - Matthew 1:23b

“. . . they shall call him Immanuel – which means, ‘God with us.'” – Matthew 1:23b

Imagine you want to buy a Christmas gift for a special little girl. You shop for the cutest, cuddliest baby doll you can find, put it in a box, wrap it in beautiful paper, tie it with a bow, and give it to her.

She might take the box, open it and hold the doll in her arms. But after a few minutes, she puts it back under the Christmas tree and runs off to play.

A better scenario? She opens the box, takes the doll in her arms and carries it everywhere. Months later her mom tells you that your gift is the girl’s constant companion. The doll goes to preschool, to church, and to the grocery store and when the little girl is tucked into bed, the doll is tucked in with her. As the giver of the gift, you smile – this is exactly as you had hoped it would be.

When God sent His Son to earth, it was His intention for Jesus to be with us. Many look into the manger at Christmas time, comment on the beauty of the scene, and go on about their business. Others actually embrace Him as Savior, but tend to leave Him under the tree as life draws them away.

What would make the Giver of the Jesus gift most happy? If we make Him the center of our lives, being aware of His presence with us wherever we go and in whatever we are doing.

Jesus came to redeem us so He could be with us. Look to see who He really is and how much He loves you. He came to be with us, but waits for our response. Let’s not turn our backs on the amazing gift of His presence.

“True holiness is so often swaddled in the simple.” – Ian Morgan Cron



Let’s continue our thinking about Mary and Joseph, in that cold, dark stable in Bethlehem many years ago. The baby has been born, they are holding him, loving Him, and wondering what to do next.

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." John 1:14

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” John 1:14

Then as they look into his sleeping face, the doubts creep in: He looked like an ordinary child. Could this infant really be God? They may have thought that, somehow, deity would look different from this.

Sometimes when God directs us, we start on the path and then, when things don’t turn out exactly as we thought they would, we begin to doubt whether we heard God correctly. Did He really direct us? Did we misunderstand something?

That’s when God will reassure us if we let Him. For Mary and Joseph, God sent shepherds. Their coming to tell of angelic visitors most certainly would have quieted any doubts they had.

But after the joy, the wonder, the doubt, and the reassurance, Joseph and Mary must have been saying, “What now, Lord? How do we live with God in our arms? At our table? In our home?”

We might as the same question:  Jesus is still with us. How do we live with Him in our hearts, houses, and workplaces? The best way: in anticipation. With God among us, we sit on the edge of our seats, looking for His fingerprints, asking what He wants of us, and wondering what He will do next. We learn that, when God is with us, amazing things can happen. Watch for it!

Christmas has lost its meaning for us because we have lost the spirit of expectancy. We cannot prepare for an observance. We must prepare for an experience.” Handel Brown

It’s Not Easy

"Here I am - it is written about Me in the scroll - I have come to do your will, O God." - Hebrews 10:7

“Here I am – it is written about Me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God.” – Hebrews 10:7

Can you imagine what it would would have been like to be Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem and preparing to give birth to a child they believed to be God’s own Son? They must have looked at their desolate surroundings and asked: What do we do? What do we need? How can we manage such a birth in such a place?

Have you ever felt that way? God has given you something to do (maybe marriage, parenting, work/school, ministry), but it seems impossible. We, too, may have to look around, see what we have, and commit to seeing it through wherever we are and with whatever we find.

Then, as Mary’s painful labor went on, maybe for hours, they might have wondered about those angelic visitations. Is this baby being born really God? If so, why is it so hard? Why is it taking so long?

We expect that if God is in it, things will go well. But not always. Doing things God’s way can be hard. Mary’s giving birth to Jesus definitely was God’s plan, but it wasn’t easy.

And finally, joy.

The struggle, the anxiety fade away when the baby arrives. I imagine Joseph looking into Jesus’ face and saying, “Oh, Mary, He is so perfect!” And He was. The perfect Son of God, come to earth to live among us.

Reliving the story of Jesus’ birth reminds us that doing what God wants can bring anxious moments, doubts, or discouragement, but if we see it through, the end result is always joy.

“Our waiting at Advent – our sacred waiting – is not just anticipation of the coming of Christ, but a commitment to be consumed in His service.” – David Timms