Christmas Devotions: Christmas Eve and a Letter to a Savior

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”
(Luke 2:19)

I was eleven and my Bible Study teacher gave our class a homework assignment for Christmas break.

Write a letter to God, she said.  Make it a prayer, a re-dedication, an offering of my own treasures, not the gold, frankincense, and myrrh of wise men, but the very finest gifts I could lay at the feet of a worthy God.

It was my Christmas gift to Him.  I wrote it out on Christmas Eve, folded it up, tied it with a ribbon and placed it under the Christmas tree.

Two decades later, I have twenty years of Christmas Eve letters to God.  It’s my most intimate and holy Christmas tradition. This Christmas Eve, I fingered the packet of letters and marveled at God’s gracious work in me.

One of my “rules” is no peeking at the letters on any day of the year other than Christmas Eve.  Yet, on that one night a year, I can glance back at twenty years of me drawing near to God just as He drew near to us on the first Christmas of all.

Usually by about February each year I can see clear answers to the prayers I scribbled out on the page just months before.

In some ways, this prayer letter is my moment to lay gifts before the King as the wise men did.  It’s my re-commitment to serve Him in a new year and place at His feet the deepest desire of my heart to give Him praise.  I offer Him my very life, noting the places He is already at work in my character and asking Him for spiritual growth so I can bring Him glory.

Like the angels, though, I am also praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:14), as I give thanks and specific praise for the blessings of the year drawing to a close.

Then, like the shepherds, I turn my attention away from the busyness of work and daily life to see what God is doing in the heavens.  I write my letter to God at night after my daughters are asleep, the dishes are done, the gifts are wrapped and under the tree. There, in near-darkness, illumined almost solely by Christmas lights, I pray and write.

I look away from the “sheep” in my care, lift my eyes and attune my heart to hear the announcement of good news, of promises for the future and the certainty of promises fulfilled.  I dwell not just on what God has done or what He is doing, but what He will do in the new year.  What burdens has He placed on my heart?  What directions has He asked me to travel?  What steps of obedience has He asked me to take?

Mostly though, my Christmas letter is a moment to be like Mary, who after the shepherds came “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Sometimes God’s work in our lives needs times of reflection and stillness.  What He reveals to us as we sit at His feet isn’t always meant for public announcements or official New Year’s resolutions, or campaigns or church-wide programs.

Sometimes God asks us to ponder and treasure, to reflect, pray, and wait for the appointed time.

So, I ponder.  I ask for God’s perspective on my marriage, my kids, my ministry and job and heart and mind.

Instead of monopolizing my conversation with an oh-so-patient God, I ask for His perspective.  Before I ever begin to write, I flip through my prayer journal and track the themes I see there.

How at times everything I read seems to be about grace.  Or prayer.  Or allowing Him to bring light into dark places. Or believing God for the impossible.  Or how He is a God who restores.

I follow the clear path of what He has already been doing in my life and then I join Him there in that place.  Yes, Lord, I pray, be at work here.  I will join You.  I will be submissive and receptive to what You want to do in me.

It’s not too late for you to sit in the stillness of a Christmas Eve and write your own letter this year.  What a perfect time to begin a holy and intimate tradition of your own.  A letter to Your Savior.

What gifts do you have to lay before the King?  What songs of thanks can you sing in the night?  What do you see in the spiritual places when you shift your focus off the physical daily routine of life?  What has God been doing in you and teaching you that you need to ponder in your heart?

Originally posted on December 26, 2011

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

A Plan to Be Better

I tucked my oldest girl into bed last night and she told me, “Today at school, Mrs. Davidson explained all about how people make plans to be better.  So I made a plan for the new year.”

I expected her to announce a strategy to get a dog or be a princess or learn pointe in ballet or be a famous artist–the true aspirations of her little heart.

Instead, she said, “I’m planning to get up in the morning early and get ready for school easier every day.  Did you make a plan to be better this year, mom?”

“I haven’t chosen a resolution,” I said.  “Do you have any suggestions?”

Without any hesitation or even time to take a breath, she said, “I think you should play more video games!”

Perhaps that translates to “Be a more fun mom and play with my kids more often.”  That’s certainly a resolution worth making!

David lived long before the time of New Year’s resolutions, fad diets, gym memberships, and self-help books.  Still, he wrote a psalm of “I wills” that translates into some worthy goals for all of us in 2012.

I will praise God more.

David began with this promise to God, “I will sing of your love and justice; to you, Lord, I will sing praise” (Psalm 101:1).  It’s a reminder to be grateful and to give testimony to others of God at work in your life.  Give thanks everyday.

I will strive for the blameless life.

David continued, “I will be careful to lead a blameless life .  . . I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart” (Psalm 101:2).

We can’t be perfect.  Every mom will lose it occasionally.  Every wife will mess up.  Every friend will forget. We all sin.

Yet, still we can “be careful,” as David says.  We can allow God to work on our hearts and clean out the dark and dusty places.  We can ask for His help controlling our tongue and our tempers.  We can pray that He will guide us as moms, wives, sisters and friends and help us become more godly every day.

I will guard my heart and mind.

We used to sing as kids, “Oh be careful little eyes what you see  . . .  be careful little ears what you hear . . . be careful little feet where you go”

David said it this way, “I will not look with approval on anything that is vile. I hate what faithless people do; I will have no part in it.  The perverse of heart shall be far from me;
I will have nothing to do with what is evil.” (Psalm 101:3-4).

Sometimes we excuse a little sin or shrug off feelings of discomfort about that show, or song, or movie, or book or relationship.

When God looked out on the sin-laden world during the time of Noah, He “regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:6, NIV).

The Message says it this way: “God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.”

This year, consider making that your standard for what you see, what you hear, where you go and what you do.  Will this break the heart of God?

I will watch my words.

In his epistle, James wrote: “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another” (James 4:11).

‘Slander’ sounds so harsh.  Perhaps we feel it’s okay to speak our minds or criticize when it’s the truth.

Not according to James.  Beth Moore notes in James: Mercy Triumphs: “the Greek word translated ‘slander’ in NIV also means ‘criticize’ (HCSB) and ‘speak against’ (NASB).

So, if it was said critically about another person, it was sin.  We need to be women with gracious tongues, not judgmental or critical ones.

David goes a step farther:  ” Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate” (Psalm 101:5).   Not only was he not going to speak slander, he wouldn’t even listen to it from others.

I will invest in Godly friendships

David finished off the Psalm with these words:

“My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; the one whose walk is blameless will minister to me. No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence. Every morning I will put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from the city of the LORD” (Psalm 101:6-8).

This year, find ways to build into relationships with others who love God.  Join a small group.  Find a Christian mentor.  Choose someone to befriend who you can mentor in turn.  God never intended for us to walk this Christian life alone.

There you have it.  David’s “I will” list.

What has God placed on your heart for the new year?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King

What’s Important

We sat at her kitchen table and listened as she told us about the old days. She talked about life on their farm as an immigrant family from Germany.  She explained how they trekked for miles to go to Sunday service at their church and then stayed in town, visiting with others, making it an all-day affair before traveling back home again.  She told us what it was like as a German-American during World War II and walked us through the family tree.

My mom had said we should listen to my great-grandmother’s stories now, while she was still there to tell them.  So, we did.  Then she died when I was a teenager and the opportunity to listen was gone.

If you read this blog even on the weekends, you’ll know I finished up 2011 by reading Billy Graham’s book, Nearing Home: Life, Faith and Finishing Well.  It was a little like the day that we sat and listened to my great-grandmother tell stories.  That day, we had really listened to her talk about life.  By reading his book, I did the same for Billy Graham.

I’m not really a resolution-lover or a diet-plan designer or a prediction-maker.  But I am thinking this new year of restating priorities.  Of taking some of what Billy Graham had to say and letting it influence and guide me right from the start of this year.

It’s about making people the priority.

Billy Graham was thinking of connecting with grandkids.  But really, these principles could guide all our relationships: with our kids, our spouses, our parents, our siblings, our friends and Bible study cohorts, the folks in our Sunday School class, our neighbors, and more.

He said:

Pray consistently

We pray specifically and routinely for those we see every day and those who live too far way for frequent visits.

He said, “Don’t pray only in general terms (the kind of prayer that vaguely asks God to bless them.)  Make your prayers specific, and make them daily” (p. 98).

This is why I love my Thursday mornings with my Moms in Prayer group.  We pray for the math tests and the homework, the activities and playground witness of each of our kids.  Every week, we thank God for the very specific and identifiable ways He has answered our prayer and every week we are amazed at how He once again faithfully took care of these little ones we love.

So, what to pray?  I like to pray through Stormie O’Martian’s Power of a Praying Parent (or Power of a Praying Wife when I pray for my husband).  Yet, you can simply pray not just for physical safety, but for good decisions, for a strong Christian witness, for the growth of their faith, for their ability to withstand temptation and peer pressure, for their friendships, and for whatever specific difficulties they are facing.

Encourage Them

Billy Graham wrote, “Don’t major in the negatives!  They need to know we love them and most of all that God loves them (p. 100).  This year, I want to choose my words carefully and thoughtfully so that I can “encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Be an Example

Avoid “do what I say, not what I do!”  If I want my daughters to learn to have personal devotions, then I let them see me sit at the kitchen table with my Bible and cup of tea.  If I want them to be kind, I practice kindness.

Billy Graham said “Remember, your children and grandchildren learn more about you through observing your actions and attitudes.  Do they see Christ in you?  Will they remember you as someone who was a living example of His compassion and love? (p. 100).

All in all, his book reminded me to make people the priority of my new year.  They certainly were for Christ.

We tend to give when it’s convenient.  We often make decisions based on what’s practical.  We give what we can afford.  We get together when we’re “free.”

But Jesus served others when it was inconvenient and impractical.  He skipped meals, changed plans, took the long way around, gave up time away for those who needed Him and died to save them.  He didn’t stay up on the cross for the sake of a theology or a plan.  He did it for love of people.

My husband said, “often what is important isn’t what’s practical” in our relationships with others.

So, this year I want to major on the important, even if it’s impractical, hard, or downright crazy.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.