Advent is a traditional 4 week period where Christian churches begin their Christmas celebration by focusing on a different aspect of Christ’s coming each week leading up to the ultimate celebration of Christ’s birth on the 24th. This is an important tradition because there are so many things these days competing for our time and attention, making it difficult to stay focused on the message of Christmas and easy to get lost in the busyness of the season.
So this year prior to Advent, I challenged our congregation to 3 important exercises to help them stay focused during the month of December. I believe if you participate in these opportunities, you’ll end up truly changed and encouraged this year instead of allowing the importance of Christmas to pass you by.
So I encourage and challenge you to do the following:
- Fast. Fasting is an important discipline for followers of Jesus. It’s important to remember that Jesus fasted and taught His disciples to fast. He even mentioned that some things are impossible without prayer and fasting. Your fast doesn’t have to be a complete fast however. Yes, if you’re wired and are physically able, you could do a complete fast from all food. But if you choose this sort of fast, consult your doctor to ensure you aren’t risking your health. Thankfully there are several types of fasts that can aid you in your Christmas focus which are much easier. For instance, try the “Daniel Fast”. Eat fruits and veggies only and avoid all processed foods. Or you could try fasting from something you really like. Don’t pick something silly like chocolate or ice cream. These are not things you could (or should) make meals of. Rather, pick something you’ll genuinely miss so that every time you eat a meal and miss this item you can be reminded to focus your heart on the message of Christ’s coming. Another option is try adding something to each meal. Like the Israelites did when they started observing the Passover by eating bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of bondage, try adding something to each meal you don’t particularly like to aid you in remembering the sacrifice of the coming King…for you.
- Pray. Fasting leads us to pray as our hunger reminds us of God’s presence at that moment. So commit yourself to praying every single day as the eve of Christ’s birth draws near. To aid you in that I have provided 7 prayers which are short and can be read 3 times daily. I encourage you to use these prayers as a family and pray them aloud. This morning for instance, I gathered my family before we left to take the kids to school. We joined hands and prayed the Friday prayer. We will do the same when the children come home from school and before bed. You can recite the same prayer 3 times per day or you can make up your own prayer. Personally I think using the same prayer will help drive it home to the kids, but do whatever you think will work best for your family. And don’t worry about being at work. Look, if Muslims can stop whatever they’re doing to drop to their knees and pray, you can certainly do the same during your work day. You’ll feel more connected to God and you’ll be so glad you did.
- Reach out. An aspect of following Jesus many if not most Christians neglect is the importance of sharing the good news with others. Friends, we can’t deny this most important aspect of being a Christ-follower. It’s often said that what’s most important to a person will be what they speak of just before they die. Jesus told us to go forth and make disciples. To honor this command we must be willing to open our mouths. I know it may not be your strong suit, but it can be as easy as making an invite to church. That can be a great place to start and can often lead to deeper spiritual conversations. So commit to daily inviting people to church. You know lots of people, so invite lots of people. For those who attend Refuge, take the invites we provided last week and invite people to the Christmas service on the 24th at 10am.
It’s my sincere belief that if you choose to commit yourselves to these 3 actions for the entire month of December, God will reveal Himself to you in a powerful way. You will feel more connected to Him and the joy of Christmas will increase in you in ways you have perhaps never experienced. The commercialization of Christmas has blinded so many to the Joy, Hope, Peace, and Love that the birth of Christ brings. Let’s not miss it this year, it’s too important.
Monday – Gratitude
“Dear Lord. Today I ask for you to recall to my mind all the various and wonderful reasons I have to be grateful. Help me to see beyond my material wants and selfish desires and see that even in the midst of life’s darkest moments, you are still there to light my path, grant me peace, and lavish upon me your love. Amen.”
Tuesday – Hope
“Dear Jesus. In this world full of darkness and suffering, grant us hope today in the remembrance that as you sent your Son at Christmas to be our promised hope of salvation, He will also return to finish the work He started on the cross of Calvary. Grant us momentary reminders throughout Advent of Jesus’ presence in our lives and that He will come again to rescue us from eternal separation. Amen.”
Wednesday – Peace
“Dear God, I come to you today and acknowledge that in my life I have fears and worries. Help me to replace those feelings with peace in my heart that only you can give. Holy Spirit, remind me whenever I feel upset or overwhelmed that you have my life and future in your hands and that you love me and will never forget me. Amen.”
Thursday – Joy
Lord, in this world where there is so much strife and misunderstanding, I see that I need you more than ever. I need you to change my attitude and perspective about the world I live in so that I may find true joy instead of allowing the evils of the world to overwhelm and control my thoughts. Renew my mind I pray. Amen.”
Friday – Love
“I love you Lord because you first loved me and laid down your life for me. May this declaration be more than mere words. Open my heart to the reality of just how much you love me and teach me to love others the same way. As I am moved to love my family, my children, my friends, or my brothers and sisters in Christ, remind me in those moments that your love for me is greater, deeper, and wider than even my deepest love for any of those. Open my hard heart and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.”
Saturday – Make Me Light
“Father I want this holiday season to be full of your light. So help me Lord to focus my entire being not on the trappings of materialism or media this Christmas. Instead, keep my heart focused on the birth of the Savior who came to die for my sins and set me free from wrath. And may I be a light to others who have yet to find hope in Christ. Amen.”
Sunday – Sin
God, you know that I am a sinner. So today I acknowledge fully that I struggle with sinful thoughts, desires, attitudes and actions. Forgive me God today so that I might not only walk in purity and freedom, but that I may also be a light to my fellow man who is also struggling to be free. Grant me courage to be open and honest about my sin that I may be used by you to bring the hope of salvation to others. And make my heart burn to see them set free so that I may open my mouth and speak truth whenever I have the opportunity. Amen.”