Looking back makes it impossible to effectively move forward.
As our young sons enthusiastically ran out the front door to meet their grandparents, grandpa said, “I’m going to get you!” and took off running toward them. Michael quickly changed directions to run away. When he looked back to see how close grandpa was, he ran smack into a rather large tree. He hit the tree so hard that he fell backwards onto the ground and (I’m told) lost consciousness. Looking back made it impossible for Michael to safely move forward.
Another time, as we were hiking in the woods, our oldest son Steven turned around to tell us something as he continued to walk backward. As he went to turn back around, he hit the side of his head on a tree at the side of the path. Looking back had made it impossible for him to see the path ahead.
Jesus told his disciples: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)
In order to ensure his plow would make a straight line, a farmer would fix his eyes on a point in the distance and aim for it. If he took his eyes off that point, his plow would begin to veer off course. A distracted farmer would have a field full of crooked rows. If he wanted the job done right, he kept his eyes pointed straight ahead and aimed for that fixed point.
In order for us to be effective workers in God’s kingdom, we must keep our eyes focused on Jesus. He is our fixed reference point. If we look back (or around) at our problems, our lives and work will veer off course. We might even run into a few trees!
As we begin to think about making New Year’s Resolutions, we need to look to Jesus for direction. While it is okay to look around (and, yes, even back) in order to evaluate the last year and make plans for the next. Once we’ve done that, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, begin moving forward, and not look back.
As you walk through this next year, may you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Remember that looking back will make it impossible for you to effectively and safely move forward. May God bless your journey this coming year!
Looking for ideas for things to do with your family or a group of friends? Look no further.
Here are 18 activities to help you have fun, create memories, and bless others.
(Download the list here.)
1. Participate in a daily Bible Reading.
The most important thing you can do this Christmas is to keep your focus on Jesus during the busy holiday season. To help you do that, we created 25 Bible Readings for Christmas. If you haven’t started the readings yet, don’t worry. You can start any time by starting on the reading for today or by reading more than one each day until you are caught up. The important thing is to spend time in God’s Word refocusing your attention on Jesus.
2. Work Christmas puzzles.
One of my fondest memories from childhood comes from the inevitable snow day—a day during our Midwest winter when school closed because of vast amounts of snow. Every year on that first snow day, my mom would magically produce a brand new jigsaw puzzle. Then she would join my sisters and me for an afternoon with that puzzle. I instituted the same tradition with my children.
Our tradition has a little different twist than the one my mom began. Somewhere along the line, my family acquired a large snowman shaped jigsaw puzzle. Within the body of that snowman is a scene full of woodland animals in caps, coats, scarves, and mittens. Those appropriately clad animals are enjoying a snow day complete with sledding, skiing, skating, and snowball fights. This puzzle even has theme-shaped pieces like candy canes, Christmas trees, and snowmen. It has become a tradition in our house to work that puzzle every winter, usually on a snowy day.
This season, find a Christmas-themed jigsaw and spend an evening (or whole day) putting it together with your family or a group of friends. If you are not into jigsaw puzzles, find some puzzles to download. The internet is full of sites with crosswords, word searches, and other puzzles. You can find some here (free membership required) and here and here. For more fun add some Mad Libs like these. Of course, it will increase the fun if you include hot chocolate and popcorn, order pizza or put soup (like one of these) in the crock-pot early in the day!
3. Attend a Christmas program.
There always seems to be some program, or multiple programs, we have to attend because some family member is involved. Those are a special part of your family’s life and well worth your time. However, why not attend a Christmas program that no one you know is in? It could be a new holiday movie at the theater, a musical (Elf is playing close to us this season), The Nutcracker, or a special production at a local church. Attending a Christmas program when no one in your family is involved allows every member of the family or you and a group of friends to relax and enjoy the shared experience. Consider getting dressed up and going out for dinner, too.
4. Act out the Christmas story.
Bringing the Christmas story to life is a wonderful way to focus your collective attention on the reason we celebrate this season. This can be as simple or complicated as you desire. Unless you are really into memory work, everyone can read their part directly from the Bible (Suggested scenes: Luke 1:5-25, Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:39-56, Luke 1:57-89, Luke 2:1-21, Luke 2:22-40). Assign parts (including a narrator), assemble costumes and props, grab your Bibles, and start a new tradition.
Consider inviting another family or a group of special friends to join you and prepare a simple meal to kick off your evening. A simple Israeli meal like Mary and Joseph would have eaten might include: lentil stew (like ours), yogurt, pitas, almonds, and dates. Although it is doubtful Mary and Joseph had dessert, if you must include it, try finding baklava or making your own (recipe here and here).
5. Make Christmas ornaments.
I always enjoyed making ornaments. They were a fun way to connect with my children or with other ladies. When they were made with my children, they were also something to pass on as they married and needed ornaments for their first Christmas tree. You can find options for all skill levels here and here. Consider having a snack that won’t make fingers messy, like Grinch Kabobs or Chocolate Rice Krispie Gingerbread Men Pops or substitute Popsicle sticks for the peppermint sticks in this brownie Christmas tree recipe.
6. Make Christmas decorating a group event.
Decorate your home and tree with the help of others. For years I assembled our artificial tree, strung the lights and tinsel, hung the fragile ornaments, and put out all the household decorations (the way I wanted them) before having my kids hang decorations on the bottom half of the tree. Then I would go around and move things until the tree looked the way I wanted it to.
One year I realized my children were not enjoying the experience and had no reason to want to help. Their efforts were not appreciated because I wanted to have the perfect tree. Ever since that realization, we assemble the tree together, and they put the household decorations out. Is it the way I want it to be? Technically, no. But doing it together while playing Christmas music and sipping egg nog has brought many more happy memories than any perfectly decorated tree or home ever could.
If you find yourself alone this holiday season, invite some friends or nieces and nephews over to decorate together. Include time for everyone to make an ornament to take with them. Have a potluck or order take-out and enjoy the eggnog or hot chocolate mentioned above. Share the joy of the season with someone else.
8. Buy socks and deliver them to homeless people or a shelter.
Here is a wonderful article on why you should consider giving socks to the homeless, what type to give, and how to give. If you choose to approach a homeless person on the street, please be smart and safe. This does not mean homeless people are dangerous, but I do recognize that the areas where you will find them may not be. Do NOT go alone. If you are not comfortable meeting strangers like this, don’t let that stop you from giving! You can still buy those precious socks and donate them to your local homeless shelter. Don’t forget to ask if you can pray with them.
9. Take a drive and look at Christmas lights.
Pack the family or some of your friends in the car and start driving around and looking at Christmas lights. See if you can find a living nativity in your area and finish with that. While driving around, discuss how you can each be a light for Jesus during the next year. Round out the evening by stopping for dessert or a late dinner. Or, have Crock Pot Apple Cider and popcorn waiting when you get home.
Consider delivering thank you notes to homes that display a nativity. If you do, have everyone sign it. (Remember to hang it on a door or mailbox. It is illegal to put anything in a mailbox that hasn’t been sent via USPS.)
11. Pack a gift box for a deployed service member.
Let our dedicated military know you are thinking about them as they serve our country far from home this holiday season (or any time) by sending a care package. There are many organizations you can use to do this. If you would like to explore this and other ways to support our military, check out organizations like Soldiers Angels and Operation We Are Here or this list of programs. Consider blessing a military family in some way this season. Don’t worry if your gift doesn’t make it in time for Christmas. It will be appreciated whenever it arrives.
12. Decorate an outdoor tree.
Gather the family or some friends and make animal-friendly ornaments for an outdoor Christmas tree. Find ideas for your wildlife ornaments here, here, and here. Make two batches of popcorn. One to eat. The second without salt or butter to make popcorn strings for the tree. Listen to Christmas music while you work.
13. Have a Dollar Store Christmas.
One year when money was especially tight, we gave everyone the assignment of finding a Christmas gift for everyone else. There were just 2 requirements: 1. each gift must cost less than $2, and 2. when the gifts were opened, the giver had to tell why they chose that particular item. Then, we all wrapped our gifts. On Christmas day each gift was opened, and the giver told their reason for the gift.
One of the gifts I received was a bag of clothespins. Not an especially thrilling gift, I admit, but why my son chose that gift (and the note he included) made them special. I always called the pile of laundry on my bed Mount Never-rest (because with 6 people in the house, it was always there waiting to be conquered). The clothespins made him think about all the fun we had (reading books or just talking) while working our way through that pile of laundry. Hearing that was a wonderful gift!
So pick a day to have your Dollar Store Christmas. Drive everyone to the local dollar store (or thrift shop) and have everyone buy a gift for every member of the family or group. Set a limit of $2 per gift. When you get home, wrap the gifts. Order pizza or have a “dollar” meal of mac and cheese (or pull out your crock-pot to try this recipe). Then, sit by the tree and unwrap the dollar store finds. Allow plenty of time for everyone to explain why they chose each gift.
14. Make, sign, and address Christmas cards or create a family newsletter.
If you choose to do this, make sure it is a family project and not just your attempt to create the perfect card with a picture of the perfect family on the front. While the final result might indeed look perfect, remember that it is about the shared experience, not the product. Despite the childish scrawl and smudges, let each person sign their own name. Yes, even if there are dozens of cards.
If your children are older, assign everyone the task of writing a paragraph about their year so you can assemble a newsletter. Have them each draw a picture to be included as clip art. The important thing is to have fun and make positive memories.
If you are on your own this year, host a Christmas card party. Invite some friends over and create beautiful cards to send to everyone on your list. Have everyone bring items to use for the cards and their favorite salad or snack to share.
For some card making ideas to get you started, try these or these. Or check out this idea for creating a card making station.
My daughter and daughters-in-law love to get together to bake and decorate Christmas sugar cookies. My daughter has also hosted a cookie baking day for her friends. My son’s family creates a gingerbread village. If you enjoy baking and decorating traditional Christmas cookies this is a great way to connect with family or friends. Here are some recipes to try.
Try setting up a place to decorate containers to put the finished cookies in. Deliver them as a family or group. (Include an invitation to your church’s Christmas services.)
17. Do a Christmas photo or art challenge.
Try our 12 Days of Christmas Photo Challenge or turn the list into an art challenge. If you have older children, give them 2 weeks to take (or create) pictures from the list. Don’t forget to take pictures yourself, and remind everyone a few times during the week. If you have younger children (or just want this to be a family activity), spend a day finding items on the list. Then, let everyone take a picture of it however they want to (yes, a close up is okay). Pick a day to share your pictures while sipping one of these drinks or sharing one of these dips.
18. Bless someone.
Give a homeless person a cookie, toiletries, and a small gift card for a place to eat. Take a meal to a shut-in or a family who needs it (look here for ideas). Purchase gift cards to a restaurant or gas station as a gift for someone going through a health crisis. Buy, wrap, and deliver gifts to a family who otherwise would not get anything. Don’t forget to pray with the person who receives your gift.
Share it with us!
We would love to hear from you. Let us know what your favorite Christmas activities are in the comments below. Or share your selfies from the 18 activities above!
Check out the rest of our Countdown to Christmas posts here.
We are fond of saying that Jesus is the reason for the season, but do we live each day as if that were true?
During the bustle and stress of the holiday season, we want to encourage you to keep first things first. To help you do that, we have created 25 Bible Readings for Christmas.
Use these Bible readings as your own personal daily reminders or as part of a family time. These readings will only take a few minutes each day, but they will help you focus on the Reason for the season.
Just choose your preferred format from the 3 options below, download, and start reading. (Increase your fun by using Sybil MacBeth’s Advent downloads with the 25 Bible Readings and color the verses!)
I became aware of Sybil MacBeth’s work when I began researching topics for Project Prayer. She has a wonderful website called Praying in Color. I wanted to include her Praying in Color Advent ideas and handouts with you, so I reached out to her. As we wrap up Project Prayer and begin to look forward to Christmas, today’s Postcard was the logical place to have Sybil share with you. Please welcome guest blogger Sybil MacBeth.
Advent Preparation for Christmas
& the Daily Journey with God
Advent is my favorite season of the year. As the world outside my house turns dark and cold in the northern hemisphere, my wistful reaction is to turn inward. I curl up in a comfortable chair, light candles, drink hot tea, and become nostalgic and contemplative. In many ways this is exactly what Advent is about. The word advent means “coming.” During the four weeks before Christmas, we remember the coming of Jesus into the world over two thousand years ago and anticipate the coming of Jesus again at the end of history. But Advent is not just about the coming of Jesus in the distant past and in the far future, it is about his coming into our lives today, tomorrow, and every day. A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God,” says the prophet Isaiah. Advent is the time we burrow down and prepare the soil of our minds and hearts to receive Jesus anew at Christmas. It is a gestation time and the dress rehearsal for the way to live every day of the year.
Wake up. Watch. Hope. Prepare. Listen. Repent. Pay attention. Wait. These stirring and urgent verbs are the language of Advent, but they are also the daily, all-year-round vocabulary of Christians. Christians are Advent people. We do not just celebrate the past and wait for the final fulfillment of God’s kingdom in the future. We are active and incremental “waiters.” As a flesh-and-blood Savior, Jesus invites and commissions us to put our feet on the ground and join him in God’s kingdom-building pilgrimage on earth. Advent helps to prepare us for this seemingly endless and difficult work. It is no accident that Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. It is the preparation for Christmas but it is also our recommitment to the one-day-at-a time journey with Jesus and God for another year. Our Advent practices, reflection, Scripture study, and prayer hone and sharpen our spiritual tools as ready pilgrims on a 365-day mission with God.
Here are a few of my favorite Advent practices and activities. They help me to develop the daily discipline I need to be a pilgrim all year long. It is so tempting to jump right into Christmas mode as soon as Thanksgiving is over. These activities invite me to slow down and hold back– just a little.
My all-time favorite practice is creating an Advent calendar. I love the Advent calendar because it marks my one-day-at-a time walk with God. You can use any calendar template for December but I have created several free templates to download available from my website: prayingincolor.com. You can also make your own calendar templates. There are many ways to use them, but here are two ways:
1) Read a daily Scripture passage or one of the many wonderful devotionals available for Advent. Each day choose an Advent word to write in the space. Doodle around the word. Add color with markers or pencils. Ponder the word, listen to it, and ask God to speak to you through this word. Sit with it in silence.
2) Pray for a person each day. Write the name. Draw around it and add color. Use words for your prayers if you want, but think of each stroke of the pen or marker as a wordless prayer. Release the person into God’s care and sit with them in silence.
I think of this calendar as a “countup” to Christmas and not a “countdown.” At the end of Advent you will have a colorful dictionary of Advent words or a beautiful visual prayer list.
Below is an example of last year’s calendar. I prayed a different Advent word each day.
Here are the six templates for Advent 2018. You can download them for free from my Handouts Page. This year the season is only twenty-three days long and starts on December 2.
Color—Purple or Blue
Purple or blue are the colors of Advent. Whether you are a purple or blue Advent devotee, splash your house or apartment with Advent color. For me, a string of purple lights, a purple paper chain, or a purple ribbon on a wreath acts as a STOP sign. “Wait; it is not yet Christmas. Slow down. Enjoy this time of preparation.”
Plants and Bulbs
To teach children (and adults) about watching and waiting–but not waiting in vain—plant paperwhite narcissus or amaryllis bulbs at the beginning of Advent. Fill a clear container with potting soil or stones. A clear container makes the growth of the roots visible. Plant the bulb in the soil or stones with about half of the bulb showing above the surface. Place the bulbs in a warm spot near a window. Watch the daily, incremental growth of the plant. Daily watering can be the task of even a young child. Even as an adult, I never tire of watching the day-to-day progress of the green stalks and the ultimate flowering of the plant.
Create a place where people can go to be alone and quiet. A little table in a corner with a battery-operated votive candle, a few sprigs of greenery, a purple ribbon, and an old-fashioned three-minute sand- or salt-filled egg timer creates an enticing place for children and adults to be alone and quiet. Invite children to turn on the candle, turn over the egg timer, and sit in the mystery of dark and silence for three minutes.
Advent Tree or Bush
Go ahead and buy a Christmas tree during Advent but string purple, blue, or white lights on it. Use the tree as a large Advent calendar and pin an Advent word a day onto it. See if you can hold off on adding the Christmas ornaments until after December 20. Another option is to hang a long piece of string or ribbon on the wall and clothespin the words on it.
[From Bible Study Journey: I (Trisha) for one am going to try one of her Advent handouts this year. I just have to decide which one. What are you going to do? In the comments below, let us know if you try any of Sybil’s ideas. We would also love to hear how you celebrate Advent.]
Sybil MacBeth is the author of The Season of the Nativity: Confessions and Practices of an Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Extremist and Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God. Sybil combines her lifelong love of prayer with her experience as a community college math professor to offer workshops on prayer for people with varied learning styles. For more ideas about Advent or praying in color, check out her blog on prayingincolor.com.
You can access all the Project Prayer articles here and all the downloads here.
Although Project Prayer is officially over, prayer will still be the theme Friday when guest Sybil MacBeth shares how to pray in color during Advent and other ways to focus on Jesus during the hectic Christmas season.
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Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. ∼James 5:16 (ESV)
What is prayer? Earlier in this passage in verse 14, when the elders pray for the person who is sick, the Greek word for pray is proseúxomai. It means “to exchange wishes… literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes… for His wishes as He imparts faith.” (Bible Hub, HELPS Word-studies) Where James says “the prayer of a righteous person” the Greek word for prayer is deésis which refers to a “heart-felt petition, arising out of deep personal need (sense of lack, want).” (Bible Hub, HELPS Word-studies)
Prayers spoken out of a deeply felt need are deésis. When we reach the point in our deésis where we can say in all honesty, “Not my will, but yours, be done, O LORD,” our prayers have become proseúxomai. My friend Carlyn exemplified this idea when she was battling the cancer that eventually took her life. Her heart-felt petition, or deésis, was for her cancer to go away, but she exchanged that wish for God’s wishes–she turned her deésis into proseúxomai when she accepted God’s will, even when she didn’t understand it.
James tells us that these types of prayers, when made by a righteous person, are powerful. The Greek word, díkaios, means “righteous, observing divine and human laws; one who is such as he ought to be” (Bible Hub, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon). If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, we are in a right relationship with God. We are what we “ought to be.” We have “become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Being righteous means simply that we are walking in faith, and because we are walking in faith, it is reflected in how we live our lives. We are righteous because we are walking with Christ.
The Greek word translated power is from the root word ischuó. It “embodies strength that ‘gets into the fray’… engaging the resistance. For the believer,… [it] refers to the Lord strengthening them with combative, confrontive force to achieve all He gives faith for. That is, facing necessary resistance that brings what the Lord defines as success…” (Bible Hub, HELPS Word-studies) All these prayers have the power–the strength–to enter (or remain in) the battle and to resist anything which stands against God.
Why are we given this kind of strength? In order to accomplish God’s will. The evil one will try to cause us to doubt. He will try to wear us down. But discussing our wishes with God, and accepting His wishes for us, will help us to resist those attacks and to stand firm in our faith until God brings about what He defines as success.
AS IT IS WORKING
The final part of the verse is as it is working. This is the Greek word energeó which means “energize, working in a situation which brings it from one stage… to the next, like an electrical current energizing a wire, bringing it to a shining light bulb.” (Bible Hub, HELPS Word-studies) Prayer turns on the switch, so to speak, that allows the power to flow to the one who needs it. These prayers, or wishes, are working to move the situation to the next stage through God’s energizing power.
JAMES 5:16b PARAPHRASED
Now it’s time to put all that Greek together into a paraphrase of this verse: The heart-felt wishes of a person who is in a right relationship with God–who is walking with Christ and is willing to exchange their wishes for God’s–have a great quantity of strength to withstand resistance and to move the situation through God’s power to the next stage in God’s plan.
The heart-felt wishes of a person who is in a right relationship with God – who is walking with Christ and is willing to exchange their wishes for God’s – have a great quantity of strength to withstand resistance and to move the situation through God’s power to the next stage in God’s plan.
BE THAT PRAY-ER!
If you are walking with Christ, you are that righteous person. As you pray, make sure you are not only taking your wishes to God but also exchanging them for His will. Know that when you do, He will give you the strength to stand and to move through your current situation to the next stage in His plan.
[This post was adapted from Elijah: Lessons on God and Godly Living from One Flawed Human to Another.]
You can follow or browse the complete Project Prayer series here.
I know it isn’t good to ask God our Father “why” when we are praying, but as I prayed for my kids and their friends, I did wonder … how did we get here?
As I reflected on the pathway my family has been on, I saw one thing clearly: I had not been as clued in as I should have. 1 Peter 5:8 tells it this way, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (NIV) That someone is our children and the next generation of the Church.
I saw clearly: I hadn’t been alert; paying attention and being on the lookout for the enemy’s movement in our lives. Yes, I had been praying, but I wasn’t fully aware and attentive; wide-awake and keen. In fact, sometimes I had allowed fear to keep me from seeing, or at least admitting, what I didn’t want to see or know.
Let’s learn from my mistakes together and start here:
3 Prayers to Pray for Keeping the Enemy Away
1. See the enemy at work.
While Satan is not wiser than our Father, he does have a plan and that plan preys on the weaknesses of our children, especially when they are young and immature. Pray that you and those you love will spot his work and recognize his plans.
2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (NIV)
2. Wisdom for a course of action.
Sometimes as moms and mentors, our place is to pray for our loved ones and trust God to do what only He can do, but it can also be our place to get involved. Pray for the wisdom to know what to do, when to do it and when to get out of the way.
James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (NIV)
3. Strength so the enemy is defeated.
Our children do not have as much experience as we do in partnering with the Holy Spirit. Pray that they will cry out to God for the strength they need to choose Him every single day.
James 4:7, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (NIV)
Praying for our children doesn’t mean we have to be on our knees all day long, but it does mean that we need to be aware of what is taking place in the spiritual realm. Our children are growing every day, let’s pray that we will be growing in our walk with the Lord as well.
For more prayers to pray for your children, click here.
If you are just joining us for Project Prayer, you can begin (or browse) the series here.
Don’t forget to enter the Project Prayer Giveaway to win a beautiful framed print and note card set by Bible Study Journey contributor and photographer, Cindy Snyder. Sign up for this giveaway ends in 10 Days (Monday, November 19, 2018)!