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Monday, December 23, 2013

Advent Day 21: Peace in All Circumstances

Day 21: An Abundant Christmas: Peace in All Circumstances

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)
Begin by being still before God.  Read Jude 1-2 and meditate on the words.

Jude 1-2 NIV
To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ: Mercy, peace and love be yours in abundance. 

1)    Be still and know he is God. 

2)    God calls us for his purpose.  Think about your calling:
a)    To God.
b)    To the church.
c)    To your family and friends.
d)    To the world.

3)    God the Father loves us abundantly.  Think on the wonder of that. 

4)    If we know Jesus, he keeps us.
a)    Let him keep your problems.
b)    Let him keep your fears.
c)    Let him keep your hurts.
d)    Let him keep your dreams.
e)    Let him keep your Christmas Spirit.

5)    Mercy in abundance
a)    God offered mercy to you, even when you did not deserve it. 
b)    If anyone has hurt you, offer them mercy, even if they do not deserve it.

6)    Peace in abundance
a)    God is offering you a peaceful Christmas season, regardless of your circumstances.  Accept it.
b)    God is offering you a peaceful life, regardless of the circumstances.  Accept it.

7)    Love in abundance
a)    Love the Lord God:
i)    With your mind.
ii)    With your heart.
iii)    With your soul.
iv)    With your strength.
b)    Love your neighbor as yourself.

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Ask God to speak to you during this devotional time.

2)    Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a)    Are there circumstances in your life that are getting in the way of your having an abundant Christmas? 
i)    List them in Appendix 1. 
ii)    Ask for God’s will in each circumstance.
iii)    Ask God what to pray for. 
iv)    Listen.
v)    Make sure you are holding no grudges against anyone.
vi)    Pray for what God leads you to ask for.
vii)    Believe God will answer.
b)    Appendix 1: Pray and update.

3)    Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a)    Thank God for his abundance and peace through all circumstances.
b)    Praise God for mercy:
i)    The mercy he has for us.
ii)    The mercy he helps us have for others.
c)    Praise God for his plans for us in this life and the next. 
d)    Praise God for loving us. 
e)    Thank him for answered prayer.

4)    Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a)    Offer him your faith this Christmas. 
b)    Offer him your love this Christmas.
c)    Appendix 3: Pray and update. 

5)    Ask God for knowledge of his will for you this Christmas and the power to carry it out. 

6)    Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.

Bible Study (10-15 Minutes)

Christmas Spirit depends on our relationship with God and not our personal situation.  The same is true of our peace throughout the rest of our life.  If we depend on Christ, we can have an abundant Christmas, regardless of our circumstances.  If we have faith in Christ, we can have an abundant life, regardless of our circumstances.  Through faith, our world can be spinning around us and we can relax into God’s peace. 

Background Scripture

Read Mark 11:22-25.  Like can be uncertain but our God is not.  When we are facing difficult circumstances what does verse 22 tell us we must do first.  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

According to verse 23, what is the secret to our prayers being answered?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

What is the promise in verse 24?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Read verse 25.  To have effective prayers we must do one more thing.  What is it?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

The above verses, taken alone, can be confusing.  Every word of the scripture is true but there is more to it.  We all know Godly people who have begged God for something, only to receive a no to their pleas.  The answer to this lies in studying how Jesus dealt with the difficult moments of his life.  Jesus knew he was facing the cross.  He was completely human and completely God.  The human side of him dreaded the pain and suffering of the cross. 

Read Luke 22:42-43.  How did Jesus pray?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

The disciples and followers of Jesus all faced difficult circumstances in their lives.  We see them accepting the will of the father.  Ephesians 6:18 tells us to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  God’s plan for us is an eternal one.  When we pray “In the Spirit,” our perspective becomes an eternal one.  We hear God’s voice and know his will.  He leads us in what to pray for.  When we pray “In the Spirit” Mark 11:22-25 becomes a reality in our lives.

Knowing we are “In the Spirit” does not mean that our earthly circumstances are painless.  The pain of the cross was real.  The brutal ways in which most of the disciples died were real. 

Read 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.  Where do we turn when our circumstances hurt?  How does what we receive help others?  (Write your answers in your journal.) 

Read Philippians 4:7.  We cannot avoid pain on earth but our suffering is optional.  Regardless of our circumstances, God gives us a blessing.  What is it?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

In closing, read Paul’s encouraging words in Romans 1:8-10.  Read his closing prayer.  How does he show deference to God through his prayers?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Difficult News At Christmas

“Bethany is going to need a kidney transplant,” the doctor gently informed a distraught mother and daughter. 

“But she is so young.  She is just twenty years old.  Surely there is another answer,” the mother argued.  Bethany had one kidney removed at birth.  A progressive kidney disease was causing Bethany’s remaining kidney to fail rapidly. 

Bethany is a college student and planning to be a nurse.  She has always been a good student.  She is a Christian and is beautiful, responsible, sweet, and fun.  She has a close relationship with God.  Many young people stop attending church when they go away for college.  Not Bethany.  She became active in a church in her college town as soon as she arrived at school.  Her mother, Nancy and I joke that she is the “perfect” daughter. 

Bethany laughs at us and says, “I am far from perfect.” 

Bethany grew up in a Christian home.  Her father has dedicated his life to full time Christian service.  He is on staff in a large church.  Her mother plays violin in the church orchestra.  Bethany has one sister, Allison, who would do anything for her.  Allison is hoping and praying that she will be able to give a kidney to Bethany. 

My sense of fairness says this family has done everything right.  It seems wrong that they have to face something as difficult as a kidney transplant.  It seemed particularly unfair to have to visit so many doctors during the Christmas Season. 

I asked Bethany how her Christmas Season was going.  “It is going great.  I will enjoy Christmas just as much as ever.  I believe my doctors when they tell me that many people with kidney transplants go on to have a family, career, and wonderful and full lives.  I trust God with my future.  Doctors make me nervous but I go anyway.  My main worry is Allison.  I don’t like it that my illness might cause her pain.”

Bethany’s mother, Nancy, depends on prayer to get them through this.  After getting the doctor’s news, she immediately asked her church to pray.  While normally very independent, she allowed friends to help.  “I can’t go through this alone,” she said.  Nancy trusts God with Bethany’s future.  “I will allow no thoughts other than Bethany coming out of this healthy and whole.  Bethany will have a full life.  Allison’s kidney is going to be a match for Bethany.”  What some would call denial; others would call faith. 

A year later, it is Christmas once again.  Right after last Christmas, Bethany’s failing kidney suddenly stabilized.  It is still only partially functioning, but to date, the transplant has been unnecessary.  “We are taking life one day at a time,” Nancy said.  “I pray we can put this off until Bethany finishes school.” 

A Difficult Year

John had a difficult year.  First, he lost his job.  John gives his heart to everything that he does.  His job loss was “economy” related and out of his control.  John loved his job and his company and grieved the loss.  While grieving, he reminded everyone, “God is in charge of this situation.”  John’s attitude towards his former employer remained amazingly positive. 

Not long after he lost his job, John had a routine physical.  At the last minute, the doctor decided to order a prostate test.  They found a very aggressive form of prostate cancer.  This caught everyone by surprise since he had absolutely no symptoms.  John praised God through this bad news.  “God led those doctors to run that test.  Normally, they don’t test for this at my age.” 

Before this year, John had led a charmed life.  He lived the “American dream.”  He went to college and excelled.  John’s career soared and generated an excellent income.  He married and had two children.  His wife takes care of the home and family while he goes off to work each day.  He is a Christian that has remained faithful to his church.  He is a Sunday School teacher and sings in his church choir.  John has close friends that love him.  He is a fun and loyal friend and easy to love.

The news of his cancer shocked all of us that love John.  He seemed “the picture of health.”  It was doubly hard because of his recent job loss.  The doctors gravely told John, “This cancer had a rating of ‘7 out of 10’ on the aggressiveness scale.  The statistics for this are not in your favor.” 

John had the normal reaction of surprise and fear.  He worried about his wife and young children.  He turned to God and his friends.  John asked the people closest to him to pray.  He called us and asked, “Would you please invoke the Jacksonville prayer warriors on my behalf?”  Bob and I immediately went to our knees for John.  We made a mental decision to go through this emotionally with him.  That first night, we both cried as we held each other and prayed.  God gave us a sense of peace.  We realized that God had led those doctors to find this cancer early and that he was taking care of John.  As we prayed, God brought Mark 11:22-25 to my mind. 

Mark 11:22-25 NIV
"Have faith in God," Jesus answered.  "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." 

The next morning, I did two things.  The first was I did make sure I was not holding any grudges against anyone.  I did not want my prayers on John’s behalf blocked by my shortcomings.  That was when I realized that I was angry with John’s former employer.  I do not like it when people hurt my friends.  I confessed and asked for healing.  Gently, I felt my anger replaced by love. 

The second thing I did was to send out an e-mail “Request for Prayer” to the “prayer warriors” that John was referring to.  They immediately e-mailed their willingness to pray.  Ray is one of those “prayer warriors” that I depend on.  He is also a friend to John.  Ray e-mailed me Mark 11:22-25 on John’s behalf.  God had now given that scripture to both Ray and me.  I knew God was leading us to pray for John’s complete healing.  I e-mailed this scripture to John and told him what I was praying for. 

John e-mailed back, “I am overcome with the outpouring and support from my Christian, and non Christian friends.  My Lord is sustaining me.  I am buoyed, feel myself sinking sometimes, and raise myself up by praising Him.  I am supported by a great church community that I now realize encompasses the entire United States.  Christians catch on fire and spread themselves when others are hurting.  I am being transformed even as I type this.  My faith is being transformed.  My being is being transformed.  My relationship with my Lord is being transformed.  How humble and grateful I have become.”

Throughout the surgery and treatment for cancer, God ministered to John’s spirit.  Once, he was nervously waiting to see a doctor.  He looked up and saw the father of a friend to his daughter walking by.  John knew the man was a doctor but had not seen him in years.  “Why are you here?” the doctor asked.  John explained what he was waiting on.  Without permission, this doctor grabbed both of his hands and immediately went into prayer.  He prayed for God’s presence in John’s life.  He prayed for God’s plan for John’s life.  He asked for mercy and strength.  John had not even known this man was a Christian. 

For the next few months, they went through the roller coaster ride of cancer.  John went through the entire Christmas season feeling blessed.  “I am reading God’s word more than I ever have before.  I am really listening to God.  I feel gratitude for everything this Christmas.  I even notice the smell of the Douglas Fir in my living room.  I am at complete peace.” 

A year later, it is Christmas once again.  This year is entirely different.  Against all human odds, God healed John from the cancer.  There is no trace of cancer cells in his body.  He found a job that he enjoys.  He is grateful to be alive but no longer afraid of death.  “I am grateful for everything that happened last year.  My perspective on life has changed.” 

Application (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Making It Personal
a)    In your journal, write a prayer asking God for an abundant Christmas for you and your family.
b)    Make a decision to trust God with your circumstances. 
c)    Forgive anyone who has harmed you.
i)    Who hurt you?  (Write your answer in your journal.)
ii)    What happened to you?  (Write you answer in your journal.)
iii)    How did it impact you?  (Write you answer in your journal.)
(1)    Did it hurt your self esteem?
(2)    Did it get in the way of your ambitions?
(3)    Did it hurt your personal or romantic relationships?
(4)    Did it hurt you financially?
iv)    Ask God to give you the same forgiveness and love for the offender that God had for you. 
v)    Be honest about your part in the situation. 
(1)    Were you afraid?  Did your faith falter?
(2)    Were you selfish?  Did you forget to love your neighbor as yourself?
(3)    Were you dishonest? 
(4)    Were you self-seeking, showing off or trying to dominate? 
vi)    Confess:
(1)    To God.
(2)    To another Christian.
vii)    Make any necessary amends.
d)    Pray “In the Spirit.
e)    Enjoy God’s peace this Christmas.

2)    Praying Continuously  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a)    Praise God all day. 
b)    Praise Him when you see any Christmas Decorations. 
c)    Praise Him when you hear Christmas Music. 
d)    Praise Him when you hear the word Christmas. 

3)    Ending The Day
a)    Did circumstances keep you from experiencing God’s peace.  If so, confess.
b)    Did your faith waver today?  Did you doubt?  If so, confess.
c)    Are you angry with anyone?  If so, ask God to help you forgive them. 
d)    Praise God for the peace that is beyond understanding. 

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