With Christmas activities taking place every day, it’s easy to forget “the reason for the season.”
I find three ways to connect, learn and grow closer to Jesus, for whom the holiday was named.
All three are crucial.
Year round. Including in December.
Personal quiet time
I’m a morning person, the first one up in my household. Always have been. When our kids were young, my job started before they got up for school. Even today, I’m up before 6:30 a.m. – without an alarm.
I start the coffee. I feed the cats. I pour a cup of the morning brew. I sit down in my living room chair, the cup in one hand, the Bible in the other, and often a cat on my lap.
That’s the best part of my entire day. It’s dark. It’s quiet. It’s warm (thanks to the cat).
God often speaks to me there.
Today I read the first three chapters of 1 Peter. “Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit …” (1 Peter 3:8) In church yesterday our pastor talked about the deepest longings of our hearts. A magazine did a survey on that recently, he said, and the most common longings were happiness, money, a relationship, peace and joy.
My deepest longing, however, didn’t appear on the magazine’s list: unity. I wish with all my heart that we as Americans and as citizens of the world would learn to get along with each other. I’ve written about this many times.
Most of our deepest longings are selfish. Mine is for unity among all people. That’s selfish too, I suppose; I wish to be understood as well as I wish to understand you.
These thoughts ran through my mind in my quiet time this morning.
This happens frequently. A verse I read resonates, and my mind probes into it. What does it mean? What would it look like if we (I) truly lived this out?
Unity among believers is the last thing Jesus prayed for in the Garden of Gethsemane before He was crucified (John 17:20-24). Unity mattered to Jesus, too.
Many of you discredit the Christian faith because we Christians can’t get along with each other, much less with you. Our message to you is fragmented. Some so-called Christians mis-lead you.
This is why we must read the Bible for ourselves. What’s in there? I’m a journalist; I’m a cynic by nature. I’m not going to take your word for it. I will double-check you.
I will read it for myself.
Having said that, I can learn from you, and you from me. The best churches are organized with small groups of a dozen or so people who get together on a regular basis. My wife and I also attended Sunday School classes for many years. And we participate in Wednesday night men’s and women’s groups to study the Bible and issues of the day, with a Biblical perspective.
I have plenty to learn from you. You have insights into life that I don’t have. I’ve experienced things that I can share with you as well. As we get to know each other better, we discover that we aren’t as different as we thought we were.
We also can support each other through our struggles and trials of life. When someone in our group has a dying relative, others understand because they’ve been there. When someone new joins the group because he and his family just moved here, I can relate right away, because that’s my experience too. When someone talks Browns-Steelers … well, I have ties to both cities, actually.
All these issues can unify us. We connect at this level in a group setting.
The best groups challenge me to learn something new about myself, to step out in faith and do something, to help me understand a truth about God in a different or deeper way. It’s a safe place to be vulnerable. For guys, that’s not normal. And even in a couple of men’s groups I’m in, that doesn’t come easy.
But it’s necessary. I can learn things from you that I cannot learn on my own.
Uh oh, here it comes. Yes, there’s a reason to attend a Sunday morning service every week.
The pastor, if he (or she) is inspired by the living God, has done his homework on his message for the day. As a general rule, the pastor dives deep into a verse or small section of the Bible. He offers insights and background that his training and study have taught him. And then he gives practical applications on how we can live out the truths that he is teaching us.
If this is the only Bible learning we do each week, we miss so much. Even if you hear one sermon a week for your entire life, you’ll miss reading most of the Bible. That’s why we must read the Bible on our own, and study it in small groups. We learn truths in different ways, and at different levels.
Does God speak to you when you are alone? Does He speak in your small groups? Is He speaking through your pastor?
I daresay that most of you who are critical of God or the church aren’t participating in it at all, but are criticizing as outsiders. We in America are good at that. We Christians are good at criticizing you too.
All of us would do so much better if we got to know each other better. Find out what makes each of us tick. How each of us thinks.
On Facebook I follow a prominent expert on poverty, who travels the country seeking to alleviate or even end poverty. She commented recently about a library forgiving fines.
Are library fines a poverty issue? Yes. She explained how she grew up in a home with more than 20 relatives. She avoided libraries because if she took a book home, it would get lost in such a crowded place. She missed out on all a library offers – chances to discover new ideas, improve reading skills, learn history and other subjects from those who have lived it – because she was afraid of getting punished for using a library.
I had no idea.
The point of a personal quiet time, small groups and weekly preaching is to learn and grow closer to God and to each other. Is poverty a God issue? Absolutely, yes. It’s easy to judge people who don’t pay their library fines as lazy or thieves – until we understand why.
Unity. My deepest longing. Which I realized in a sermon. Then meditated on in a personal quiet time. And read about online.
I’m trying to live it out. It’s a worthy goal.
This is how God works. Alone, in groups and in church. With real-world applications. It’s all good.
And it’s all necessary.