White light breaks through smoky billows of fog, and I watch a fluorescent orange silhouette meander through wilted fields of beige. We open the first window on our colorful advent calendar, and the kids scarf down thin squares of chocolate to mark this first day of waiting. We’re waiting for the coming King. Waiting for the day that marks Immanuel’s entry to the world. Waiting for God with us.
The hunter climbs a tree on the northwestern skyline, and he’s waiting too. All this waiting draws my mind to a question Bekah’s been asking all fall. She’s seven, and she thinks about profound things. At least a dozen times she’s gazed at the clouds above and asked what kind of clouds Jesus will ride when he returns.
Why do I fail to regularly ponder the reality that Immanuel is coming back? Why don’t I watch the horizon for the King’s return? Why don’t I live more intentionally – like this really might be the last day I have on this muddy earth with dandelions sprouting on brisk December mornings?
Autumn in these parts prompted me to pause often, to watch for Immanuel’s hand in my daily life and live each day to the fullest. The biggest reason for this was a shift in my soul that begged for more.
I wanted more depth, a greater awareness of my purpose, and more in my relationship with God. I asked for direction from above, and I was led into a four-month study of Matthew’s gospel, reading one chapter per week, rereading the same chapter every day of the week, and coming up with an objective and practical way to apply it.
This study has enriched my life on every level and provided the more I was searching for. It has astonishingly aligned with the trials and life events of our autumn, speaking truth into hard situations at just the right times. It has nudged me to pause and consider that Immanuel is always working in our midst.
Here are ten lessons I’ve learned through this study:
- Watching for Immanuel has the power to change everything.
The Old Testament prophecy that Immanuel would come was fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Matthew 1:23 reads, “And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us.”
I spent one week listing the ways I saw God showing up in my life this fall, and while my goal was one event per day, the list filled pages. When we realize that Immanuel has come and continues to dwell among us, when we open our eyes to his hand, we begin to live in holy expectation that fills us and leads us straight to his ever-thrumming heart of love.
- Simple acts of ordinary daily tasks can be done with a grumbling heart or a worshipful heart. We’re prone to grumble more than we worship.
Inspired by the fact that the first thing the Magi did when they encountered Jesus was worship him, I spent a week practicing ordinary tasks as acts of worship. Somehow, learning to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, scrub toilets, and clean windows as acts of worship changed the overall countenance of my life.
- Sometimes the best way to break a habit is to discipline your flesh through fasting.
When we feel stuck in behaviors we want to change, sometimes the best way to produce change is to train our flesh to submit to our will through the discipline of fasting. Fasting is painful, and the flesh recoils, but once the flesh learns it’s no longer in charge, we step into a new kind of freedom.
- God wants more than “Please bless this day” prayers.
In Matthew 6, Jesus shows us how to pray. He offers a prayer that includes worship, confession, alignment with God’s kingdom purposes, asking for basic needs, protection from temptation, and a plea to glorify him. Sometimes structured prayer is the gateway to greater intimacy with God. Above all else, prayer is about a relationship. Thoughtless prayers that ask for a quick blessing miss the heart of God who wants to commune with us.
- If we want to live transformed, we can’t live blind to our sins.
A discipline that’s often overlooked is the discipline of daily confessing our sins to God. If we want transformation in our lives, we ought to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:13-14).
- Losing our lives for others looks like action, but it also looks like the right attitude.
We can offer our time and our acts of service to others without end, but if we do it with proud, bitter, or grumbling hearts, we haven’t followed Christ at all.
- Rest is a state of mind.
We’re called to rest in the Lord. This includes keeping the Sabbath and daily quiet time in his presence, but it also means
resting in his goodness when trouble, hardship, and daily stress threaten to undermine our souls.
- Every great accomplishment begins with one step.
Every great building begins with laying a single brick. Every great work of art begins with a single brush-stroke. Every great work of faith begins with one step in the right direction. Do not despite small beginnings . . .
- Life and death are in the power of my words.
Every day I choose to speak life or death over my life, my future, my calling, and the people I love. I’m called to choose carefully and guard the door of my mouth.
- God wants us to ask for the things we need.
Some of us have fallen into a trap of over-spiritualizing our prayers. We forget to ask for the things we need on the most basic level. We ought to pray Biblical promises more than anything else. We ought to make sure every prayer aligns with Scripture. But we are free to pray for practical needs in our lives. Our good Father wants to reach down from on high and provide.
When I asked God to show me how to walk in greater abundance, I was a bit disappointed by the strong impression that studying the Bible was my answer. I was feeling overworked, and digging into the Bible felt like more work.
Looking back, it was work. But it was the best kind of work. It was utterly fulfilling to find practical ways to apply the Living Word to my daily life. It was satisfying and purposeful. It drew me closer to the heart of God. And now, with just two more weeks until I finish the study and application of Matthew’s gospel, I can say that I’ve found the more I was seeking.
Thank you, Emily P. Freeman, for inspiring this post . . .