In the Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

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Though all the world looks cold and drear, the hand of God is very near.

Winter is now upon us.

When the first official snow falls across a rural landscape, the entire scene appears to be a solid blanket of white, closely touching the grey, cloudy skies. The world seems still, if only for a season. All of nature looks as if it were cast under a powerful sleeping spell, lying dormant until the spring. The cold, frigid air is devoid of sound, except for the occasional howling of the wind. Many animals are hushed in their homes, snuggled away in hibernation. The trees form dark shapes against the sky, their bare branches spreading out in tangled lines.

All of these things combined together seem to whisper one thing – silence.

Silence is something that this world needs a lot more of. It’s rather refreshing to have a break from all the noise when winter finally comes. For some people though, silence can be a difficult thing to endure. Those who prefer the warmer, more active season of summer can hardly bear the inevitable cold and inactivity of winter. Nature lovers might find themselves overcome with a sense of sorrow and longing for spring. They wish with all their hearts that the flowers and trees would come back to life, so that the landscape wouldn’t look so barren and desolate. These are perfectly understandable reasons for people to dislike winter, yet there are three reasons why winter is very important and shouldn’t be overlooked. Believe it or not, winter can be viewed as a hopeful, positive season, rather than a dull and depressing one.

Here is the first one:

1. Winter is the season when nature gets a period of rest.

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Upon first glance, the winter landscape appears as if everything in nature has died. However, that is the farthest thing from the truth. Actually, the plants and animals are really sleeping instead of dead, although this fact is hidden from our sight. The plants have life within them, but it is well shielded from the cold with their protective outer layers. The animals are simply hibernating in a safe place where they can keep warm, either eating or sleeping most likely. Just like nature, we humans keep ourselves indoors throughout the winter as much as we can to avoid getting hypothermia. It is such a comforting privilege to be able to stay inside where it’s warm and cozy, and look out the window to gaze upon the frosty landscape. While the rest of creation is in a state of hibernation, we too can enjoy blissful moments of peace and rest as we relax inside the warmth of our homes. In the same way that we are content to rest inside our houses, we can also be content to rest in the knowledge of God’s love for us. Just as we feel safe and secure from the cold winter winds when we stay inside, we can feel safe and secure from the cares of this world when we remember that God is protecting and taking care of us. The warmth of a bright fireplace is comforting, but it is nothing compared to the warmth we feel when we know that God is always watching over us.

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Instead of wishing away the time out of longing for spring to arrive, we should choose to embrace this season of rest and relaxation, as it is beneficial to our health. Those of us who struggle with annual illnesses this time of year readily agree to and welcome the need for rest,  so we can take the necessary time required to get well. Instead of worrying about everything going on in our lives, God wants us to be still and know that He is God. If we know that God wants His creation to rest and relax for a time, then we too are automatically included in that category. God wants us to work hard during our time on this earth, but He also wants us to admit when we need to take a break too. Overworking, overthinking, and overstressing is not good for anyone’s well being. Pleasing God is about being diligent, but it’s also about taking care of the bodies He gave us. We cannot possibly expect to continue functioning as normal if we don’t take a time out to let our bodies do the physical maintenance and repair they need. We also should accept the fact that nature needs this time to slow down, which leads to this next reason why winter can indeed be viewed as a positive season.

2. Winter is a season of development when hidden growth takes place.

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God designed the season of winter to be restful so that all the elements of His creation can have a chance to grow underneath the surface of the ice and snow. While the tree branches may look barren, there are brand new leaves growing inside the chambers of bark, waiting to sprout forth the moment spring arrives. Although many animals are hidden from view, they are slumbering safely inside their dens, where they might give birth to new young that will emerge when it’s warm again. The baby animals that are already born also need this time so that they can grow. God established this cycle of transformation so that renewal can take place every year. We can learn a valuable lesson from God’s creation of nature by renewing our hearts and minds. This can be accomplished by recognizing our own need for spiritual growth through the help of the Holy Spirit. Just as the plants and animals have hidden changes occurring on the inside where we can’t see, God wants the same thing to be true within our hearts. While we’re waiting to see God’s plans for our lives unfold, we should take a moment to stop and consider if God is trying to privately teach us something in the meantime. Rather than asking God “What are You doing to change my life circumstances?”, we should be asking ourselves “What do I need to change about my attitude before God reveals His plans for me?” The season of winter evokes a wondrous sense of mystery, and God’s ways are far more mysterious than any of us can possibly imagine. We can’t always understand what God is trying to teach us, but our hearts need to be willing to learn from Him nevertheless. Whatever God is trying to communicate to us, we can only listen for His silent whispers that are as soft as the newly fallen snow.

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Rather than wishing it were spring right away, we need to accept the fact that spiritual growth and development takes time to occur. We need to have honest and realistic expectations of ourselves before we try to see everything the way God sees it in the present. It will take humility, dedication, and a sincere desire for us to make a serious change about our perspective on what God is doing with our lives. If we want to receive the very best blessings that God has to offer, then we need to show Him that we are willing to trust Him to work everything out in His perfect timing. Developing these spiritual character traits in our lives isn’t always easy, but it is well worth the effort. God knows our hearts, so He can see whether or not we’re really trying to change. He also knows our weak and fragile human state, so He is forgiving when we fail to understand Him sometimes. God wants us to grow into strong people of faith who firmly rely upon Him for everything in our lives. In order for this to happen, we need to acknowledge what is or is not under our control, which leads to the third and final reason why winter can be viewed as a positive season after all.

3. Winter is a season of waiting to see God’s miracles unfold.

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Just like all the other seasons, winter takes three months to finish its course of time. All of the beautiful, wonderful things that we see and enjoy during spring time don’t just appear overnight. Instead of despairing over all the ice and snow, we should appreciate the beauty it brings that is unlike anything else we witness throughout the rest of the year. We wouldn’t be able to recognize the colorful flowers in the spring months without first gazing upon the whiteness of the winter snow. In the same way, waiting for winter to pass can be directly compared to the seasons of waiting God puts us through in our lives. We aren’t always able to see exactly what He’s doing as He’s carrying out His will for us. In fact, we might not be able to see any sign of significant progress on the horizon of waiting for His plans to be fulfilled. However, that does NOT mean that nothing is happening behind the scenes. Just as we must wait for all the snow and ice to melt, we must also wait for God to orchestrate all the right circumstances before we can see the answers to our questions and prayers. As humans, we aren’t too fond of waiting, since it means that there are, in fact, some things that we simply cannot control. Even though seasons of waiting might make us feel like we’re stuck and not going anywhere, we need to trust God by knowing He won’t leave us stranded.

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Before we can fully enjoy the blessings of the future, we must be content with the circumstances of the present. When God makes us wait for things to happen in our lives, it is for our benefit, so we can learn how to depend on, grow, and trust in Him. We have no way of knowing exactly how long it will take before God fulfills His plan for our lives, or grants us access to achieve our dreams and wishes for success. In the meantime, however, we can choose to have faith in Him by believing in His goodness, regardless of outcomes. We wouldn’t be able to appreciate God’s answer to our prayers and questions without first waiting to see how He chooses to respond. Sometimes the longer God makes us wait, the more satisfying it is when He finally gives us our heart’s desire. This is good for two reasons: it forces us to remember that we can’t take God for granted, and it helps us realize that God hasn’t forgotten about us, caring enough to remember our requests.

 

Here are some verses to help remind you that waiting in your personal mid-winter isn’t so bleak:

 

Philippians 1:6 ~ “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

Psalm 25:5 ~ “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”

Psalm 27:13-14 ~ “ I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.”

Psalm 33:20 ~ “Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.”

Psalm 39:7 ~ “And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.

Psalm 130:5 ~ “I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.”

Psalm 138:8 ~ “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.

Psalm 145:15-16 ~ “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.

Jeremiah 29:11 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Lamentations 3:24-26 ~ “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.”

Micah 7:7 ~ “Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.”

Matthew 6:25 ~ “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?”

Matthew 10:29-31 ~ “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.”

James 5:7-8 ~ Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”

 

In the not-so-bleak midwinter, you can be confident that God’s hand is hard at work.

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 When you look upon your present life circumstances and see nothing but white and grey, do not immediately descend into despair. The color of white that is so prevalent in winter snow represents a blank canvas for the bright colors of the future spring. In the same way, the season of waiting in our lives that at first appears to be barren and desolate is actually a fresh opportunity for God to bring new blessings into our lives later. Just as God is busy preparing His natural creation to have new life in the spring, He is also preparing to bring new things into our lives as well. We can choose to be content with waiting to see what will happen, and increase our faith in God and His goodness at the same time.

The color of grey seen in cloudy, snowy skies also represents the uncertainty of the future.  God works in mysterious ways, and He is pulling things together behind the scenes when we don’t even realize it. God has nothing but your very best interest at the forefront of His mind. He’s not going to abandon you by forcing you to wait for something you’ve prayed about forever. If God cares enough to follow through with His plans for plants and animals to develop, then you can be certain that He cares far much more about fulfilling His plans for you in your life. Meanwhile, you can rest in God’s perfect peace in spite of all your unanswered questions, trusting that you will be given answers in His perfect timing.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

The Gift That Is Always New

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We have one Present that we’ll never finish unwrapping, even as time is passing.

Have you ever had a favorite Christmas gift?

For those of us who celebrate Christmas every year, we look forward to the annual exchanging of gifts between our friends and families. Most people look back on a specific year when they thought their Christmas experience was particularly special. Their good memories of a specific Christmas might stand out for a variety of reasons, including time spent with loved ones, participating in family traditions, or even a vacation trip to a special place for the holidays. There is one thing, however, that many people associate with their favorite memories of a specific Christmas –

Receiving a gift they wanted with all their hearts.

Perhaps they received this gift when they were a small child, and it became a memory milestone that defined the way they view Christmas for their entire lives. Lots of people fondly remember a childhood Christmas when they got their first bike. Or maybe, for some families who could afford it, they might remember an adolescent Christmas when they got their first car. Whatever the item might have been, it probably satisfied their hearts’ desire in a way that nothing else possibly could.

However, we’ve all received some presents that we were less than thrilled about.

I’m sure that if we asked a crowd of people if they’ve ever gotten a pair of socks for Christmas, almost every hand in the room would be raised. There are some presents we’ve all gotten that we’d either just rather forget about completely, or wish we had never gotten them at all. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t appreciate the thought the other person put into the gift they gave us; it’s just a disappointment that they didn’t fully understand our desires, or were unable or unwilling to meet them.

This disappointment can be lessened, however, once we remember that celebrating Christmas, and just life in general, is not really about the things we have. Why waste time being upset just because you didn’t get everything you wanted? Think about it: before you wrote down a Christmas list this year, or picked out things you liked during all the months before it, were you happily content? Be honest with yourself, now. The whole entire advertising industry is centered around creating a desire or need in the mind of the customer. Before their ads and commercials reached you, you had no idea that you wanted something. That’s exactly how their business works, to produce a constant feeling of discontent in the heart and mind of the consumer. You have the power to outsmart them by thinking independently, though.

You can choose instead to be thankful for the gifts you already have.

This year, I wasn’t quite sure about or fully interested in what I wanted for Christmas. So in the earlier days of this month leading up to Christmas, I made it a point to enjoy the things I’ve gotten from the years of past Christmases, and remembered just how much those gifts meant to me at the time. It wasn’t long before I realized that these former Christmas presents were still useful to this very day, and that I could continue to appreciate and enjoy them no matter how many years had gone by. Some of these things made me feel very nostalgic, as if I were a teenager all over again. Revisiting these items helped me to experience the joy they gave me the first time as if they were all brand new.

Instead of getting caught up in our culture’s overly commercialized version of Christmas, I chose to view it as my own, personal, second Thanksgiving. My family wasn’t planning on spending extravagant amounts of money on Christmas gifts, and in truth, I wasn’t really expecting that much either. This was fine with me, though, since I honestly felt like I have more than enough stuff as it is, and that Thanksgiving is always overlooked each year. I wanted to focus on the many blessings that I already had in my life, especially the ones that weren’t material. I learned the value of appreciating the people I know and love, and realized how special it is to make the most of all the time I get to spend with them. I can sincerely say with all my heart that I was more satisfied this Christmas with the souls of people I care about than any tangible thing that they gave to me.

If you are a Christian, you already have a Gift that never grows old, and isn’t material.

Just as I learned to derive additional joy from my gifts of Christmas past, we as Christians have access to a wonderful gift that is continuously new every day. It is an eternal gift that keeps on giving in more ways than we can imagine. It is our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the greatest gift ever given to mankind by God Himself. Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not only the greatest gift that we can ever have, but it is also a gift that never loses its lustrous shine as the years pass by. The gifts we receive on earth will all eventually lose their exciting attractiveness long after we’ve torn the wrapping paper off of them. Our relationship with Jesus will always have new things to discover, as God’s mysterious ways can never be fully understood by our finite minds. Metaphorically, we’ll never finish unwrapping the gift of Jesus Christ. The joy of learning new things about Him is ours to delight in every day if we choose to spend time with Him.

Earthly things we receive will bring us temporary happiness, but our relationship with Jesus gives us lasting fulfillment. After accepting salvation, He is a Gift from Christmas past that can never fade away or be forgotten. Jesus is the reason why we celebrate Christmas, and His birth is a direct gift from God. His existence on earth as a human inspired the very first Christmas ever. Jesus wants us to keep unwrapping Him every day, so we can see all the endless blessings He has to offer. We can enjoy Him for all eternity, just as we enjoy the tangible gifts we already have from years ago. The main difference is, Jesus will still be here for us long after our material possessions are gone with the earth we live in. It is up to us to make an effort to appreciate the wonderful Gift we’ve been given. We can only enjoy our relationship with Jesus as much as we choose to. The more we spend time with Him and invest our hearts in getting to know Him better, the more fulfilled we will be in our lives. You wouldn’t leave a present for you sitting unwrapped under the tree, would you? Don’t make the same mistake by overlooking your relationship with Jesus.

 

Here are some verses to help you appreciate and enjoy this eternal, wonderful Gift:

 

Psalm 19:9-10 ~ “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”

Psalm 27:4 ~ “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.”

Psalm 27:8 ~ “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.

Psalm 40:16 ~ “Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified.

Psalm 119:2 ~ “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.”

Proverbs 8:17 ~ “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.

1 Chronicles 16:11 ~ “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.

2 Chronicles 22:19a ~ “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God;

Romans 8:31-32 ~ “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

Deuteronomy 31:8 ~ “And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

Isaiah 41:10 ~ “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

Isaiah 55:6-7 ~ “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Hosea 10:12 ~ “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”

Matthew 7:7-8 ~ “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Ephesians 3:20 ~ “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,”

Hebrews 13:5 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

 

The gift of Jesus’ love is something you can take with you into the New Year, and all throughout the rest of your life.

The Christmas season might be behind us, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying your gifts, especially the most important One I’ve described above. You can rejoice in knowing that your relationship with Jesus stands the test of time, and lasts throughout all eternity. Even if other gifts you received disappointed you, this is one Gift that never disappoints. Jesus will never, ever fail you. If a terrible day comes in the future when all your friends and family forsake you, He will still be there. You can count on it. Jesus is ALWAYS reliable. He NEVER changes, unlike people. Whatever people have come into or gone out of your life this year doesn’t matter as much as you think; Someone will always be there for you. Jesus will fulfill your every need, and what’s more, He’s capable of fulfilling you in a unique way that people never can. Jesus can satisfy the deepest, genuine desires of your heart. Best of all, He understands you completely and perfectly because He is GOD. No matter what you might face in the future, if you truly share a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I guarantee you that He will be right by your side, supporting you through it all. But don’t take MY word for it; GOD promises many times in His Word that He will NEVER leave you or forsake you. And that is the best reason for you to have a Happy New Year. Not only that, but a happy life also.

– Gloria D. Hopkins