Think about five words for a moment: Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. Surrender.
“Well, Erick,” you might say, “Aren’t we all experts at surrender right now? It is 2020 after all.”
True. We have all surrendered a lot this year. Sometimes, we welcome the opportunity for a change of pace. But most likely, you have dug your heels in and battled the change of plans or the canceled events. Frankly, we just don’t want to give up our view of how things should go.
In a year with so much surrender and loss, don’t those other words seem a little tone-deaf, or at least a little trite? Job loss, change, and stress are hardly peaceful. How are we to find joy when another story of a shuttered business or COVID casualty is in our face? And love? Well, sadly, divorce lawyers are busy. And last, we face hope, which to the naked eye, feels in short supply.
I feel a lot of that. But I also hold that in tension with Jesus’ words in John 12:24-26 (ESV), which are coming to mind more and more these days:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
How much is my life worth to me and am I willing to surrender it to the Lord? As I think about the challenges occurring around me, am I following Jesus? Am I where He is? Do I believe that if I serve Him, the Father will honor me?
I can’t honestly ask these questions and engage in those five words without a change in perspective. That may cause a little emotion to rise, or perhaps boil. If only it were that easy. “Just shift your perspective,” you say? “Choose to lose your life.”
As we shared earlier this month, emotions are part of the whole picture. God made us emotional beings. So pay attention, pause, and name the feeling.
Is it annoyance? “How in the world is that going to be possible?”
Is it hopelessness? “Changing a ‘perspective’ won’t change the dire circumstance. Period.”
Is it a stiff arm? “I don’t have time for that and it never worked before.”
As humans, we typically see a shift in perspective as an action to do. Something we have to muster a lot of energy for—read all the books or just make a choice to see something differently.
But what if that mere act of shifting perspective wasn’t about our work or effort at all? What if shifting perspective was an invitation into God’s story, and why His goodness makes surrender something that’s actually appealing?
What you’ve tried in the past hasn’t worked. So why not try God’s take on hope, peace, joy, and love.
I’ve learned in my life that, when I need a change, I have to sit with it for a while. Because, change is not something I do, but is God’s work in me. It means hanging out with the One I want to become like. I’m changed as I abide in Jesus. He changes me; not my willpower or commitment to change, but my time with Jesus.
God invited Abram, later Abraham, to this kind of a place, though if you read the passage too quickly, you think it’s a command. In Genesis 12, God says, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” But flip it around and it’s: “I’m going to show you a land so come to this new place, away from your country (place), your people (community) and your father’s household (identity!).” Abram wasn’t just invited by God to leave, but to join Him on a trek to a new land. And that is what led Abram to be called a “friend of God.” He made a bunch of mistakes, but he also relished in the experience of living with God in grace and forgiveness.
So that leads us back to those words . . . with a different orientation of Advent. As we gather around a wreath with four candles somewhere in our home, or we watch a family in their Christmas best shuffle up to the altar at church on Sunday morning, we are welcomed to see God’s perspective on:
Hope: “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 NKJV
Peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 NKJV
Joy: “Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 ESV
Love: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;” Lamentations 3:22 ESV
You do nothing in this scenario. Notice the source in each of these verses: the Lord, the Holy Spirit, Jesus. You don’t have to try to make the seemingly impossible choice of letting the hard parts of 2020 fade away, and replace them with “what you have to be thankful for.” Instead, you can allow God’s view of things to cover the circumstance and see how it changes.
So we wait, but we get to wait with the Light of the World. We’re like Abram, who spent his years seeking the Lord, building altars to Him, then seeking his own ways, only to be called right back to God. Only today, we wait with the presence of the Holy Spirit at work in us, and with Jesus Christ as our guide and friend. It may be painful as He promises to prune what is not needed in John 15. But it is for our good and His glory.
As you talk with your kids about Advent, yes, talk about the very tangible blessings of hope, peace, joy, and love and what that looks like in their lives. That may be just what is appropriate for your kids’ ages. But as they get older, share with them the idea that our hope is not God’s. Our peace is not God’s. Same for joy and love. His is so much greater. And He invites us to it.
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Erick Goss is the CEO of Minno, a Christian children’s media company that helps kids and families delight in God.