Turning Christmas Upside Down

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Our Thanksgiving leftovers were still warm when my husband and I started pulling out the Christmas decorations last weekend. With only four amazingly short weeks between holidays, I am sure many of you can relate to our anxious excitement to get a jump-start on the to-do list. After an initial whirlwind of decorating the tree, setting up the manger, and hanging the stockings, I took a break and went for a walk.

There is a certain loop I follow on most of my walks. It winds through the woods, past a pond, into a neighborhood, and back again. Because I am a creature of habit, I usually walk the same direction on this route each time. On this particular day, I decided to live life a little more on the edge and traveled the opposite way. Daring, I know!

Have you noticed how doing things backwards or turning things upside down often brings a different perspective and teaches you something new? This walk was no exception. I came back with a fresh outlook about my walking route and about preparing for Christmas. I was ready to turn Christmas upside down.

What does turning Christmas upside down mean?

The usual preparations for Christmas include decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, entertaining, mailing holiday greetings, etc. – done in an “orderly” fashion for each household, of course 😉 . When Christmas Eve arrives, many celebrate Jesus by going to church for an hour or so. Some will read the Bible story of Jesus’ birth. In comparison to everything else done in December, little time is dedicated to learning about Jesus until Christmas actually arrives.

Turning Christmas upside down means celebrating and learning about Jesus throughout the month instead of at the end of the month.  

How can we benefit by turning Christmas upside down?

  • We learn new things about Jesus.

Traveling the opposite way on my walk brought a changed perspective on my surroundings. For example, from a different vantage point I realized the huge, beautiful weeping willow tree I pass almost every day was no longer there – only a stump remained. I wondered if it had been gone a long time, and how I missed noticing the emptiness.

In a similar way, turning Christmas upside down helps us see things about Jesus we did not notice before. Reading Bible passages about his birth throughout the month brings ideas to mind that we are unable to take in all at once on Christmas Eve.  Enjoying a new book about the meaning of Christmas or participating in an online Bible study provides learning and a break from holiday activity. Working on a Christmas service project lessens distractions by helping us focus on others. Or, simply carving out some time for prayer can bring us closer to knowing Jesus. All these things send us a different way than the norm.

Activities that help us see Jesus throughout the month deliver knowledge we did not even know we were missing.

  •  We become more aware of Jesus in everyday life.

I’ll fess up. Coming at the scenery of my walk in a different direction made me feel a little out of my element. Because the walk was not done in my natural pattern, I worried that I might miss the normal turns in the neighborhood. As a result, my brain jerked to attention and I became more aware of my surroundings.

Turning Christmas upside down also makes us feel uneasy. There are a million things to do besides focusing on Jesus, right? It feels more natural to get on with the shopping and the wrapping and the planning. But, if we change our route to include Jesus in each day, we begin to notice his love more during the month. We pay attention when our circumstances improve or we learn from them. We smile more and tell people we appreciate them. We thank our loved ones and really mean it. We notice how God is working for our good every day.

Heightening our awareness of Jesus naturally makes us more alert to his goodness in everything we do. 

  • We slow down and enjoy our holiday time.

Learning new things and becoming more aware on my walk caused me to slow down and enjoy myself more. While walking in the opposite direction, I was not lost in thought or on exercise autopilot. My environment captured my attention, and I found myself feeling grateful for that.

If the same logic applies, then learning new things about Jesus and becoming more aware of him in the midst of our preparations will also help us slow down and enjoy our holiday time more.

Taking time to learn and look for Jesus as we walk (don’t run) towards Christmas brings us more gratitude and peace.

So, I am almost finished with my decorating. Yesterday, I placed a snow globe on the table in the entry way. I love snow globes and the miniature magical lands inside them. Everything appears so pristine, orderly, and still while they sit right side up.

Looking at mine like this, I think it’s pretty, but hmm… also kind of boring. The real magic happens when we turn it upside down and shake things around a bit. I turn the globe upside down. There…that makes it more beautiful, more interesting.

I watch the snow swirl, and I smile. A lot of things in life look better after you turn them upside down.

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A Prayer for Your December:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2 NLT

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all the other things competing for our attention this holiday season. Thank you for the precious gift of your son, sent to offer us eternal life with you. Help us walk in a different direction towards Christmas this year. Bring us new opportunities to learn about Jesus and show us how we can serve you. Open our eyes to your joy in all the preparations we undertake. May we enjoy our walk with you this month, and be filled with the peace and gratitude that comes from spending time in your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 

Resources to Help Turn your Christmas Upside Down

Online Bible Study based on the book Because of Bethlehem by Max Lucado 

Scripture readings about Jesus’ birth

The Purpose of Christmas by Rick Warren on Amazon.com

A Scriptured Life posts from the 2015 Christmas season:

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 1 -Worry

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 2 -Expectations

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 3 -Peace

Christmas Countdown Challenge Week 4 -Celebration

Prayer Walking in the Wilderness

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I am walking. I am looking. I am looking for your light, oh God, in a world where darkness seeps through. My heart is heavy, like lead in my chest. My thoughts, they weep. They weep from my eyes as my mind makes no sense of their pain…

I typed these words into my iPhone notes last week while I was walking and praying for Orlando (i.e. prayer walking). Even with the summer sun shining, I am finding it difficult to feel warm inside. You too?

The past few weeks have sucker punched us with bad news. A truly gifted, rising young star was murdered while signing autographs for fans. A beloved zoo gorilla was killed in order to save a boy who had fallen into an enclosure. Two young promising lives, and the lives of those who love them, were forever changed by a rape on Stanford’s campus. Infants have died, forgotten in hot cars. A sweet toddler was unmercifully swept away by an alligator at the most magical place on Earth. And, a staggering forty-nine innocent lives were callously discarded without hesitation by one individual in Orlando.

It keeps coming; all the news is numbing. Over and over it plays, as my heart aches and my mind works at interpreting what to do with all the information. Frankly, I do not want to learn from such terrible things. And, I am saddened by the blame and judgement trailing nastily behind each incident.

Emotions, undoubtedly, run high with these types of events. With each horrific story, we imagine how we would feel in the victim’s shoes. Certainly, it is a struggle to remain calm, rational, and full of faith. Is there a way to keep ourselves at peace so we inspire change through compassion instead of hostility?

I think so. Jesus called it prayer.

But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer. Luke 5:16 New Living Translation (NLT)

Throughout the Bible, Scripture notes that Jesus often exited chaotic and heated situations to center himself and pray alone. In fact, whether things were crazy or not, he made it a habit to look and listen for God daily.

In referencing this Scripture, the New Living Translation Bible describes “wilderness” as the quiet, solitary places one goes to pray. Isolating ourselves for regular meetings with God can be tricky. There are always people and matters competing for our attention. Getting outside away from distractions to walk in prayer is a routine that works for many people.

Are you familiar with the term prayer walking? I have been “prayer walking” for awhile now without knowing what it was called. Prayer walking has probably been around for quite some time. Walking was the primary method of travel in Biblical times. So, surely people walked and prayed at the same time. The Bible just doesn’t specifically mention people “prayer walking” their way to the well.

One common definition of prayer walking today is “praying on-site with insight”. This type of prayer walk occurs when a person or group walks around the area they want to pray for (e.g. a neighborhood, church, school, or city). The thought is that the person praying feels closer to the designated place, thus drawing greater insights from God.

Prayer walks, however, can also occur off-site, wherever a person chooses to walk, while setting their heart and mind on meeting with God. Obviously, we cannot pack up and travel to places like Orlando every time something needing prayer happens. We can, however, always intentionally focus our prayers on those specific places no matter where our steps begin. 

Both on-site and off-site prayer walks are intercessory in nature, meaning that you pray on behalf of others. Keep in mind though, there are no hard and fast rules here. We can also use prayer walking to communicate our own personal concerns to God.

 

I spent some time this week researching prayer walking. Because most prayer walks take place outside, they are very sensory-oriented. If you want to give it a try, here are some things to keep in mind:

Look – Ask God to show up and meet with you on your walk. Then, be aware of your surroundings and watch what is happening. Smile at any faces you meet, feel the sun and the wind on your skin, and pause to notice the living things around you. If you’d like, slow down to take photos documenting your walk.

As you move, visualize the place or people you are praying for, and then give God a mental picture of your prayers for them (e.g. blanket Orlando with peace, hold them close).

Listen – Tune in to the sounds you hear. Are the birds singing? Is the wind blowing or the water running? Feel the rise and fall of your chest as you listen to life happening right now. Our breath reminds us that every living thing was created on purpose and for a purpose.

Express to God your questions, your hopes, and your confidence in his plans to work everything for good (e.g. Why is there so much hatred? Please soften hearts. Bring me opportunities which build trust in your plans).

Rest – Take a break from walking. Thank God for all the blessings you see and hear. Feel your gratitude. Read a piece of Scripture or a devotional message.

Reflect on the people or place you are intentionally praying for. Sit quietly and listen for any instruction God may place on your heart. Ask him how your gifts or talents can help (e.g. continued prayers, influencing change, victim support). Watch expectantly each day for answers with patience, hope, and discernment.

God Meets Me There
by Jamie Trunnel

I find peace outside my door. It’s a walk and a prayer. God meets me there. 

I look up in the clouds and down in the dirt. Smiling at faces, to God’s call I’m alert.

I listen to the birds sing and feel the wind blow. Sometimes I see a fawn, wobbly legs land has yet to know.

There’s a dragonfly with wings so blue, shimmering hope for a world made new.

Circling a fountain by the old folks home, I wave if they’re out watching me roam.

I hear the water flow, and watch the thistles grow.

Finding a seat on a bench that’s green, I spend time asking God to show me the unseen. 

Hold onto your peace. Lighten your heart, he speaks.

I am here with you. My light will always break through. 

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Never stop praying. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NLT)

 

Inspiring Resources: These photos and more appear on my Instagram account where I document a gift and a thought each day. You can view and follow it right here.