How to Prevent a Spiritually Dry December

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas can be busy. Not only is the calendar full, but there’s a lot to do around the house. There are gifts to wrap, cards to send, and decorations to hang.

Busy days mean our schedules get squeezed. Work and school hours don’t change, so this means there’s a competition for our time at the margins. And, if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you know that devotional time is often a casualty in this battle.

I can fool myself into thinking the Christmas season will be richer with more decorations, more social gatherings, and watching more beloved Christmas movies. That the key to Christmas joy is more memories and experiences.

While there’s nothing wrong with any of these seasonal extras, here’s the truth I tend to miss. My experience of Christmas will be far deeper and more joyful if I’m connecting my activities to the Biblical truths of Christmas.

The Point of Bible Study

With that said, there is still the stark reality of time. I just seem to have less of it in December. Should I feel guilty that I’m not spending as much time with God during that month?

To answer this question we need to remember why we read the Bible—or why we engage in any of the spiritual disciplines. We don’t read the Bible to impress God. We don’t pray to feel spiritually healthy. We don’t fast to check a box.

No. Our spiritual practices must be rooted in God’s love for us and aimed at growing in love for him. Even as new creatures with the indwelling Holy Spirit, the old man still fights among our members, tearing our attention and our affections away from God. Our Bible study and prayer and giving—all of it—is designed to remind us of the truth and to help us live in harmony with it.

So, with regard to a busy December, we shouldn’t ask, How often must I read my Bible? Instead, we should ask, How can I enflame my affections for God around the Incarnation?

Focus on Bible Intake

Since the normal rhythms of life can be disrupted during busy seasons, don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard. Some days may allow your usual devotional time with God; other days may not. Instead of having the same goals for each day, I’d encourage you to focus on consistent Bible intake.

Bible intake refers to all the different ways we come into contact with the Bible. We can read it, study it, listen to it, memorize it, meditate on it, hear it preached, or sing it.

Here are some suggestions on how to maintain consistent Bible intake during a busy December.

  • Start a plan for Bible study or Bible reading for Advent.
  • Memorize part of the Bible related to the Christmas story. Some suggestions: John 1:1–18, Luke 2:1–21, Matthew 1:18–25.
  • Find a good Advent Bible reading guide and work through it as a family every morning or evening.
  • Pick ten favorite Christmas hymns. Sing one each night as a family and read the Bible text most relevant to the words of the hymn.
  • Listen to the Bible as you exercise or on your commute. Focus on the parts of the Bible that discuss the Incarnation.

Joy to the World

December may be busy, but it doesn’t have to leave you ragged and dry. With some planning and some shifts in your own expectations, you can draw near to God for Christmas as you celebrate the way he drew near to you.

Post credit | Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (2023-11-24)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Why the Church of England’s Same-Sex Marriage Vote Breaks My Heart

Rebecca McLaughlin reflects on the Church of England’s recent vote on same sex marriage and what the Bible has to say about sex.

Some think Christians who uphold the Bible’s no to same-sex sex are hateful. Sadly, some Christians have indeed been hateful in their treatment of people who identify as gay or lesbian. The bullying, stereotyping, and mocking of those we are called to love is sinful, and Christians who have done so must repent. But when we dive into what the Bible says about sexuality and marriage, we’ll find it’s not a story of hate but a story of love—it’s just a more amazing love story than we’d imagined. It starts at the very beginning and finishes at the very end.

Thankfulness (and other habits)

This article discusses mental health and some of the commands in Philippians.

Whether you keep a journal of things you’re grateful for, or just make a practice of stopping throughout the day to notice what’s good, being thankful is an important habit (all year long, not just at Thanksgiving!) It will also help you to see the goodness of God in your life, which takes your eyes off of yourself and puts them on him. 

Working and Resting

Here are some helpful and thought-provoking musings about what it means to work and rest in the modern day.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-11-17)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Answering Kids’ Hardest Questions: Will God Always Keep Me Safe?

This article tackles an important matter: how do we help our children grapple with what God has and has not promised?

God does not promise to leave us alone. God does not promise to not allow us to encounter these circumstances. But what God does promise us is that he is good and that he is always working for the good of his people.

Dare to Be a Daniel

When we ask how to read the Old Testament, Mitchell Chase has a great answer: look at how the New Testament authors read the Old Testament.

A mere moralization of Old Testament stories is a deficient interpretive method. But as we seek to read the Old Testament as the New Testament authors do, we will see that they not only show how Old Testament stories anticipate Christ, they teach how these Old Testament stories build our faith and direct us in wisdom. 

The Last Days of C. S. Lewis

We are coming up on the anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis. Trevin Wax takes the occasion to write about the end of Lewis’s life and how he faced death.

Lewis said goodbye to his closest friends, perhaps like Reepicheep as he headed over the wave in his coracle in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader—“trying to be sad for their sakes” while “quivering with happiness.” The joy—the stab of inconsolable longing—that animated his poetry and prose was on display in how he died, in those weeks of quiet rest, as he endured his physical maladies with patience and good humor, in full faith that this earthly realm is just a prelude to the next chapter of a greater story, a new and wondrous reality suffused with the deep magic of divine love.

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-11-10)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Aslan and the Path of Faithful Pain

This article discusses how God uses pain in our lives by drawing on part of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy.

To deny that God could or would use discomfort for our good is to deny that He is present in our pain. He is. Just as, in His quest to restore the glory of His creation, He did not shrink back from inflicting pain on His dear Son, His love for His people often includes a level of discomfort and pain. In the end, it is part of His work to restore His image bearers to their intended dignity.

Is It Wrong to Have Sex Before Marriage?

While you might think the answer to this question is easy or obvious, it is still important to be able to provide an answer. Even better, Kevin DeYoung offers some reasons why such an answer might be the one the Bible provides.

When couples have sex before marriage, they are engaging in private activity whose purpose is to consummate a public promise. Without the latter, the former is an endeavor to enjoy the benefits of the covenant without formally entering into the covenant. 

The Scottish Reformation

Reformation Day is not too far behind us. This longer article provides some of the history of the Scottish Reformation; as Presbyterians, this is some of our “family” history!

Abundant thanks to Cliff L for his help in rounding up links this week!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-11-03)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Living Sorrows and Departed Joys

Tim Challies writes a moving article comparing the griefs that come from losing a child to death and having a child leave the faith.

His daughter has said she will come to church today. His daughter has wandered far but has said she is ready to return. His daughter who has squandered so much says she has learned her lesson. His daughter who has caused her father’s heart to ache has said that today she will soothe it. This man is looking for his daughter, his beloved daughter.

When Death Starts to Take Our Friends

This author reflects on the death of actor Matthew Perry and urges us to keep the brevity of life before us.

I was told I was going to die, once. I mean, I was told that I was going to die in a very short period of time of a dreadful illness. I didn’t. Here I am still. So far. But for a few short weeks the full impact that one day very soon would be my last day and after that, eternity, was seared into my brain. The enormous reality of it hit me. And I was only 42. The lurking truth came out of the shadows over there and stared me in the face right here.

What Does It Mean to Grieve the Holy Spirit?

Here is a video posted by Crossway in which Dr. Fred Sanders answers the question, “What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit?” (A transcript is also available.)

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called 3 Skills Christians Can Learn from a Great Interviewer. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

3 Skills Christians Can Learn from a Great Interviewer

What keeps you from being a better friend to the people in your life?

As we grow in grace, we should become better friends. But it’s a hard climb; we should learn from whomever we can.

Krista Tippett hosts a public radio show/podcast called On Being. (I haven’t heard it.) She was interviewed on the Longform podcast back in October, and the episode gave me a lot of food for thought.

Practice Gracious Listening

Around the 33:35 mark, Tippett is asked about the phrase “gracious listening” which she uses in her 2016 book, Becoming Wise. What does she mean by this phrase?

I put words in front of the word “listening”—gracious, generous—because the word listening and the act of listening, there’s a lot of lack of self-awareness around that. I think that I grew up, and a lot of people in this culture grew up, experiencing listening as being quiet while the other person talks, basically. Right? So that eventually you can say what you have to say. Listening is basic social art, but it’s something we have to learn and practice. And we really haven’t practiced a robust listening—generous, gracious listening—which is not just about being quiet, but about actually, truly being curious, really mustering curiosity. Which can be as simple as being willing to be surprised.

She contrasts this curiosity with making assumptions about others.

We tend to go into encounters pretty much thinking we know who that other person is. We know who they voted for, we know what they do. So, curiosity I think is something that is a virtue that can be really complex and it’s counter-intuitive to how we walk through the world, especially how we walk through the public world.

I love that phrase be willing to be surprised. So often I assume I know another person by applying stereotypes. But this is far from loving. Being curious means, in part, acknowledging your incomplete understanding about another person. (Even your best friend or spouse!)

Because I am accepted by God and fully known by him, I don’t need to pretend to have everyone figured out. By his power I can put to death the insecurity and pride that puts up this front.

Create a Hospitable Atmosphere

Later in the podcast, Tippett is asked how she prepares for an interview. She talks about trying to get to know someone by immersing herself in what they’ve written and/or said in the past.

What I’m trying to do is not so much understand what people know, but how they think. And then, if I have just a sensitivity to that, that really creates a hospitable space for them to think out loud with me. And this transmits itself viscerally, within a very few moments of meeting somebody. We’ve all had this experience of walking into a room and […] you know you’re going to have to defend yourself or explain yourself. And that creates a certain amount of tension and it puts you in a certain mode of what you are going to talk about and what you’re not going to talk about. And I’m trying to create an atmosphere, an intellectually hospitable atmosphere, where people have this sense very quickly that I get them. And then, you just relax inside.

Tippett’s description makes me wonder what sort of atmosphere I create in my conversations. Are people encouraged to think out loud with me? Or am I making them feel defensive and interrogated? This idea of a hospitable atmosphere has huge implications when it comes to apologetics, evangelism, and discipleship.

Ask Good Questions

Tippett’s definition of a good question is “one that elicits honesty.” She was asked what she means by that definition.

I think one thing a lot of people do is ask questions that are interesting to them. Like, “I’ve always wanted to know.” […] Often when I start out preparing for an interview, I will have my questions that I think going into this I’m probably going to want to ask this person. But in the course of preparation, a lot of them will fall away. And what will come in their place is the question that’s going to be interesting to them. And I can formulate that question because I’m immersing in their thinking. So then the questions I’m writing are coming out of that rather than out of my head. And if you ask somebody a question that’s interesting to them, they immediately—you’ll hear it, they’ll say, “Oh, that’s an interesting question.” And then they stop realizing they’re being interviewed, and they’re not even giving an answer, they’re thinking in real time.

This definition of a good question is fairly specific to the context of an interview, but there’s still a lot to learn. My default setting is to ask questions I find interesting, and I never considered that this might be selfish. It is a challenge to know someone well enough to ask a question that interests them. What works in one conversation might not work in the next.

Perhaps a common theme that holds these skills together (for the Christian) is dependence. If we depend on the Holy Spirit, discarding the notion we must control the conversation, we’ll be more likely to love the other person. We won’t make assumptions, we won’t focus on ourselves, and we’ll serve.

As Tippett says (in the first quote), this takes practice. But it’s worth it! And it reflects our God as well—he knows us completely and welcomes us in relationship and conversation. By his strength, let’s do the same for each other.

Post credit | Photo credit