by Nancy Jo Sullivan
I ordered a bag of popcorn at the snack bar while my girls scurried through the department store searching for Christmas gifts. I yawned as the clerk handed me my snack. I could barely keep my eyes open.
We had just moved into a new home. In between unpacking boxes, I had baked cookies, wrapped presents, and written cards of greeting. So far the holidays had left me feeling depleted of energy. I wanted to feel close to God, especially in this season, but I hadn’t had time for prayer and quiet reflection.
As I settled into a booth, I noticed an old man standing near the store entryway. Though his face was wrinkled, his eyes twinkled with the energy of youth. He was ringing a Salvation Army bell.
I watched as he danced around his red coin kettle, bobbing and turning to the rhythm of his own footsteps. Ringing his bell in carefully timed beats, he waved and smiled to those who passed him by.
“Joy to the world… mmm… the Lord is come.”
Soon a woman made her way past the singing man. She was wearing a Christmas‐tree sweater, her brow was furrowed, and she carried several shopping bags.
“No joy for the Lord?” the old man called out to her. The woman sighed and rolled her eyes. She hurried to her car. I watched as people hustled past the man. Most of them ignored him. Everyone seemed preoccupied with balancing their bags and boxes of presents.
A businessman with a cell phone walked past the dancing bell ringer.
“Let every heart… mmm… Prepare him room…” the old man sang.
The sound of his bell and the beeping noise from the cash registers forced the businessman to shout into the phone. He reminded me of how all my seasonal obligations made me feel. I was trying to find a way to converse with God, but so far I hadn’t gotten a good connection.
As busy shoppers made a wide perimeter around the bell ringer, an old woman, her back hunched and her gait slow, approached him. She smiled as she clicked open a tattered purse and dropped four quarters into the slotted red pail.
The man took off his ear‐muffed hat and bowed to her. “May I have this dance?” he asked. The woman blushed and began to giggle. As she drew herself up, her wrinkles seemed to fade. The two of them began to shuffle around the store entry, the old man gently guiding the frail woman in graceful glides and turns.
“Joy to the world… the Savior reigns…” their voices rang out in happy unison.
As I watched, I found myself wanting to join their department store waltz. Theirs was a dance of joy, unencumbered by stress or preoccupation—a dance of praise that proclaimed anew the tender message of old:
“Joy to the world… the Lord is come!”
Later that night, as my family slept upstairs, I curled up on the couch in our family room. After turning on my favorite holiday CD, I drank a cup of tea in front of our brightly lit tree. Soon the notes of “Joy to the World” filled the room.
I could almost hear the Lord say, “May I have this dance?”
LOOKING AHEAD …
Like the woman in the Christmas‐tree sweater and the businessman with the cell phone, so few people seem to experience joy. No matter what time of year it is, they are preoccupied with the stress of the season and have either rejected or forgotten the joy that Jesus offers.
Yet none of us needs to live this way, for believers in the Lord know an eternal joy that ultimately transcends any hardship experienced in this world. Even in the midst of trials, He stands ready to lead us out of our suffering into His wonderful presence.
This next week we’ll talk about how to choose joy in our marriages and in our lives. We can learn to rejoice and praise Him every day. The Lord has come!
– James C Dobson
Patience is Virtue
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
Trials are not given to make us weak, but to make us learn to wait. Jesus Christ wants to develop our faith, and He rarely develops it in the normal circumstances of life. It is most often through the interruptions, the heartbreaks, and the discouragements that our faith progresses.
A young black girl living in the poverty section of Philadelphia enjoyed singing in her Union Baptist Church choir. The adults noticed latent talent in her voice and began “The Fund for Marian Anderson’s Future.” They raised one hundred twenty-six dollars in pennies, nickels, and dimes, and she began taking singing lessons.
When she was eighteen she auditioned with a famous instructor, but was rejected. Those who continued to believe in her planned a concert in a town hall in New York City. However, the critics were brutal in their reviews. While on a European concert tour, she was well-received, but in Washington, D.C., she was not allowed to sing in Constitution Hall because of her race.
For many years, Marian Anderson wallowed in self-pity. Her mother finally said, “Marian, I want you to think about your troubles and your failures a little—and pray a lot.” Then her mother said something that Marian never forgot: “Marian, you must learn that grace comes before greatness.”
Marian Anderson became a well-known opera singer, performing for the Eisenhowers and their guests in the White House, being appointed a delegate to the United Nations, and winning a Medal of Freedom. All of this came only after learning the valuable lesson that her mother had taught her.
This is the same lesson delivered throughout Scripture. Learning to fail, yet to persevere, comes as we learn to live a life of faith. Times of trial are not only necessary to teach us humility, but they remind us where our true possessions lie—in Christ.
What better example than Christ—the Model—who shows us that grace comes before greatness . . . humility before honor.
Prayer Point: Take time to do the unthinkable: thank God for something painful in your life, whether a broken relationship, the death of a loved one, a failing grade, an illness, or a difficult circumstance. Pray that God will give you strength to persevere during the test, no matter how long it takes—even a lifetime. Remember that trials are given for your good, and even the painful times are a gift from God.
Moving Forward in Reverse (Booklet)
In this eye-opening look at some of the setbacks Paul experienced in Rome, Stephen will teach us the humbling lesson that God often moves us forward in reverse. Things that seem to be setbacks or reversals in your life might actually be God working to move his plan forward.
Many ministries today expound on life and illustrate with Scripture;
we’re committed to expounding on Scripture and illustrating with life!