Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful

Nothing is more stressful than the holiday season. Don’t get me wrong. Christmas is my favorite time of year, but it’s also when a lot of stuff happens. A lot of things go wrong. A lot of people come to visit. A lot of things need to get done. And when you add all that up, it can amount to a heaping helping of stress and anxiety.

But the more Christmases I live through, the more I learn that my stress and anxiety during the holiday season doesn’t stem from family and friends visiting or expectations of others or needing to bake and cook and clean. No, anything negative I experience happens because I’ve got my focus in the wrong place.

christmas-xmas-santa-claus-adventToday’s verse is John 15:4.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.

The world is complicated and stressful without the hustle and bustle of the holidays, and it’s always a temptation to step away from God’s way and do things ourselves. But when we try to accomplish anything in our own strength, we will ultimately fail.

Like a branch can’t produce fruit if it’s severed from the tree, a Christ-follower can’t accomplish much without God’s power in his or her life. And that relates to everything we do. At our jobs. In our homes. In our churches. Among our families.

So as you gather with family and friends today and tomorrow, don’t let stress dictate how you feel. Don’t let the craziness of the season tempt you away from remembering what it’s all about.

Christmas is about Jesus. It’s the day He came to save us from our sins. It’s the day God kept His promise. Who cares if the pie burns or if your in-laws are being rude? So what if you couldn’t get the exact present you wanted? Whatever is bothering you today, shelf it. Let it go. Instead, focus on what really matters, and find your strength and patience in Christ’s love and grace.

It’s a stressful time of year, but it doesn’t have to be. With God, anything is possible. And if you’re a Christ-follower, you have free access to His power, and God is just waiting for you to sit down at His table.

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Epic tree in Se'Tul - Peten, Guatemala

What’s the big deal with strong roots?

Some days I wonder what takes God so long to work. Does anyone else catch themselves thinking that? It’s like you’ve done everything you need to do and you just have to sit tight and wait for God to keep up his end of the bargain. And He doesn’t. Or if He does, He doesn’t do it in a way you expect. But either way, it always takes much longer than you think it will. Either that or it happens much sooner than you expect and you end up scrambling.

But for me, it always seems to take forever. Forever and a day. At least it does for the really important things I want. There’s rarely an immediate answer. And the longer I wait, the more impatient I get. But recently I had something of a revelation. What if it’s me God is waiting on?

Epic tree in Se'Tul - Peten, Guatemala

Epic tree in Se’Tul – Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Ephesians 3:17.

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

There are many times in the Christian life where we have to wait. Waiting is part of faith. And I hate waiting, but it’s good for me because I’m such a control freak that I will rush into any situation and try to control the outcome whether I truly understand what’s going on or not.

But sometimes waiting isn’t the answer. Sometimes taking the initiative is right, and God is waiting for us to step up and accomplish certain things in our own life and in our own Christian walk before He lets us take the next step. Because if I haven’t done everything I’m supposed to, if I haven’t taken all the steps I need to, I’m not ready for what God has for me.

The Bible talks about trees a lot in Scripture. Christians are compared to trees that grow by rivers, with deep roots that reach into the waters and are always nourished even in droughts. Even today’s verse says that we need to be deeply rooted in God’s love so that we will be strong.

What’s the big deal with roots?

Well, a tree is only as strong and as healthy as its root system. Trees with weak, shallow roots are easy to tip over. Trees with unhealthy roots are easy to break. But a tree with strong, healthy roots isn’t moving. It might lose some branches in a storm, but its trunk will remain strong even in the worst winds.

And it’s the same with Christians.

Our effectiveness as Christians is directly proportional to how deep we allow Christ into our lives. Have you ever thought about that? Many times we allow Christ into our hearts and into our lives but we put up barricades and tell Him that certain areas are off limits. We block off and compartmentalize certain aspects of our lives and tell Jesus to keep His distance from those, either because we’re not willing to give them up or because we don’t think He can actually help. Or in some cases, we don’t think we’re worthy of being healed.

But if you want to be a strong Christian, you have to let God heal your roots all the way. You can only grow as tall as your roots can grow deep.

I have realized that there are areas in my own heart that I have blocked Christ from healing, many of them dealing with fear and major insecurity issues. And I can rationalize and hypothesize those issues away, but that won’t heal them. That will just allow me to hide them like I always have. But opening that part of my heart to Christ and allowing Him to fix what’s wrong will not only result in peace but will also allow me to take the next steps in my walk with God. But until I let Him fix me, I won’t be ready to do what He’s planned for me to do.

Oh, yes, I can continue to bump along the bottom, still doing good things for Him and helping others. But God has a dream for me that’s bigger than I can wrap my head around. And I’m not living that dream right now. For so long, I thought I was waiting on Him. But now I’m beginning to realize that He’s waiting on me.

If there’s a part of your heart that you’ve closed off to God for any reason, consider opening it up. It hurts, but every wound has to hurt before it can heal. And the stronger your roots grow, the more effective you will be and the more storms you can weather and the more you can accomplish for God.

Putting down roots

Where are your roots? Isn’t it interesting how many times the Bible uses trees as an illustration of the Christian life? The Psalms compare people to trust God to trees planted by a river. In desert communities like what many of the writers of the Bible grew up in, planting a tree by a river was a great idea. It never ran out of water, even during the worst weather.

It’s just intersting to me that God uses trees so often to paint a picture of what following Him is like, even down to bearing fruit and being pruned.

The verse this morning doesn’t exactly mention a tree, but it does talk about roots:

Ephesians 3:17-19

17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

When a person decides to follow Christ, He comes to live in that person’s heart. The more we trust Him, the deeper our roots will grow into God’s love, providing a safe place where we can find refuge, a best friend who will never forsake us, and a confident hope that everything in life will turn out the way it’s supposed to in the end.

But I saw something in this verse that I have missed on previous readings: Before we can begin to understand God’s love, we have to be rooted in it.

If we are rooted in God’s love, that’s where our confidence will come from. That’s where our feeling of safety will come from. That’s where our faith will come from. If we can grab hold of God’s love and build our life on it, knowing that He loves us and that He did the unthinkable to save us, we can begin to understand that love. Obviously we can’t understand it fully. It’s too big for us. But we can begin to grasp how much He loves us.

So many times we try to love other people before we really comprehend what it is for God to love us. Human love is such a fragile thing, and most of the time we end up making a mess out of our good intentions.

So before we even try to spread God’s love to other people, we’d better make sure that we are deeply rooted in it. Because how can we share something we have never experienced?