The holiday season, pretty lights, gifts under the tree, and… in OUR lives… consistent reminders of the Greatest Gift! Right? So… like… here’s another post, another Christian post, this one a little late… but another “sermon” about the Greatest Gift… right? Well… almost right.
Yup, this is about that Greatest Gift of God to our lives. Yup, that gift is Jesus. But it is NOT about a baby in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes. At least, not directly. This is about a gift I’ve learned to seek and find every day. I guess you could say this blog post is a “story”. A story about a little boy. But this little boy wasn’t born in Bethlehem, but right here in the U.S. And he’s not newborn, he’s seven years old. And he’s not headed off to exile in Egypt with his mother and foster father, he’s here in my house and we had breakfast this morning, and his father was murdered two feet away from him a couple years ago and his mother is in prison. A very different little boy…
Yesterday morning I was driving to our local hospital (a not unusual place for a church staff minister to be headed, even on this “off week” between Christmas and New Year’s). I got a phone call from my boss asking if I could house a little boy at risk of violence in his home, and of course I could. So I was told to drive home, he came, and I have enjoyed his presence immensely. I had the privilege of walking with this youngster through much of the pain he has been through, and of helping him meet and embrace His King Jesus, and agree to be His little boy forever more. I watched him, months ago, become an indwelt son of Our Father, and from time to time I have encouraged him in his growth into his inheritance. The situation is a bit delicate and somewhat awkward, I must tread carefully and gently, but I do what I can. In short, this precious little boy lives in a fairly sad place. There’s sadness in his past, and more sadness in his future, and it frustrates me sometimes that I can do nothing to “fix it”.
This morning, over breakfast, knowing that I will shortly surrender this boy back to the sad currents of his own life’s river, unable to intervene or change its course, I handed this all to Jesus, sitting there at the breakfast table with us. I had a moment, not one of my shining moments, but a simple and human moment where I felt angry and frustrated that “all I can do for this little boy is pray for him”.
“All I can do is pray!”
I thought that thought apologetically… weakly… timidly. I turned my frustration and helplessness to Jesus, and He answered that without hesitation or remainder. I was so very out of order.
Prayer. We do it all the time, don’t we? We talk about it, teach about it, proclaim its power and impact. But so often, at least for me, when it is “all I can do”… I look upon prayer as rather the red-headed-stepchild of my personal impact arsenal. As if I could do MORE than God can do if only I could get on the phone and make some arrangements to fix the problem, or counsel, or teach. If I can intervene in a situation under my OWN power, and see the forces at work, then I FEEL much more “effective”, much more “capable and potent”, than if I simply wrap my love around the one I am concerned with, and place him/her into the hands of Our Father with my faith, hope, love, and trust.
Do I hear an “Amen?”, or am I the only one here who ever feels this way?
But then Jesus taught me this wonderful thing, and had me share it with my young friend. The Lord wasn’t even mad or disappointed at my weakness of prayer, He just assured me that He SO honors loving trusting prayer that this was NOT the weakest weapon in my arsenal, but my strongest. That, in fact, everything else would only “work” to the extent that prayer made way for the success.
But as to the gift He showed me, we see it here:
Judas not Iscariot said to Him, “Lord, how is it You’re going to reveal Yourself to us and not to the world?”
Jesus answered, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. The one who doesn’t love Me will not keep My words. The word that you hear is not Mine but is from the Father who sent Me. “I have spoken these things to you while I remain with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit—the Father will send Him in My name—will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful. You have heard Me tell you, ‘I am going away and I am coming to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens so that when it does happen you may believe. I will not talk with you much longer, because the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over Me. On the contrary, I am going away so that the world may know that I love the Father. Just as the Father commanded Me, so I do.“Get up; let’s leave this place.” John 14:22-31
Now, there’s all kinds of richness there, but Jesus only wanted me to focus on one thing this morning… on the “gift He left” there for His formerly-disciples-now-called-friends. He left them the gift of “peace”. He gave them His own peace. And He wanted me to receive that this morning, and to share it with my young friend.
But the context here is and was critically important. He was about to leave these men who had followed Him for so long and who loved Him so deeply. They were going to feel alone, orphaned and abandoned. That is a dreadful, powerful feeling. It is a feeling of ultimate weakness, anxiety, fear, and timidity. There is little in the world as dreadfully sad as feeling orphaned and abandoned by those you love most. And that is what these men were beginning to feel, and worse… would shortly feel with a far greater depth.
But Jesus knew better. Jesus could see what they could not see. Jesus knew they were in the “now”, in a single passing moment of the present. Jesus knew that those moments were moving forward to the greatness of the full Redemption, and beyond that, to the coming of the Holy Spirit… to His very presence, and that He would be with them in an undeniable way forever after that. And in that moment… in that in-between moment… fear and pain behind them, more fear and pain before them… He gave this gift, this incredible gift… His Own Peace. What grace!
In THAT moment, whatever had gone before and whatever was to come, He was with them. He was present with them. And they could rest in that, rely on that, and trust to that. He was in the midst of the greatest teaching discourse in the entire Bible, and equally in the midst of the greatest act of divine grace in the history of Creation. And right here, right now, with Him, He gave peace and there could be joy, free of all anxiety and fear and timidity. What would it take to receive this gift? Only trust… to trust and believe in the words He spoke, uttered, shared from the Father… to be “kept”, “received”, and embraced by their hearts and minds.
This was what Jesus showed me this morning at the breakfast table with my coffee and with my young friend. That this youngster had painful fearful days in his past. He had more painful days in his future. But at THIS moment, in the NOW, in this sacred space of the grace and love of my house, we had and could share and enjoy… Peace. Right here, right now, Jesus was present with us and there was nothing to be anxious, timid, or fearful about. At this table, we could talk, and laugh, and rest in the joy and peace of loving one another and Jesus loving us and we loving Him.
Our Lord had me speak words into my young friend’s heart and life. That he should always remember that Jesus gives us peace, as a grace gift, whenever we look to Him for it. That every day… every… single… day… Jesus gives us a whole new day of life for ourselves as a gift. We don’t “make” a day, we can’t “manufacture” or “create” one, we can’t even “lengthen” one or “slow it down”. Each day we have is a gift directly given us from the heart, and love, and hand of God Himself. But that beyond even THAT gift, Jesus gives us Peace, and has promised us that. And that in each day, somewhere, there is joy.
I told him that Jesus only gives us one day at a time. We only have the “now”. And that is precious. If we spend today, the Now, focused on the past and its pains, or focused on the future and its worries, we miss the gift entirely. That if we can focus on today, and on Jesus being with us in today, we will find that He places a “pearl” in the day for us… there will be joy somewhere. If we seek it, if we will love others without fear, and let them love us without our mistrust, we will find the pearl of joy that Jesus places somewhere in every single day. But if we forget Him, forget to thank Him or forget to look for the grace and blessing in today, we’ll get caught up in the memories of pain in the past, or fears of the pain of the future, and we’ll miss the gift entirely.
I didn’t know if this little boy could understand me. But he did. That’s the strange thing about suffering… sorrowful as it is, it can bring an amazing degree of wisdom with it. He understood. And I was very relieved, for so many adults I walk with and love deeply find it impossible to understand this.
“Look for the joy in every day. Hold on to the Peace Jesus puts in every day. And see, and remember always, that you are NOT alone… ever. He is there, right there with you all the time, and you are never ever abandoned. Don’t let pain in the past, or fear in the future, take away your peace or joy in today. The grace is only HERE! This gift… today… it is only here! Don’t miss it, or walk past it.”
He needed to hear that, and he received it and has embraced it all this happy day. But I needed to hear that, too. I have had sadness in recent days. And there are some fearful challenges in the days to come. It is so strong in me, this temptation to focus on shadows, sadness, grief, fear, or timidity.
But Jesus reminded me today, through a wonderful seven year old boy, of this incredible Gift. I needed to be reminded that He gifts with only today, and there is grace enough only for today. I know this. I know you know this. But as for me, sometimes, well… I’ve learned that even though I’ve heard something many times, sometimes, I just need to hear it again.
It seems that Jesus agrees… or, at least, He did this morning. Peace and grace to you, Gentle Reader!