Brothers and Sisters,
All of us struggle with the battle to be properly "whelmed" this time of year. Sometimes the personal and ministry demands seem overwhelming. We are called to care for souls as ones who will give account, and that is a daunting task. We are in unusual days for us and we wonder what successful ministry looks and feels like. This past week, I have heard of people leaving churches because they didn't get their way, I have heard of exhausted pastors who don't know if they can keep going, and I have heard of tragedy and loss that seems too much to bear. Even as I pray and cast burdens on the Lord, I admit that I feel a tightness in my chest. If we are honest, most of us know the frustration of being overwhelmed.
Perhaps an equal problem is that of being underwhelmed at the Advent. We pastors and elders have looked at the incarnation of God with man from a hundred different ways and yet, combined with the many overwhelming things we are called to endure for Christ, we can easily leave our "first love" of Go and what He has done and revealed in the Advent. Too quickly we can be about activity without true worship. Too often we can fake it for our people, but our hearts are far from God.
To be properly "whelmed" we do not necessarily need to find delight in the season or decorations or gifts, but we do need to be purposeful in meditating on the event and what it means. If all Scripture points to Jesus, then our happiness is not in nativity scenes or in family gatherings, as nice as they might be. Rather, our happiness is found in the fulfillment of the longings to be reconciled to God that began back in the Garden when man sinned. We are changed by looking at the glory of God who came to seek and save us and other sinners.
What are some practical ways that we can "come and behold Him" in these days? After asking for replies from last week's email, I had hoped that I would get forty or fifty emails of suggestions this week, but alas, I must venture out on my own on this one. Here are four:
1) Prayerful reading of Scripture. We must start here. Our souls will not be content with God apart from the Word of God and prayer. You know this; it isn't anything new but I remind you and me because we forget. If the embers of your heart are slowly losing the glow, cry out to God and tell him about your overwhelmed or underwhelmed heart and ask that the Holy Spirit would warm you in the gospel once again. As you read, don't do it to find something to say in an upcoming sermon first, but meditate and pray as a child who rejoices to spend time with his Father.
2) Reading other resources. There are some really great Advent devotionals. Some are more dramatic and some are more academic. Recently, I have appreciated Russ Ramsey's "Behold the Lamb of God" and Paul Tripp's "Come, Let us Adore Him" but there are others equally good. There are also many wonderful blogs to read - including some from our own Fellowship Atlantic pastors. An aside: If you "aren't a reader" then you can (must) train yourself to be, unless you are physically unable. Of all the ways God communicates truth, reading and understanding are at the top. Maybe we can talk more about that on another occasion.
3) Meaningful music. Whether or not you can hold a tune when you sing, you still know that music is a good gift from God. I'd suggest listening to both old carols (many have incredible words to meditate on!) and newer songs. We have access to such an amazing variety of songs that point our hearts to the truth of why Jesus came, and we are poorer if we do not take advantage of them. One recommendation: TGC put together a playlist on Spotify and Apple Music: 2020 Advent Playlist.
4) Talking and listening to others. I have found that, when my soul is dry I am tempted toward increased isolation. But that is exactly when and why I need to be with other believers. We may not need a counseling session; maybe we just need to talk and listen about Jesus and what He is doing for a while. Get together with a brother or sister and set up the ground rules: at no point in this conversation will we talk about the virus. We will only talk about the beauty of Jesus as revealed in the Word, in history, in His creation, etc. It can be a truly refreshing thing to do.
Those are four my my suggestions. What are yours?
May God bless and keep you as you get fully and completely "whelmed" by Jesus Christ and His Good News to the poor and captives this week.
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December 9, 2020"Whelmed"?