20 September 2017

All I want for Christmas is…

ra“Hi Mum,” the text message began.

“Just in case Santa is interested I’ve listed a few wee ideas below J”

You’ve guessed: the message was from our son. Funny thing is, he was 21 when he wrote it! Paul never did reach the time in childhood when he declared disbelief in that red-robed, bearded chap who brought such mystery and excitement into our homes at Christmas.

Christmas, the commercial variety, seems to come around earlier and earlier each year. “What are you getting for Christmas?” has replaced “What would you like for Christmas?” as the question we ask the children, turning the delight of giving into a situation of supply and demand. (Or perhaps more accurately, ‘demand’ and ‘supply’!) Yet invariably we love to see those happy faces on Christmas morning when they discover that their dreams have come true!

Possibly, as an adult, you still write that Christmas list in an attempt to avoid yet another funny jumper! But I wonder what you really want for Christmas? For over a period of twenty years in my life my Christmas requests weren’t written on paper but in the fervent prayers of a mother whose only longing was: “Please Lord, let me have my children for one more Christmas?” I vividly remember those years I didn’t get what I wanted for Christmas; when the child count in our family went from three to two, and eventually from two to one.

Perhaps as you read this you are already saying: “All I want for Christmas is… my health restored; my child healed; my prodigal to return; my husband to stop drinking; my business to pick up; my debt to disappear; someone to love me.” Maybe as you pray you even add: “I’m not asking much, Lord – just this one thing.” I must confess that one of the spiritual disciplines I find difficult at times is that of prayer. It’s the dichotomy of the enormous privilege of the access prayer gives us to our Creator and Saviour, combined with the list of un-granted requests that still litter my life, that has at times been a stumbling block in my walk with the Lord. It reminds me of the Christmas morning our nine-year-old son gazed despairingly at the new bike beside the tree, when his longing had been for a trumpet! We had given him a wonderful gift; it just wasn’t the one he had asked for.

How easily we say to our children that they can’t always get what they want, yet how hard we seem to find it when our Heavenly Father does the same with us. For a period of time I resorted to asking other people to pray for the big things for our family because I was convinced that God didn’t seem to answer mine. The resultant damage to my prayer life was that I kept to the simple stuff: the prayers that I felt were safe to pray and therefore more likely to be answered. That way I wouldn’t be disappointed. Then, completely dissatisfied with my prayer life, and with the Spirit’s prompting, I started to look for answers to some of the issues I had. One big lesson was in the discovery that I wasn’t only praying requests but praying the answers too! I was literally telling God what the best outcome was for the situation. Was it any wonder that I was disappointed when God didn’t come up with the goods!

By far the best breakthrough in my fear of what God would do with my big prayers came slowly as I got to know Him better. An increasing knowledge of His character has helped me to see that God is not against me. He is for me! I only have to repeat the verse that’s stamped on many Christmas cards to remind me just how “for me” God really is: “…the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). When our prayers are not answered as we expect, the enemy of our souls tells us that God doesn’t care. He is a liar: send him on his way! Visiting the stable and the cross is one sure way of putting that particular chestnut to bed. Our God is a loving, merciful Father and as Jeremiah reminds us: “He does not willingly afflict, nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33).

Alongside this lies the fact that God works in response to our prayers with more than us in mind. His answer involves a bigger picture than the little piece we find ourselves standing in. And so at times He invites us to be part of His eternal plan. That may mean our prayers will not be answered in the way we want them to, but it always means He is still in control and “…knows the plans He has for you… plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Our part is to trust Him… in spite of the disappointment we might temporarily feel.

As the years have passed I am learning to pray big prayers again, even if I don’t always get the answer I want or expect. The journey with God is exciting and my expectation in prayer is greater now than it has ever been, fuelled by the Spirit’s voice every day to my soul: “Catherine, now is not all there is.” He has undoubtedly planted eternity in my heart, just as the Preacher has said in Ecclesiastes 3:11 and that has changed my perception of everything.

So, as Christmas approaches don’t be afraid to pray those big prayers; expect God to answer according to His will; remember that you are loved with an everlasting love… and that you are part of His great eternal plan. But most of all remember that all you really want for Christmas can be found in Christ!

WORDS Catherine Campbell