Are you expecting Jesus in this season? Is there room in your heart for Him? You may think you’ve made a place for Him there, but take a second look—just to be sure. Sometimes, without even knowing it, we offer Jesus everything but our hearts. Let me suggest three common substitutes.
BEAUTIFUL CHURCH BUILDINGS. Throughout history, men have tried building a stately material temple in place of the inner sanctuary God seeks in us. But, no matter how much we spend, or how beautiful it is, that temple of stone cannot satisfy God.
RITUALS. We also build rituals in which to house our Lord. We spend countless hours designing reverent and dignified ceremonies for the Lord to inhabit. The more glitter the better, especially when it comes to worship. But, once again, God is not interested in how well we “mouth the truth”, but in how we live the truth. Jesus defined religious hypocrites as those who “say things and do not do them” (Matthew 23:3). “They tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matthew 23:4). Rituals go beyond outward forms of religious ceremony, however. They can also masquerade as “holy safeguards” or boundaries. Jesus was born in a manger so He could identify with man’s suffering. But so often, we refuse to involve ourselves in the lives of others who are hurting. It takes too much time and effort. It’s too costly emotionally. It’s much easier to set limits on what we’re willing to do for Jesus.
CREEDS. Some people build houses for God out of creeds. They’re massive and rock-solid! Every beam and brick is well defined and firmly in place. The entire structure is held in place with a mortar of passion, zeal and devotion. From inside this house of doctrine, passers-by can hear its occupants shouting, “This is what I have built for you, O Lord. I am jealous for the honor of this house. Here is a home fit for a king.” God’s response? “No thanks.”
If impressive church buildings, rituals and creeds aren’t suitable for divine occupation, what is? The answer lies in Isaiah 66:1-2. “Where then is a house you could build for Me?” Jesus asks. “And where is a place that I may rest?...But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at my word.”
Do you tremble at God’s Word? Do you willingly seek to obey God regardless of the cost?
Obedience is one of the most painful lessons we must learn as Christians. Obedience is the mark of genuine faith. It demonstrates the depth of your love for God. It speaks of your humility before Him. But, humility is costly and often painful. So to make obedience more comfortable, we water down God’s commands, and reinterpret His Word. Or, alternatively, we obey while it’s painless and convenient, and ignore God’s commands thereafter.
· I know of businessmen who are honest until their integrity costs them sales or profits.
· I know of husbands and wives who appear committed to their marriages until working through their problems demands too much time and energy.
· I know of Christians who are patient and kind until someone rubs them the wrong way.
It’s easy to obey when it doesn’t cost you anything—or you’re rewarded for good behavior! But that’s not the way of the manger. The Lord of Glory seeks the warm inn of an obedient heart, but the world only offers Him a manger of stone. What are you offering Jesus?
Making room for Jesus is not something you can do just once—like moving a wall to enlarge a room. It’s an ongoing project that involves the cleansing and renewal of your mind, heart and spirit as a prelude to obedience. As you clean house spiritually, focus on four essentials:
1. Let the Word of God flood your mind. Compare your behavior to God’s standards. Are you living up to those standards? Are you forgiving your offenders unconditionally? Are you fleeing from temptation? Do you speak the truth at all times? What about your spiritual mindset? Are you an easy target for satan’s lies? When God doesn’t solve your problems as quickly and painlessly as you’d like, who do you believe, God or satan? By what basic assumptions about God and His character do you live? If you aren’t grounded in truth, you can’t trust and obey.
2. Set a fire in your heart against sin. Ask God to expose every evil thing in your heart that might shut Jesus out or mask His awesome holiness. God may reveal your sin as you pray or read the Word. But you may have to go through painful trials and suffering first.
Undoubtedly, the Civil War changed Colonel Cowan’s perceptions of Abraham Lincoln. Three months before Lincoln’s assassination, Cowan saw him again. But this time, he deemed it an honor to shake the President’s hand and look into his kind eyes.
3. Yield all your rights to God. Take a hard look at your expectations. Do you expect a certain level of comfort, good health or prosperity, for example? Do you expect people to treat you in a certain way? Typically, our expectations turn into demands, which we then justify as “rights”. Fighting for these so-called rights leads to sin. When some person or circumstance infringes on your rights, you’re apt to react in anger. And when anger fills your heart, Jesus cannot.
4. Love God above all else. Do you love the traditions and rituals associated with Christmas more than you love Christ Himself? Was finishing your Christmas shopping more important that spending time with the Lord? Look closely at how you order your priorities during this season. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. Honor Him in everything you do. If you do, you will begin the New Year refreshed and invigorated, full of joy and expectation, and more in love with Jesus than ever before.
THERE WAS NO ROOM AT THE INN
Cherish these words. Remember their significance. Jesus emptied Himself of all that was due Him in glory and honor by being born in a stable. Later, He emptied Himself and “He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). Do you see the pattern? The manger was just the premier episode of a long journey to the cross, along the path of humility and obedience.
Let’s follow and worship this Jesus. Not the Jesus of glitter and grandeur, but the Jesus who humbled Himself to save us from ourselves, so that we might follow Him and give glory to Him alone.
Originally published in “Come Up Higher”, Volume 2, Number 12