This article is part of the How to Pray series.
The Gift of Slowing Down
Each December evening, my little family gathers around some candles and the Word as part of our Advent celebrations. We read about Jesus, we pray about Jesus, we sing about Jesus, we remember Jesus. On Sundays, we gather with our church family to do much the same. Woven into our Advent traditions are prayer and meditation on Scripture to orient our hearts to the beauty of the incarnation of Christ. When we bustle through the holiday season with only to-do lists and travel dates to mark the days, we can get to the end of the season feeling like we missed it. Advent, however, gives us the gift of daily slowing down to read, pray, and remember that Jesus became one of us in order to save us.
If you’re feeling stressed and over-taxed this Advent season, if you’re feeling lonely and left out, if you’re longing for how things used to be during the holidays of your past, you can still pause and remember the coming of Jesus, both past and future. Praying through the month of December can prepare your heart to focus on Jesus so you don’t miss the days of celebration and remembrance.
Pray and Look Back
If you’ve been a believer in Jesus for very long, the story of the baby in Bethlehem might be so familiar that you don’t quite possess the awe you used to have. You might even feel guilty for not feeling anything when you read or hear the history-splitting story of Jesus’s birth. As we pray through the Advent season, we can admit it to the Lord if overfamiliarity has bred apathy in our hearts. He knows our hearts, and what he desires from us is humility and contrition (Ps. 51:17). There is no need to “fake it” before the Lord!
Pray that the Lord will help you to look back at the first coming of Jesus and its bearing on your relationship with God. Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God (see John 14:6). If you are a believer in Jesus, you are so because he first condescended to be born like you before walking the path to the cross. Jesus’s appearance at the end of Israel’s long years of waiting was the culmination of all of the promises God had made to his people in the Old Testament. Jesus’s birth as a frail infant in a stable in the city of David was the kept promise of God to be with his people, to carry their sins and sorrows, and to save them from their sins (see Isaiah 7:14, 53:4, and Matt. 1:21). As you pray and look back, ask the Lord to renew your joy and hope that was secured in Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection (see. Heb. 6:19-20).
Pray and Look Ahead
Advent isn’t just a season for looking back at the birth of Christ. It’s also a season for looking ahead to his second coming. We are promised that Jesus will come again for us, and we eagerly await his return (see Phil. 3:20-21, 1 Thess. 4:13-17, Heb. 9:28). But, the busyness and “everdayness” of life can muddy our vision, eclipsing the future glory of our eternity with Christ. Advent is a good time to still our hearts and minds from their daily strivings and look to the glory that awaits us when we will be with the Lord forever. He will not leave us as orphans but will return for us (John 14:18). In Revelation 22, he promised three times: “I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:7, 12, 20).
It can be challenging to look ahead when our daily living feels more pressing than eternity. As you pray for the Lord to sharpen your focus on Christ this Advent season, pray that he will help you to look ahead to the promises of his return. He won’t come as a fragile infant next time. He’s coming as a warrior, faithful and true (see Rev. 19:11-14). His victory over sin, Satan, and death was secured at the cross and the empty tomb, but we will see its consummation when Christ returns. Life is busy and uncertain, and we quickly give our focus to daily worries and responsibilities. Pray that God will help you keep your eyes fixed on Christ and his promises. Our hope this Christmas isn’t found in completing to-do lists or cultivating perfect holiday memories with our families. Our hope is found in the Savior who keeps all his promises.
Pray to Point Others to Christ
I love the opportunities we’re given during Advent to make new memories and remember old ones. Each year I look forward to the familiarity of gathering around our Advent candles, reciting the Nativity story, and singing carols with our children before bed. I anticipate the weekly services at church when I can remember Christ’s coming and look to his return with my church family. I can’t wait to spend time in the kitchen with my kids baking desserts for neighbors, and I love the big shopping day my husband and I take every year by ourselves. There is a lot to love about this time of year.
From baking with kids to visiting neighbors, we have prime opportunities to point others to the hope of the gospel in Jesus Christ. Advent gives us an easy way to speak of the salvation offered by grace through faith! As you plan, shop, bake, travel, visit, and make memories, pray that the Lord will help you to see your Advent traditions as opportunities to make much of him. Whether you’re reading the story of Jesus’s birth with children before bed or taking sugar cookies to your neighbor, the Holy Spirit can help you flood your Advent traditions with gospel refreshment. Pray that he would help you see every opportunity as an occasion to make his name great, for he is the “joy of every longing heart!”1
While seasons change and memories fade, your hope in Christ is ever sure.
Pray for Contentment in Christ, Not Christmas
Perhaps your calendar isn’t full of seasonal plans. Perhaps this Advent is marked by loneliness or loss. Maybe finances are too tight to give your children or grandchildren what you’d like to give them, or perhaps at the end of all your efforts to enjoy Christmas, you still feel as though you’re coming up short. Here is good news for you, Christian: contentment isn’t found in accomplishments, memories, or traditions. Your contentment is anchored in Christ, in whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17). You can ask him to help you find joy in his constancy, his faithfulness, his unchanging character. Pray that God will “restore to [you] the joy of [his] salvation” (Psalm 51:12). Ask him to satisfy your soul as with the richest of foods, even if it’s the leanest of times (Psalm 63:5-6). He loves to give good gifts to his children, and he takes pleasure in “those who hope in steadfast love” (Psalm 147:11).
The child born in Bethlehem has borne your griefs, carried your sorrows, and rescued you from sin, Satan, and death. While seasons change and memories fade, your hope in Christ is ever sure. As you await his second advent, you can be confident that he will keep his promise to return because he sent his Spirit to be with you now in the meantime. Pray that you’ll grow increasingly aware of the Spirit’s presence in your life and that you’ll find satisfaction and contentment in God’s promise to be with you.
Our desire for the Advent season to be reflective and worshipful can quickly be overshadowed by the very routes we take for reflection and worship. As you pray during the days of Advent, ask the Lord to help you pause, look back, look forward, point others to Christ, and know where true contentment is found. Let prayer pave the way to reflection and worship as you come and adore him.
- Charles Wesley, “Come Thou Long, Expected Jesus.” Public Domain.
Glenna Marshall is the author of Everyday Faithfulness: The Beauty of Ordinary Perseverance in a Demanding World.
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