’TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY
A Study of ZEPHANIAH 3:14-20
How convenient it would be if believing meant that God fixes every challenge we face to the point of granting us our desired outcome. And yet, how little we would grow if He allowed us to develop such a dependency. The text shows that there is reason behind God’s election to make us face our challenges head on. It explains how He remains with us, but it also makes clear that God is not to be looked upon as a divine enabler. God gave the greatest gift of all time – Jesus Christ – so that He could be “in the middle” of our battles with us. And while Christmas-gift giving reminds us that there is a certain level of joy to be had from receiving material things, the text shows that eternal contentment derives from total dedication to Christ – the eternally perfect gift.
Pastor Paul from the pulpit
If you could have any gift on your wish list this Christmas, what would it be?
… perhaps a brand new big screen TV?
… perhaps more money – because everyone can always use more money?
… or maybe it would be a new job?
Whatever it is, we can be sure that, if we get it, next year we will come up with something else we want.
The problem with exchanging gifts is that the corresponding joy is ephemeral.
A couple of Christmases ago, I bought my then financée a navigation device. It had been one of the top three items on her wish list. Suffice it to say, she was overjoyed and very appreciative. However, it was stolen a few months ago, and her joy turned to sadness. Of course, I replaced it. Yet, while being grateful for the gesture, she didn’t seem quite as joyful as when she received the first navigational device.
Our interest in the gifts we get often wears out as the items go out of style, break down or lose their usefulness. Few things last forever, no matter how much we love them.
I have learned over the years that gift giving is tricky. Many gifts fall into the that’s nice category, but not exactly what I wanted.
There are a few gifts, of course, that we treasure and appreciate over the long haul. The unexpected gifts impact me the most – those that are given from the heart, and say,
– “I was thinking of you.”
Several thousand years ago, the prophet Zephaniah had a message for the nation of Judah regarding their future. An underlying theme of the message was that …
… God has a gift for you, and that gift indicates He has been thinking about you.
It is wonderful to know someone is thinking about us. To know that God actually takes the time to consider our needs, desires, wants and wishes is astounding.
The message of Zephaniah should resonate with us today – especially when we consider our situation is not that different from Judah’s. The people of Judah were experiencing turbulent times on the geopolitical landscape. Enemy nations loomed on the horizon, threatening Judah’s national security. The political leadership, meanwhile, was shaky and indecisive. The socioeconomic outlook was also bleak.
The Judahite currency was relatively weak in the “global” market. Many people had lost their life's savings – just as today folks’ 401(k)s tanked.
Yet, despite all, Zephaniah proclaimed that God was thinking about his people. God's statement to them about His special gift can be equally addressed to any believer. He said the special gift would “restore and reverse your fortunes before your very eyes.”
What is the gift God has for us?
Before I give away the secret, I would like to tell you about God's gift for us.
Everything we need to know about God’s gift is found – believe it or not – in verse 17. Zephaniah says,
– “The LORD your God is with you.”
The phrase with you can also be interpreted as God is in the middle. We often overlook this concept. It expresses the idea that God is with us working from the inside.
When I talk to believers and even unbelievers, I encourage them to try to see God – or the hand of God – in every situation they face. I admit there are many things that obscure our ability to recognize God’s activity and presence. This is especially true as we go through health challenges, financial difficulties or other hardships. During such times, the tendency is to focus on the hardship. Very often, we find ourselves experiencing greater levels of frustration and discontentment, leading to the age-old question,
– “Why me and why now?”
I would encourage us to lift up our heads and take our eyes off the trial or hardship. The message of Zephaniah and the experience of older more mature believers tells us that …
– “As long as we focus on what is happening to us, we will never see and realize what God is doing and attempting to do in us.”
God could change any hardship or trial we go through, but if He did, our view of God and life would become distorted.
If God stepped into every hardship we experience, and supernaturally gave us the outcome we desired, then He would be an enabler, and perceived as the God of the bailout.
By allowing us to go through trials and hardships, God allows us to gain invaluable experience that we can pass on to our children, family, friends and loved ones.
With each hardship, we learn a little bit more about God, and about the importance of having Him in the middle to go through the tough stuff of life with us.
– “It is better to go through hell with God, than to live in hell alone.”
I am always in awe of people who go through a severe hardship, then look back and say that the only reason they emerged intact was because God had been in the middle of their difficulty with them.
Zephaniah says another element of God’s gift is that …
– “He is mighty to save.”
When I think of mighty warriors, I think of people like Alexander the Great, who was, arguably, the greatest commander and statesman the world has known. He was renowned for his combination of leadership and tactical strategy. Another person who comes to mind is Napoleon. He took a nation shattered by revolution and formed from it one of the finest armies in history. Indeed, his application of the principles of war led to a renaissance in military doctrine.
Throughout history, many other great warriors – among them, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan and George Patton – proved to be valiant and mighty in battle. They all had one predominant quality in common: They were battle-tested.
With regard to God’s saving power, most people tend to look for Him to step into our lives and render a favorable outcome on our behalf. But we should revisit the Scriptures, which offer an additional view of God’s power to save.
Without doubt, God can and does step in and supernaturally influence outcomes. But God also allows His people to go through life’s hardships – then uses the heat of the battle to refine us.
The Greek word Dokimazo means to test, examine, or to prove whether a thing is genuine or not. Think about silver and gold in their raw form. They are not really worth that much, but after they have gone through a refining process to remove all of the impurities, their value dramatically increases.
Like the mighty warriors throughout history, God uses the trials of life to refine us and forge our faith so that we become battle-tested. It’s then that our value and worth to God, ourselves and others dramatically increases.
It would be expedient for God to step into our situations and save us for a day. But He is able to save us for all eternity when He is with us, working on the inside, refining and forging us into battle-tested believers.
A final quality of God's gift for us can best be summarized by Nehemiah, who said,
– “The Joy of the Lord is my strength.”
Zephaniah put it this way:
– “He will take great delight in you.”
Nothing warms parents’ hearts more than seeing their children find success after applying the lessons they learned in the home while growing up. Conversely, nothing distresses parents more than seeing their children repeat the same mistakes because of a failure to apply those same lessons.
God is delighted, God is happy, God is elated and overjoyed when we apply what He has taught us.
As we apply the teachings of God to every area of our lives, we discover that there is wisdom in His counsel.
Recently, someone raised the question in Bible study,
– “What if we are all wrong?”
I can actually appreciate this question. It is one that many people harbor and ponder, but are afraid to articulate. Essentially, the congregant wanted to know how we could be sure of the validity and reality of the Christian faith. All who share the same concern should simply look at the impact of the Christian faith.
The latest statistics suggest that the Christian faith is strongest and experiencing the greatest growth not in developed nations, but in the developing world. The paradox is that, in the United States and other Western nations, where people are, on the whole, rich in world terms, there is not necessarily more happiness. By contrast, many people in developing nations have little more than what we would call the basic necessities – and yet there are many who describe themselves as happy. Such people have learned to make do with what they have. I can tell you that adherence to the Christian faith can help us reach such a state of contentment, whether we live in the developed or developing world.
The Christian faith is not designed to change life; it is designed to change people and their perspective towards life. In turn, a changed perspective leads to a changed life.
At the end of the day, some people look to things to change and improve the quality of their lives; others look to God in Christ.
I have never met a selfish person who knew complete joy and happiness. Children seek and desire, on some level, to bring joy and happiness to their parents. Children understand that things will go well for them when their parents are pleased with them. With God it is the same way.
When we strive to be pleasing to God, we find that things go well for us.
What is the gift God has for us?
God gives – to all ready to receive his gift – His presence in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
After we receive God’s gift, we discover that through it …
– God is in the middle of everything we face, endure and go through
– God is working on the inside of us, refining and forging our faith to make us battle-tested, so that we may endure for all eternity, not just today and tomorrow
– God is delighted with us, and God’s delight becomes the source of our joy and strength
God is offering to all a renewed relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. While we will cherish some gifts we receive this holiday season for the rest of our earthly lives, none offers the eternal reward and lasting joy that a relationship with God through Jesus Christ offers.
When we accept God’s gift, we will sing and shout aloud, as we will be filled with new hope, a new sense of purpose, peace, joy and love – for truly ’TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY.
If you want to receive God’s gift, you need only to say so. Just ask God to give you the gift of His Son Jesus Christ and see for yourself what a difference Christ can make in your life.
I know and acknowledge that I am a sinner. I repent, right now, of all my sins, and I am asking you to forgive me. You said in your Word, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). I am calling on the name of your Son, Jesus, to come into my heart and be my Savior.
You also said, “If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). I believe with my heart that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead so that I may have eternal life. I confess Him, right now, as my Lord.
I ask you Lord Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to live on the inside of me, and help me to live a life that is pleasing to both you and God, the Father.
In the name of Jesus, I submit this prayer.
Sunday 13 December 2009
May God Bless You