Life doesn’t ever stop, especially during the busy holiday season full of to-do lists, parties, shopping and (hopefully!) worship and service opportunities. So how can we focus our hearts in a deeper way on the presence of God in our lives, especially during a time of year filled with increased opportunities and responsibilities? How can we stay close to God when everything around us is demanding our attention?
Here are some simple steps that I’ve found are helpful to stay close to Jesus during the holiday season.
Start with Scripture.
It sounds simple, but it can also be very hard to read the Word regularly. Still, I have found that when I start my day in the Bible, my heart and mind are better prepared to respond to God’s presence throughout the rest of the day. It’s like tying up my shoelaces before going out the door—it’s much easier to keep from slipping as I walk through the day.
During the holiday season, when time seems short, get creative about reading the Bible if you’re struggling to do so. Listen to the audio version of the Bible on your phone or in the car. Or read for five minutes before you get out of bed (or even touch your phone!) in the morning. You might even consider starting a special Thanksgiving reading plan or Advent devotional to help you focus on God during this time of year.
Make time to serve.
Too often, the holidays can cause us to focus on ourselves—what we want, what we wish we had and how much we have to do. But when we take time to serve others through our church and community, we are fulfilling a central call of the Gospel (1 Peter 4:10, Galatians 5:13).
Who in your church community needs some attention and love, especially this time of year? While it can be wonderful to participate in official service opportunities, sometimes the most meaningful chances to serve come by loving the people right in front of us with our time, our energy and our attention. Pray and ask the Lord who you can serve this holiday season, and then set aside time to do so.
Listen to Truth.
In our home and car, I play music that reminds me of God’s presence in my life. Music seeps into my mind more easily (and mindlessly) than most things, so if I find myself humming a tune unintentionally, it helps my soul if it’s a song that reminds me of who God is. If Christmas music is your style, there are wonderful stations and streams to listen to that are full of Christ-centered Christmas music. And if you don’t love listening to music, find a podcast, radio station or audio book that declares the truth of who God is and turn it on while you’re doing mindless tasks around the house or even working out!
Pause and pray when you feel overwhelmed.
Feeling overwhelmed during this time of year is common, and one of the best ways to release stress is to verbally “cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Talking with God out loud about what causing stress and anxiety—and then asking Him for His peace—is a necessity for me this time of year!
There are often multiple times every day where I can feel overwhelmed, anxious or concerned—usually about things that are outside of my control. Toss in the usual holiday stressors of trips, finances and family dynamics, and we’re all going to feel more stressed than usual. But I’ve found that if I take time to pause and turn to God when these moments come, rather than letting fear or anxiety overtake me, I find that He has never left my side, and He is always offering me His peace, which is bigger than any fear (Philippians 4:6-7). The time it takes me to pause and pray is always shorter than the time it takes me to be worried about something for another five minutes—or five days!
Plan your holidays intentionally.
Saying yes to every party, service opportunity or outing this time of year won’t do anything except exhaust and deplete you. By setting aside 30 minutes (even this weekend!) to determine what your holiday priorities are—and then be willing to let go of everything else—you will set yourself up for a peaceful couple of months.
Busyness will keep us from focusing on the real reasons for this time of year—gratitude and preparation. We want to thank God for all that He has already given us and also prepare our hearts during Advent for His symbolic birth (and, ultimately, His final return). Choose the three to five things that are most important to you relationally and spiritually for the holidays, and then say no to the things that will cause more stress than joy. Leave space for quiet and reflection, for prayer and praise—and seek closeness with Christ, which is the greatest gift of all.