2022 Advent Devotion: Count it all JOY

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“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3, NIV)

Christmas of 2021 was not what many expected. It was the second Christmas of the pandemic and everyone, everywhere, seemed to be worn out. Our family was no exception. After eighteen moves, my husband retired from the Army in June of 2020 –  three months into the COVID lockdown. It had been an amazing adventure, but we were spent! We put our things in storage and spent months “vagabonding” –  visiting loved ones and seeking the Lord and His will for what was next. We longed to be planted somewhere long-term, with a wonderful church family, a nice home, and a good school for our teens. 

After nine months of ups and downs and twists and turns, the Lord sent us to Virginia, where my husband would work for the Navy. This was exciting! He could use his decades of experience but with no more deployments or moves…Lord willing (James 4:15)! We packed up and tackled a harrowing house search in an unbelievably hot seller’s market. People were waiving inspections and bringing tens of thousands of dollars in cash to closing. Houses were gone within hours or even minutes of being listed. We toured dozens of homes. We decided to start praying for everyone who was looking for a home and trust the Lord in the process. Then the Lord answered our church-home-school prayers, seemingly all at once. We were overjoyed as we moved in!

And then we found the water leak. It was a hidden leak that even the extensive, expensive inspection had not uncovered. Thus began a months-long process with a substantial, multiphase mitigation and restoration. We were very, very disappointed. Christmas found us months into the process, living life without real floors but with plenty of dehumidifiers and fans constantly humming. Because of the mold mitigation and construction, we had no countertops or even a kitchen sink for almost seven months. Everything was constantly covered in dust, and we couldn’t really unpack. I was grumbling, and to make it worse, I was keenly aware that these were “first-world problems” and my attitude simply stank!

This wasn’t what I wanted for our first Christmas in our new home. The Lord pricked my heart during Advent and reminded me of the joy and wonder of the incarnation. During family devotions, we began praying concertedly for those who were struggling, and I began to pray James 1:2, to have “pure joy” in the trial. Amidst what seemed like chaos, God captivated our hearts again with the Nativity story.

As our family read the Scriptures together, I was deeply moved by one simple phrase in Matthew 1:23, “Emmanuel, God with us.” We were experiencing this firsthand. Day by day. It was like I was hearing it for the first time. A simple shift in focus and it ended up being a wonderfully joyful, memorable Christmas. In the spring, the Lord used the restoration to give us new floors, a wonderfully updated/upgraded kitchen, and a more open floor plan – all while reminding me to focus on the joy in the trial. “Emmanuel, God with us!”

Prayers for the week ahead:

Day 1 – For family:

Father, when we face trials, please remind us to stand firm, counting it all joy, knowing that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. Help our family focus on the joy of Christmas and encourage and keep in prayer others facing trials. Please help our family to remember Matthew 1:23, “Emmanuel, God with us.” In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen!

Day 2 – For friends:

Jesus, let us love our friends and neighbors as ourselves. Your joy is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), so let us bring the joy of Christ into our relationships with all our neighbors. Let us serve them well. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen!

Day 3 – For work:

Father God, we thank you for your provision for our families through our work. Whether we work inside or outside of our homes, we pray that we would be excellent and do our work for You because it is Christ we are serving (Colossians 3:24). Let us have joy in our work and bring joy to those with whom we work. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen!

Day 4 – For those in the military

Lord, we lift up the military community to you, especially those who are separated from their loved ones, either because of the mission or because they are grieving a loss. Please bring them joy regardless of their circumstances. Surround them with friends in the absence of family, remembering that “Better is a friend nearby than a brother far away,” (Proverbs 27:10). In Jesus’ name, we pray, amen!

Day 5 – For our nation’s leaders:

Holy Spirit, help us make petitions, prayers, intercessions and give thanksgiving for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We ask that You give them great wisdom and joy as they serve our nation. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen!

Devotion by Tara Whitmore

Tara has served in every “staff category” in the Army – as an army brat, on active duty, as a spouse and now as a retiree spouse.  She is grateful that the Lord gave their family the opportunity to travel and serve all over the world.  As the Mobilization and Sending Coordinator for Cru Military, she now gets to use those experiences to help those transitioning out of the military to prayerfully consider becoming missionaries.  She’s been married to Shawn for 23 years; their daughter Faith is 19 and their son Joshua is 15.