About this time of year I begin reminiscing about youthful experiences centered around Christmas. I grew up in a family that observed Christmas as the celebration of the birth of a Savior for the world. It was a festive occasion filled with family gathering, special foods and gifts. There were also the moments when attention turned to somber reverence and thankfulness for God’s gift. Each year as children we would hear the Christmas story as recorded in the Scriptures. This was the “reason for the season.”
I marveled at the account of the Three Wise Men, who traveled so far to find the newborn Christ. This part of the story helped me to realize that a significant event was being observed.
As I have grown older, I have learned to treasure wisdom when I encounter it. It seems that true wisdom is a rare commodity. A few years ago I encountered messages from three men that I respect as possessing wisdom. Because the three messages are thematic and appropriate for a lot of us at this time, I have elected to share these bits of wisdom with you.
The first message was part of a sermon delivered by Pastor Allen Jackson of World Outreach Church. If you know Pastor Jackson, you know he’ll grin when he sees his name listed in the “wise man” category. Allen is one of my favorite preachers, but humility would prevent him from considering himself a wise man. Thanks to his raising by Dr. George and Betty Jackson, and possibly the influence of his brother Philip and wife Kathy, he has indeed developed a good bit of wisdom.
The central topic of this particular sermon was the Biblical admonition against worrying. Pastor Jackson made a point of the significance of this instruction by noting that the Bible repeats it dozens of times. To paraphrase his sermon, “If the Bible said ‘don’t wear red’ as often as it says ‘don’t worry,’ I don’t think I would see any red ties, scarves or clothing among you. But as I glance around the sanctuary I see a lot of people that are burdened with worry.” That single comment helped me to realize that the Biblical instruction to refrain from worrying was intended to be literal.
Later in the week, I happened to be watching a message delivered by Texas preacher Joel Osteen on television. As his characteristic smile spread across his face, he intoned, “Friends, here in Texas we have a saying. Whenever something bad happens or another person has done something harmful to you, we say: ‘Don’t let them steal your joy. That means to never let anything in life take away the joy of living that the Lord can provide.” There it was again. Simple instructions to be joyful in life.
A few days later, when I ended a conversation with my father, he closed his part by saying, “Stay happy.” He always does that. He never says, “Goodbye,” it’s always, “Stay happy.” He began this habit intentionally many years ago. He always closes every conversation with this positive affirmation and good wish for whomever he is speaking to.
As I absorbed the collective wisdom of these three men that I have great respect for, I grasped the simplicity of the message. “Don’t worry, live joyfully regardless of your present circumstances and stay happy.” Or, as a patient stated in my office a few weeks ago, “Worrying is praying to the wrong god.”
As individuals, a community, a culture and a country, we face many challenges. There are many things that affect us that we cannot influence. There are many temptations to obsess in worry and doubt. If we are not careful to avoid it, we could spend the better part of our lives consumed by worry and negative thoughts.
There are many things in life that we have little or no control over. The one thing we always have complete control over is our thoughts. Thoughts are things. By choosing to focus on the positive aspects of our current circumstances and place our trust and faith in God, we can actually create a better life for ourselves.
As Christmas draws near, be observant for wisdom from unexpected sources.
Dr. Mark Kestner