Financially Free Christmas

“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37 (NIV)

The reality of our poor financial choices hit my husband and me one night just a few days before Christmas several years ago. What should have been a time of festivities and celebrating became just another cause for stress in our lives. We didn’t know how we were going to afford the expensive presents on oyr kids’ lists. We didn’t want to tell them no, yet to buy gifts meant adding to our already overwhelming debt load. We took God at His word when He said that nothing is impossible with Him. And yet, from where we sat, our financial situation looked impossible.

For years, we had been trying to do something to change our financial picture, to no avail. We desperately wanted to stop using credit cards, yet financial emergencies always cropped up that drove us back to credit card purchases. We wanted to begin tithing and saving, yet there was never any money leftover to do that. We wanted to begin chipping away at our debt, and yet we saw no way to do so. We felt trapped at every turn. We had gotten ourselves unwittingly into a financial mess. Never before had we felt so strongly about getting out of that mess than that night.

I watched from our parked car as the other shoppers “rushed home with their treasures” like the carol says. I vaguely wondered how many of them were slipping deeper into debt as they charged purchases they couldn’t really afford. Meanwhile, my husband and I sat in that parking lot for over an hour. We talked through what it would take for us to change our spending habits and take steps towards achieving our dream of being debt free. God met with us there and united our hearts with a purpose and a passion to see it through.

The plan we mapped out was not a quick and easy solution, but it was the real picture of what it would take. Though neither of us realized it then, that night was the beginning of a major change in our lives. We were embarking on a journey that would enable us to escape the bondage of debt and begin to enjoy financial freedom. It took us four and a half years but we are so glad we did what it took to change our family’s financial picture.

If you are approaching the Christmas season with that same sense of fear and dread, I urge you to not let another day go by without making a plan and committing to do whatever it takes to avoid debt. If you’re married, have this hard but necessary conversation with your spouse. By next Christmas your financial situation might not be 100% better, but it will be better than it is this year. And each Christmas, with perseverance, it will get better. It won’t be easy, but it will be the one of the best things you will ever do for your family. Ask me how I know.

Dear Lord, I want to honor You with my finances. I want to tithe and save and stop borrowing money. Please help me and my family to know what steps to take, and to seek out the wise counsel we need to change our financial picture. I trust You to do the impossible. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Visit Marybeth’s blog

Living Financially Free: Hard Earned Wisdom for Saving Your Money and Your Marriage by Marybeth and Curt Whalen

A Recipe for Christmas Joy (E-Book) by Marybeth Whalen

Shop with us for Christmas!
When you purchase resources through Proverbs 31 Ministries, you support the many areas of hope-giving ministry we provide at no cost. Therefore, we are extremely grateful for each and every purchase. Thank you!

Application Steps:
If you are already financially free, is there someone you can counsel who might need to know how to make wise decisions with money?

What one thing can I do today that is a step towards financial freedom?

Can I prayerfully set up a time to talk calmly with my spouse about what it would take to change our financial picture?

Is there a local church or organization that I can get counseling from to help me devise a plan?

Power Verses:
Psalm 37:25, “Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.” (NLT)

Psalm 34:9, “Fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.” (NIV)

© 2010 by Marybeth Whalen. All rights reserved.

Unwrapping His Christmas Presence
Renee Swope

"The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call Him Immanuel, God with us." Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

Plans for the perfect Christmas danced across the stage of my mind. My mom, my brother and my husband’s parents were coming to see us. Plus my dad and his wife would be here Christmas day, and JJ's brother and family were coming too. Inviting our out-of-town families to our home for the holidays for the first time was a dream come true. The fact that they could all come at some point between Christmas and New Years was just short of a miracle.

I’m so embarrassed to admit this, but by the time everyone got here I couldn’t wait for them to leave.

In the midst of all the preparations, I’d gotten tangled up in Christmas lights and unrealistic expectations. It all started when my husband and sons petitioned for blinking colored lights on the tree. We don't do colored lights on the tree. I am a "white lights" kind of girl, I insisted. But then JJ suggested our decorating decisions should be a "family activity" that year. Who was this man and why had he not brought this up in pre-marriage counseling? I wondered.

The control freak in me started to freak out. Don't get in the way of my perfect Christmas with white lights that make me and my home feel peaceful.

Further attempts to have the perfect house, perfect menu and perfect table settings were stealing my holiday joy. This being my first time hosting a holiday dinner, I’d failed to notice that my Christmas place mats didn't coordinate with my everyday cloth napkins, and I didn't have festive napkin rings. Worst of all, I didn't know how to cook a turkey.

In the midst of all the holiday obligations I’d placed on myself, I experienced one of my worst Christmas days ever. I had a house full of people, but an oh-so-empty heart.

As I walked through my living room picking up wrapping paper, I wondered why my dreams of the "perfect Christmas" hadn't come true. Many of the elements seemed to be in place: kids running around with remote control cars, adults on the couch snoring to the tune of Jingle Bells, and grown men playing sidewalk hockey in the driveway. We'd lit Advent candles and set out the nativities. Still, something was missing.

Trying to escape the holiday noise, I went upstairs to my bedroom and sat down on the floor in my walk-in closet. Taking a deep breath, I opened my Bible to read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2. Slowly, I let each word remind me of that first Christmas night and God’s promise that came true in Bethlehem. “She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger…" Luke 2:7 (NIV).

A cross reference led me to Isaiah 7:14: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel, God with us."

Closing my eyes, I pictured Mary wrapping baby Jesus. Her hands carefully folding each corner of cloth. Like a beautiful bow on the perfect Christmas gift, she placed a kiss on his forehead.

That’s when I realized what had been missing. In the hustle and bustle of creating the perfect Christmas, I’d forgotten to unwrap the perfect gift, the most important gift of all, the gift of Immanuel, God with us.

Bowing my head, I opened my hands and my heart, and unwrapped God’s presence in my closet that day. I invited Jesus to bring calm to my anxious heart. To bring His perspective to my expectations and to help me enjoy the gifts of my family that were waiting downstairs. Simply pausing to acknowledge and thank Jesus for being with me brought peace to my heart unlike anything white lights and matching table settings could ever bestow.

It ended up being the perfect Christmas after all!

Dear Lord, no matter how busy life gets or how lonely I feel this Christmas, I want to unwrap the gift of Your presence each day. Help me to see You, hear Your voice speak to my heart, and pay attention when You lead me with Your peace and perspective. I seek Your purpose in all of my plans. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Immanuel, God with us?

Unwrapping His Presence, a Christmas Message on DVD by Renee Swope

Living and Leaving a Legacy – Two Session Conference on DVD by Renee Swope

Visit Renee’s Blog to download a free Christmas prayer that is guaranteed to prepare your heart and home for the holidays! And enter to win her Christ-Centered Christmas give-away worth over $35!

Visit Renee’s Facebook Page where she will be sharing ideas to keep Christ in Christmas every day in December!
When you buy Christmas gifts through Proverbs 31 Ministries, you touch eternity! Your purchase supports the many areas of life-changing ministry we provide at no cost. Although we’d love to offer huge discounts, we simply can’t compete with online warehouses. So, we are extremely grateful when you shop with us. Thanks and Merry Christmas!

Application Steps:
Make a list of expectations and preparations that could steal your focus this Christmas. Place the list in a gift box and wrap it in a prayer, asking God to give you His perspective and peace for everything you listed. If you start getting anxious, remind yourself that each assignment and challenge is wrapped in God’s peace. Trust Jesus and thank Him that no matter what comes your way, He is with you!

What days might be most challenging this month? How can I plan time on those day to be with Jesus each morning, sitting with Him, soaking in His perspective and peace before my busy day starts.

Power Verses:
Isaiah 26:12, "Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.” (NIV)

John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (NIV)

© 2010 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.

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What’s that Smell?
Zoe Elmore

"Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."Ephesians 5:2 (NIV)

I could smell the billowing smoke before I even opened the door to our garage; my nose was right, our home was on fire! Literally falling up the stairs I screamed for my husband and son to get out of the house! The firemen arrived and extinguished the flames, then they escorted us away from our home. It was midnight, all the neighbors had returned to their beds, so we took our smoky smelling selves to the nearest hotel.

At our home the next morning, I was greeted by the awful, putrid odor only smoke can leave. That horrible smell had penetrated and permeated everything inside. Even after months of repairs, rebuilding and repainting, the unwelcomed odor lingers and will not soon be forgotten.

In contrast, I fondly recall the warm and inviting fragrances of this joyous season. The heady scent of freshly cut pine boughs intermingled with homemade chocolate-covered cherries and Greek pastries. These are the smells I welcome wafting through our home.

Both smells have distinct characteristics and leave a definite impression. One is overpowering, leaves a negative impression and isn’t something you want to be near. The other is welcoming and inviting and leaves you wanting more.

Have you ever considered the metaphor of fragrance to describe your spiritual life? For believers in Jesus Christ our lives should demonstrate the penetrating influence of Christ. As we allow our lives to reflect His goodness the unique and inviting aroma will be pleasing to Christ and to others.

This priceless fragrance isn’t sold in stores, nor is something you can manufacture. This fragrance is a natural extension of knowing Jesus Christ in a personal relationship. As we abide in Christ we spread the sweet fragrance of His goodness, like a lovely perfume.

Everyday our attitudes, as well as our actions, exude a fragrance. Will it be one that draws others to Christ or deters them from wanting to know Him?

Dear Lord, teach me how to be a sweet fragrance. I pray that You are evident in my life and that others see You and want to know more. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

Visit Zoe’s blog for more encouragement.

When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference by Carolyn Custis James

God’s Purpose for Every Woman: A Compilation of Favorite P31 Devotions by various Encouragement for Today authors. Gen Eds. Lysa TerKeurst and Rachel Olsen

The Uncommon Woman: Making an Ordinary Life Extraordinary by Susie Larson

Shop With Us for Christmas!
Did you know when you purchase anything through Proverbs 31 Ministries, you touch eternity? Your purchase supports the many areas of life-changing ministry we provide at no cost. Although we'd love to offer more discounts, we simply can't compete with online warehouses. We are extremely grateful when you shop with us. Thank you!

Application Steps:
Wear your favorite fragrance today and let it remind you to keep your eyes on what is pleasing to Christ.

Consider the lingering fragrance your life leaves behind.

What are the some of my best characteristics that invite others and welcome them into the family of Christ?

Is God pleased with the fragrance I’m wearing? If not, I will draw near to God and allow Him to redirect me.

Power Verses:
2 Corinthians 2:15, "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (NIV)

© 2010 by Zoe Elmore. All rights reserved.

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Holiday Blues
T. Suzanne Eller

"There is joy for those who deal justly with others and always do what is right." Psalm 106:3 (NLT)

"I don't like the holidays," I whispered.

I used to love holidays. Before I was married. Before I felt the pull to be everywhere at the same time. Before any decisions that I made left someone upset or angry or feeling left out.

I struggled with a desire to be home, to start my own traditions with my young children and husband. We were the first to be married in both families, and thus the first to break "how it's always been."

Thanksgiving was a time to be thankful. All I felt was stretched thin. Christmas was a time to be joyous but I usually felt frustrated.

As we had children, I tried to mask my frustration with enthusiasm. We had fun setting out pumpkins. We decorated the house. But inside I wrestled because I knew what was coming.

Looking back, I wonder why I didn't say anything. Instead, I simply let it fester. I didn't take into account that if I kept silent things would never change. I just simmered in anger.

Deal with others, but do what is right.

Thirty years later, I treasure the holidays. It took time, but we finally learned to share our needs. "Trying to be everywhere in such a short time is exhausting," we said.

We began by trying to see other's point of view. An empty nest left gaps that traditions used to fill. We didn't approach in anger, but with a willingness to work through the conflict with honesty and grace.

Some were open. Others were not, especially in the beginning. If they were flexible, we rejoiced. If not, we didn't take it personally. Change takes time.

Perhaps the greatest gift that we received came later. When our children married, suddenly there were several families in the mix. We told our children that it's not the date on the calendar that makes holidays special. It's the heart behind the holidays. It's spending time with people you love.

So, sometimes we get together on Thanksgiving, or maybe the week after. Maybe it's Christmas only, while Thanksgiving is spent with other family members. If they aren't with us on a specific day, my husband and I fill that time with a new tradition--just the two of us.

What we discovered is that by letting go, they come more often because there's no pressure. They let us in on their traditions. Regardless of the date, when we do get together it's so fun! It's a gift.

Maybe you've been singing the holiday blues. What is one step that you can take to change your tune?

Dear Lord, thank You for my family. I'm grateful for so many things, and one of those is family who loves me enough to want to be with me. Help me to share my needs with my loved ones, and to do it with grace and gentleness. Help me not to take it personal as they struggle with change. If I am the one that is inflexible, help me to bend and grow. Help me to be thankful every day for all that I have been given. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Do You Know Him?

Visit Suzie’s blog where she is doing a “Holiday” give-away!

The Mom I want to be: Rising above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future by T. Suzanne Eller

25 Days, 26 Ways to Make this Your Best Christmas Ever by Ace Collins

Click here for great ideas of how you can include others who may be in the same boat as you!

Shop With Us for Christmas!
Did you know when you purchase anything through Proverbs 31 Ministries, you touch eternity? Your purchase supports the many areas of life-changing ministry we provide at no cost. Although we'd love to offer more discounts, we simply can't compete with online warehouses. We are extremely grateful when you shop with us. Thank you!

Application Steps:
Have you shared your needs? Articulate them on paper.

Share them at the right time, in the right attitude.

Don't take responses personally. Change takes time.

Exchange the holiday blues for a new song. Worship God as you thank Him for all the good things around you.

If I am the one struggling with change, am I willing to be flexible?

Instead of focusing on a specific date, I can focus on the heart of the holiday.

I'll write down all the things for which I am thankful to share with my children.

Power Verses:
Psalm 106:1-2, "Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for his is good! His faithful love endures forever. Who can list the glorious miracles of the Lord? Who can ever praise him enough?" (NLT)

© 2010 by T. Suzanne Eller. All rights reserved.

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No One is Beyond the Reach of Truth
Lysa TerKeurst

"…I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…" Romans 15:18a (NIV)

I'm more convinced than ever that people don't care to hear about our Jesus these days until they meet the reality of Jesus in our lives.

Don't skim past that last sentence too quickly. Our history with Jesus is our most effective salvation message to share with others.

If you look at the word 'history,' it's interesting to break it in half and see the words, "His story." That's the thing this world is dying to hear- how His story has been woven into our story. People can debate and argue theology all day long but they can't argue what Jesus has done personally in our lives. Truth lived out is the best sermon.

And while I find people are a little more receptive at Christmas to talking about Jesus, I still find it stressful sometimes with friends and family members. Do you? I think it's important to think about. We've all got people in our lives who need us to break past our hesitations and share the reality of Jesus.

I was profoundly reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when I spoke at a Pregnancy Care Center dinner in Florida. At the end of the night, the center's director asked a board member to come forward and close the evening in prayer. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw this board member was a guy I'd known in high school.

Well, let me clarify that. I knew who he was. He didn't have a clue who I was.

He had been in the uber popular crowd - star athlete who dated the beautiful girls. I was one of those girls in high school who was easy to miss. I felt sort of invisible back then. And judging by the blank look on his face when I made the connection we'd graduated the same year, my assessment was pretty accurate.

He apologized profusely for his wild behavior in high school and acknowledged that he could have been voted, "Least likely to grow up to be a pastor." I agreed. But then again, I wasn't exactly on the fast track toward ministry back then either.

After we chatted for a few minutes, he got a very serious look on his face. Then he said something I won't soon forget.

"You know what is really odd, Lysa? All those years of high school and college, I was a very visible person. I had lots of friends. Then I got a college scholarship to play basketball at a major university and there were even more people who knew me. But no one - no family member, no peer, no girlfriend, no teacher, no coach, no professor, no fan - no one - not one person ever told me about Jesus. All those years, all those people, and not one time did someone try to tell me the truth. Finally when I was 21 years old, someone took that chance to share with me how they met Jesus and it radically changed my life."

His statement startled me. And I hope it startles me the rest of my life.

No one is beyond the reach of truth.

Not the wispy, invisible girl who thinks of herself as nothing more than a little background noise. And not the star athlete revered by thousands.

Everyone deserves to hear about Jesus sooner rather than later.

And we must never assume that surely someone else would do a much better job than we would.

Who is in your sphere of influence that needs to hear a bit of your HIS-story this week? Don't let Satan whisper that this message is meant for other people. It's not. If you read this, it's meant for you sweet sister.

And don't fret trying to figure out how to arrange the perfect situation to connect with that person that came to mind. Just tell Jesus you are willing. He's very capable of handling all the details. Our job is obedience. God's job is results.

Dear Lord, thank You for loving me before I even knew You. Give me Your eyes and Your heart to be able to see anyone who needs to know about You today. And give me the right words and the necessary courage to share with my friends and family members. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
For helpful hints on sharing Jesus through your life story, visit Lysa’s blog by clicking here.

Lysa will be speaking in over 40 cities this year and she’d love to meet you! To check for a city near you, click here.

If you are looking for a non-threatening, but eye opening book to give to your unsaved friends and family members Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl by Lysa TerKeurst would make the perfect gift.

This book is also a great resource to use in a group Bible Study along with the Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl DVD set- click here to order.

Shop With Us for Christmas!
Did you know when you purchase anything through Proverbs 31 Ministries, you touch eternity? Your purchase supports the many areas of life-changing ministry we provide at no cost. Although we'd love to offer more discounts, we simply can't compete with online warehouses. We are extremely grateful when you shop with us. Thank you!________________________________________

Application Steps:
Who could you share your story with this week?

Pray. Seek God for the right words and the right opportunity. Take a step of faith. Trust that God will be glorified.

Don't let Satan tell you that this message is meant for other people.

Power Verses:
Philippians 1:27a, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." (NIV)

Romans 10:20, "And Isaiah boldly says, 'I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.'" (NIV)

Philippians 2:4, "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (NIV)

© 2010 by Lysa TerKeurst. All rights reserved.

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Don't Overthink It
Rachel Olsen

"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done." Philippians 4:6 (NLT)

I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my life – and I'm running out of time to figure it out. What if I never find it? Will I always be unhappy and unfulfilled? Will I never achieve my purpose? What will God do about that – will He call me a bad servant? But I can't help it. Why doesn't He answer my prayers for direction?

Maybe I'm just too sinful or something. I know I should read the Bible more. Is this limbo I'm in some kind of punishment for that? Am I really so much worse than everybody else? Maybe I just don't have any special gifts or talents. Or they just never got developed. Maybe that's it, and maybe now it's too late. So what do I do now? I don't know what I'm supposed to do …

Does this resemble your thinking sometimes? Perhaps not about your calling, but about finding a spouse, or affording a house, or exercising regularly, or a conflict with your mother or boss. Do you tend to overthink things? To worry and ruminate? To endlessly, passively, excessively ponder the meanings, causes and potential consequences of your problems? Do you dwell on them?

Many of us believe that when we feel down about something we should try to evaluate our feelings and our situation from every angle to attain insight and find solutions to relieve our unhappiness. However, a host of research in the last 20 years has shown that dwelling on thoughts like this creates negative outcomes: it sustains or worsens sadness, fosters negative thinking, depletes motivation, saps energy, interferes with concentration, and typically impairs our problem-solving.

Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky writes: "Although people have a strong sense that they are gaining insight into themselves and their problems during their ruminations, this is rarely the case. What they do gain is a distorted, pessimistic perspective on their lives." She adds, "You need to free yourself from the clutch of your ruminations – in other words, immediately stop overthinking."

Based on what he wrote in Philippians 4:6-13, I think the apostle Paul would agree with the professor. Pause and scroll down to read the whole passage now in the "Power Verses" below and then come back.

As we see, in verse six, Paul gives three clear instructions for those of us who ruminate on our problems. He says:

1) do not worry about anything
2) pray about everything
3) thank God for everything

What if today we took this instruction to heart and put it into practice? What if today we decided not to worry about anything? What if when we found ourselves worrying, we stopped and handed the situation over to God in prayer? What if we then thanked Him for taking care of the issue?

In fact, what if we spent most of our mental free-time today thinking about what good care our awesome God takes of us?

What if we counted our blessings and God's acts of faithfulness today – and again tomorrow and next week too? What would happen then?

Paul says in verse seven, we will begin to experience amazing peace – a kind of peace we can't even imagine. Peace that makes no earthly sense! This kind of peace is so powerful that it has a protective function on our hearts and minds – which only makes it easier for us to stop worrying and be thankful.

That sounds like a state of happiness to me! So let's not over-think it today. Let's not under-pray it either. Let's actively choose to have a happy, thankful day. And then let's get up tomorrow and do it again.

Dear Lord, I'm turning over all my fears and problems to You to handle today. I can't fix a single thing by worrying about it - but You can fix anything because nothing is impossible for You! Thanks for being in charge of my day. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Related Resources:
Have you gotten a copy of Rachel’s new book It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know?

Visit Rachel’s blog today and leave a prayer request, or a statement of thankfulness. One commenter will be randomly selected to win a free copy of Rachel’s new release It's No Secret: Revealing Divine Truths Every Woman Should Know?
When you purchase resources through Proverbs 31 Ministries, you touch eternity by supporting the many areas of ministry we provide at no cost – like this one! Therefore, we are extremely grateful for each and every purchase you make with us. Thank you!

Application Steps:
Open your Bible and highlight Philippians 4:6-7. Memorize those two verses.

Do I generally think about what is good, lovely, pure and right –or do I think about what is flawed, frustrating, unfair and wrong?

Day-to-day do I tend to over-think and under-pray? How often do I express gratefulness?

Power Verses:
Philippians 4:6-9, "Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you." (NLT)

© 2010 by Rachel Olsen. All rights reserved.

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