While my husband finished his breakfast, I let our toddler cuddle up on my lap, or what was left of it. At 36 weeks pregnant there’s not a lot of room left on my lap for her.

We chatted about the plan for the day.

I gave my daughter a little squeeze. “You get to stay with Grandma today while I go to a doctor’s appointment for baby.”

My toddler rested her head against me. “Strong and healthy.”

“That’s right. The doctor is checking to make sure baby is strong and healthy.”

I glanced across the table at my husband. “It’s a routine appointment. They’ll likely want me to book another one for next week since I’m so far along now. What are you up to today?”

My husband launched into a description of his expected meetings and the project he had on the go at work.

His words trailed off when our daughter sat bolt upright, shock covering her face.

I laughed. “Baby just kicked you.” I had felt the strong movement too.

Her shock turned to a grin, as she shifted to rest a hand on my belly.

“You really felt that didn’t you?”

“More?”

“He might kick you again, but I don’t know if he will. Sometimes he kicks a lot, but sometimes he is sleeping. I think he was sleeping just a minute ago, but then he kicked you.”

It wasn’t until the next morning that I found myself thinking about how the movements of my soon-to-be-born baby can stand as a meaningful reminder to me of how God works in my life.

Let me explain.

The kicks of an unborn baby are a wonderful, reassuring thing (though sometimes uncomfortable). Each kick is a reminder that he is alive and active. At checkups, the doctor asks if I’ve been feeling the baby kick because it is an important indicator that the baby is doing well.

Yet the baby isn’t always kicking. Sometimes he is sleeping.

More often than not, it is when I am busy or walking about that he sleeps. Then, within minutes of my sitting down or lying down to relax, I feel him start kicking.

His movements aren’t always the same either. Sometimes I feel his kicks on the right side, sometimes on the left. Sometimes he jabs at my ribs (those aren’t so comfortable), while other times he kicks deep within me. At times his movements are big and pronounced, visible to those sitting beside me. At other times, they are subtle and easy to miss. Still other times his movements are not kicks at all. Instead they are the steady rhythm of hiccups.

When I don’t feel him actively moving, does it mean there is a problem? No, unless the stillness lasts too long. He is most likely taking a nap while he continues to grow and develop.

Similar can be said of my relationship with God.

Sometimes I can see and feel that God is actively at work in my life. I know that I am walking with Him and He is growing me closer to Him.

Other times, I can’t feel Him. I sometimes start to worry – am I still following God? Have I become distant? Is He still at work in my life?

Just because I can’t feel God at the moment, doesn’t mean there is something wrong. God can still be at work in my life, even when I don’t feel it.

Often it is in the seasons of busyness that I feel Him less – such as the season I’m about to step into as the mom of a newborn.

That said, to help my baby’s growth and development be at an optimum, I must continue to eat a reasonably healthy diet, take my prenatal vitamins, and drink water – lots and lots of water.

Regardless of whether I have felt my baby kicking in the past while, I continue to eat for his optimum growth.

The same should be the case in my walk with Jesus. Regardless of whether I feel super close to God at the moment, it is still critical to be ingesting a healthy spiritual diet – Bible reading, worship songs, prayer, and times of fellowship with other Christians.

These elements will help keep me growing and learning more about God whether I feel it or not.

Today, whether I feel it or not, may I trust that, “He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6 CSB)

 

I helped my toddler climb into her booster seat, then clipped her tray in place. I placed her water cup in front of her.

“Hmm. Something is still missing.”

My daughter looked down, then patted her tummy. “Bib missing.”

I grinned as I reached for her bib. “You’re right. You are missing your bib. Here, I’ll put it on for you.”

I settled into my seat and pulled a slice of bread from the bag.

“What would you like on your bread this morning?”

My toddler straightened. “Pea-butter. Stra-sa jam.”

“You want peanut butter and strawberry jam? Okay. That sounds yummy.”

I spread the bread for her, then set my knife aside.

“Okay. Now it’s time to pray and then you can eat your bread.”

My daughter leaned forward earnestly. “Mary, Tommy, Dada, Mama.”

I nodded. “Okay, we can pray for your cousins and for Mommy and Daddy.”

Folding my hands, I bowed my head to pray, but before I began, her little voice piped up again.

“And wawa.”

“Yes, we can thank God for water.”

Her eyes scanned the area. “Pea-butter, stra-sa jam, bread… and tray too.”

“Okay. We can thank God for those too. Let’s pray now.”

Satisfied, my toddler folded her hands and sat quietly while I prayed.

“Dear God, thank You for Mary, Tommy, Mommy, and Daddy. Help us all to have a good day and to know that You love us. Thank You for the yummy food we get to eat. Thank You for water, peanut butter, strawberry jam, bread, and trays. Help them make our bodies strong and healthy. Amen.”

I passed my toddler her bread.

Happily she took a big bite.

This sort of interaction just before, or more often right in the middle of, prayer has become common recently. Almost any time we tell her it is time to pray, she lists off various cousins and relatives. Her eyes then roam the room looking for anything else we should pray for.

Water, various food items, tray, bib, crib, soother, bear, clock… Nothing is too insignificant to mention.

This got me thinking. How often do I stop to thank God for His many blessings?

When was the last time I paused to let my eyes roam my surroundings and simply thanked God for what I have?

Certainly not recently enough.

So many times we are instructed in the Bible to give thanks to God, yet how rarely I stop to do so.

Here are snippets of a few of those places. I encourage you to read the full passages to get proper context.

“Be filled with the Spirit always giving thanks to God the Father for everything…” Ephesians 5:28b,20a NIV

“… Singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:16b-17 NIV

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV

Beyond giving thanks for the things I have, how often do I pause to thank God for the people in my life?

Over and over again Paul mentions that he thanks God for people. (See 1 Corinthians 1:4, Colossians 1:3, and Philemon 1:4, among others.)

Furthermore, when was the last time I thanked the Lord for who He is? Regardless of my current circumstances, God never changes. There is always much to be thankful for regarding who He is.

As the psalmist puts it:

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1 NIV

Today, may I take a moment to simply thank God.

 

I scanned through the list of names and Christmas gift ideas.

I highlighted the gifts we’d already purchased and circled the ones we still needed to buy.

A few ideas I crossed off. They simply weren’t a good fit for the person.

I let my eyes trail down the list.

Candies and toys for the nieces and nephews. They would have fun with those.

Plenty of chocolate and many practical items for our siblings and their spouses. Everything from kitchen items to socks. Hopefully they would be helpful.

I smiled. All the items on our list now seemed fitting. They would be useful and/or enjoyable for those who received them.

Next I considered the gifts we’d chosen for our little one. As a preschool teacher, I greatly enjoy children’s toys, much like a computer programmer gets excited about a new mouse or a carpenter might be thrilled with a new tool belt.

I had put a lot of thought into what to get for her, and done plenty of research – perhaps too much.

Some toys would thrill her for a week or two, but quickly become boring. Other toys were too advanced. Some toys were of flimsy materials that wouldn’t last.

It was hard to narrow down the options, but I finally did.

I chose a play food set since she is just beginning to get into pretend play. This should last her until she is 6 or older.

At a second hand store, I found an exciting puzzle – one with latches and doors. It’ll be a little challenging for her, but I’m certain she’ll like it.

We’re also adding blocks to our block set since she plays with them often.

Satisfied, I set aside my Christmas shopping list.

My mind wandered back to a joke I’d seen on Facebook.

It was a Christmasy comic. It showed Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in a barn-type environment.

The caption read: “If there’d been three wise women instead.”

At the entrance, three well-dressed women stood holding boxes. The boxes were labeled, “Diapers”, “Formula”, and “Casseroles”.

Mary looked delighted as she exclaimed, “Perfect!”

At first, my eyes twinkled at the comic, but since then a much deeper thought has stayed with me.

The “wise women” brought the sorts of things I would give someone who’d just had a baby. It seems a very normal helpful response to the situation.

Then why did God, in His infinite wisdom, send wisemen with very different gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh?

Because God had something far greater on His mind.

The wise women were very helpful, yes, but casseroles only last a week, formula is done by 12 months, and diapers are typically a thing of the past by 3 or 4 years old. These women were only thinking about the next few weeks and months, or perhaps a handful of years.

While the wisemen’s gifts may have had immediate practical use, for example, the gold could have supported the family on their escape to Egypt, they foreshadowed something of greater significance.

God was looking ahead to the event, that would take place about 33 years later. A moment that would change history forever. On top of that, God had all of time on His mind when He chose which gifts to send. 

Gold was a gift fit for a king – a symbol of Jesus’ kingship.

Frankincense was used in incense – a reference to Jesus’ priestly role, and to His divinity.

Myrrh was used for embalming the dead – foreshadowing Jesus’ death on the cross.

(Reference: https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/StudyGuides_Matthew/Matthew.cfm?a=931011 )

Why do I share all these thoughts? Because they have a powerful reminder for me.

Far too often, I find myself thinking like the wise women. I focus on the practical needs and think only of the next few days or weeks or perhaps a few years.

I forget that there is so much more to life than just the immediate practical needs.

I forget to think about eternity.

My conversations, my prayers for people, the greeting cards I write, the gifts I give… So often they are about current events or the very near future.

Yet eternity is a lot longer than now. Eternity is forever, but so much of now is temporary.

A part of me wants to argue. I can’t live with my head in the clouds. I have a household to care for, husband to love, and a toddler to raise. That takes a lot of paying attention to the now and the practical.

God understands these things. In fact, He is the one who has put me in this role. Yet still He says:

“Set your hearts on things above, … Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1b-2 NIV

Another translation puts it: “seek the things above”. Colossians 3:1b CSB

What does this mean? I’m still working to figure that out in my current stage of life.

I do know, however, that I need to remember to think of the things pertaining to eternity more often.

How do I do that? Reading the Bible, going to church, and being part of a Bible study certainly help.

Another practical thing that I often forget to do, is singing songs of praise to God – especially songs that bring me back to the Gospel and thoughts of heaven.

I need to come back to the basics – the John 3:16 basics.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NIV

Do all my gifts have to be Bibles and Gospel tracts? No, God understands the need for practical things and the place for enjoyment. Yet underlying my gifts and interactions should be a heart that longs for those around me to know the life-giving joy of a relationship with Jesus and the promise of eternity spent with Him.

To have such a desire, I must have eternity on my mind.

 

After Thoughts: 

I have found many hymns, such as Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, include the Gospel and mentions of eternity spent with God. These help me set my mind on things above.

 

Did you know many traditional Christmas carols also include whispers of the Gospel and eternity spent with God? Try listening to Hark the Herald Angels Sing and you’ll see what I mean.

 

Want to know more about the gifts the wisemen brought? I encourage you to listen to this sermon about Matthew 2: https://messages.calvarychapel.ca/?message=799&via=rmcccalgary

 

I looked out the window as we sped along the highway. We’d left the forests and fruitful prairies of southern Alberta behind.

I stared across the barren hills of Montana. Even wild grass struggled to thrive here. There was not a house or building in sight.

This desolate landscape continued for mile after mile.

It changed, however, when the highway joined paths with the beginnings of the Missouri River.

As we zipped along the river valley, I observed lush trees and thriving farmland.

We drove past house after house clustered at the river’s edge. People were out on boats or busy tending their farms.

When I looked at the hills beyond the valley, I saw the same dry barren countryside with hardly a house to be found. Yet everywhere in the valley I saw vibrant colors of thriving plants and human habitation.

I marveled at the difference plentiful water makes. Good water is life-giving.

Then, hours later, we arrived in Yellowstone National Park.

(For those unfamiliar with the park, it is an area of the United States with volcanic history. Now, rather than lava, boiling water gurgles or sprays through holes in the ground. The water comes mixed with sulfur. The well-known geyser, Old Faithful, is only one of the many phenomenons to be witnessed.)

As we drove through the forests of Yellowstone National Park, I noticed a column of steam rising in the distance. As we got closer, we could see sputters of water bursting from the ground.

The runoff from this geyser poured over scaly white ground to a pool.

The steaming water from a nearby spring left orange build up where it trickled to join the pool.

I glanced at the trees in the area. They were ugly skeletons of branches. Not a speck of green could be found on them. They were bleached white and dead – oh so very dead.

As we drove on, we again passed through good forest with strong healthy trees interrupted by the occasional meadow of thick wild grass.

“Look! Bison.” I called as we came across another clearing.

The giant animals were grazing peacefully.

But then the landscape changed once again. Ugly skeleton trees stood ridged.

I looked around. Sure enough there was a nearby geyser spouting its venomous water.

Some days later, as we drove homeward, I pondered the things I’d seen.

I came to the question, “What type of water is flowing through me?”

Jesus offers Living Water (John 4).

That Living Water is like the river in Montana. Everywhere the river goes it brings life and abundance.

It doesn’t matter that the terrain the river cuts through is dry and barren – hardly habitable for humans. The river brings life with it.

Have I received that Living Water from Jesus today? Am I filled with it?

If I am filled with that Living Water, it will spill over bringing hope and encouragement to those around me.

Sometimes, however, I choose to do what the people of Israel did in Jeremiah’s day.

God declared: “They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves…” (Jeremiah 2:13b CSB)

When I choose to try to do things myself rather than receiving the help God wants to give me, I quickly become like those geysers and springs in Yellowstone.

The water spouting from them is not life-giving. Regardless of how clear it may appear, it is venomous. It sucks the life out of nearby trees.

Indeed, the Norris Geyser Basin in Yellowstone has pools hot and acidic enough to melt through rubber boots and more.

So what will I choose today? Will I lean into Jesus to be filled with His Living Water, or will I try to do things on my own?

 

My phone beeps. There is a poor air quality alert for my area.

As I sit at my desk while my baby naps, I glance outside. I cannot see the blue sky. The sun is a weird shade of yellow casting a red glow on the floor.

My eyes wander to the other side of the valley where normally I would see green trees and a myriad of colours from the buildings. Everything is grey and faded.

I turn back to my computer. I only have so much time before my baby wakes up. I’ve got to make use of the time.

I pull up the email I’m working on.

A few minutes later, I glance up. The whole sky has dimmed to an orange fog. The speck of bright light which must be the sun is pumpkin orange. I cannot see the other side of the valley. I feel heavy inside and my fight-or-flight system considers kicking in.

I catch a whiff of smoke. I typically don’t mind the smell as it reminds me of many happy times around a campfire, but when the smoke is everywhere… I frown, hoping the windows will keep most of it out.

Trying to focus, I drag my gaze back to my computer screen, but that unsettling orange glow keeps drawing my attention back to the window.

I pray for the firefighters who are working to contain the fire, then remind myself that there is nothing more I can do right now. The forest fire is miles away. I would have to drive more than 500 km (~300 miles) to get there.

Right now, I need to focus on my task.

I turn to my computer. “Okay, I’ve just got to do the next thing. What is the one thing I need to do next?”

I need to look up some numbers to include in my email.

Okay, I can do that.

Done.

My eyes wander to the window. I may as well be living on Mars. That’s how orange it looks just now.

I glance at the baby monitor on my desk. She’s still asleep. I’ve got to keep working.

“Do the next thing.”

What’s the next thing?

Find the email addresses I’m sending this email to.

Okay, I can do that.

It takes me a few moments to locate the list. I notice I need to add a few more addresses. I do that.

I glance out the window. Still orange. So weird. Nearly spooky. It makes me feel anxious.

But I’ve got to do the next thing.

What’s the next thing?

Write a subject for the email.

Okay, I can do that.

After a few attempts, I am happy with the subject line.

I reach for my phone and move to the window. I switch to my camera and take several pictures. I want to capture the feel of it, but the camera simply won’t do justice to the strength of the orange outside.

I give up. Back at my desk, I remind myself, my baby could wake up any time now. I’ve got to do the next thing.

Proofread my email.

Okay, I can do that.

I read it aloud, tweaking some words as I go. At last, I am satisfied and hit send.

Leaning back in my chair, I peer out the window. Is it just me, or is the orange beginning to fade?

Oh, look! I can see some of the buildings across the valley. Certainly not in full colour, but the dim outlines are back.

I crane my neck to locate the sun. It appears somewhat, almost, yellow-ish again.

A hint of the weight inside me lightens. Perhaps, just maybe, the blue sky will be visible again and the sun will shine its happy yellow.

It might take a few days, but I know the sky is blue and I will not give up hope that I will see that blue again.

Why share this story? Because it holds a valuable reminder for me.

Sometimes life gets smokey when something creates smoke which comes in and blocks our vision. That something may be close to home and personal, or perhaps far bigger but further away.

Much of the time, there is nothing we can do to stop that smoke until the source fire is dealt with.

At this moment, I can pray, but beyond that there is nothing I can do to stop those forest fires. I am helpless to stop the smoke from crowding into my life.

The smoke makes it hard to see and hard to breathe. I cannot see the happy blue sky and yellow sun. Everything looks grey and stinks.

Sometimes life feels like that.

What should I do then?

Pray.

Trust that God is still God.

And do the next thing.

Perhaps you have heard of Elisabeth Elliot? I learned the concept of “do the next thing” from listening to her teaching. (Here is a link to her teaching)

Elisabeth Elliot was a missionary. Not long into her time of ministry, her husband, Jim Elliot, was murdered by the very people they had been trying to reach in love.

Elisabeth was left in a foreign country with a young baby. Later she was able to befriend and minister to the very people who killed her husband.

Many years later, Elisabeth remarried only to watch her new husband get sick and die.

Elizabeth has written many books, my favourite being “Through Gates of Splendor”.

Elisabeth Elliot once wrote:

“‘Do the next thing.’ I don’t know any simpler formula for peace, for relief from stress and anxiety than that very practical, very down-to-earth word of wisdom. Do the next thing. That has gotten me through more agonies than anything else I could recommend.” ― Elisabeth Elliot, Suffering Is Never for Nothing

This sounds like a wise principle, but where do we see it in the Bible?

I’m glad you asked.

Joseph is one example of this mindset being lived out.

What did he do when his brothers sold him into slavery? Did he protest and fight against those around him? No. He did the next thing.

When he was thrown into prison unjustly, did he sit in the corner pouting? No. He did the next thing.

As a foreign slave turned prisoner turned second-in-command over the entire country, did Joseph become paralyzed by the grandness of it all? No. He did the next thing.

I like Psalm 37:34a: “Wait for the Lord and keep His way…” (NASB)

Joseph was waiting for God’s deliverance, but in the meantime, he lived according to God’s ways while he did one next thing after another.

The next time I find my life smothered in smoke, may I remain diligent to do the next thing while I wait for the smoke to clear.