Just One Thing

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Throughout this season of Advent our focus is “The Story of Christmas in 20 Words.”  On each of the 20 weekday mornings ending on Christmas Eve, we’ll spotlight a single word from the Gospel accounts that helps us ponder more deeply the birth of Jesus.

20.  Believe

If the notion that God became a human being is more than just an ancient yarn, what are we supposed to do with it?

What response is God seeking? 

John addresses that question simply and directly in the opening verses of his Gospel.  Plenty of people may dismiss Jesus out of hand, “yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). 

What does it mean to believe?

If you give yourself to Christ – not just by paying a bit more attention to him this weekend because it happens to be Christmas, but by choosing to pursue him with everything you are and everything you’ve got – your identity changes.  You become a member of God’s own family.  Believing is not about getting all the right answers on the final exam of Theology 101.  It’s about entrusting yourself to him right here and right now, as best you can.


Mere believing, however, is currently under assault by a number of well-meaning preachers and teachers. 

The 21st century has seen a surge of books that strongly imply that presenting ourselves to Jesus as best we can cannot possibly be enough.  We need to strengthen the verb “believe” with another word, a word that shows just how serious we really are. 

If you’re having a momentary flashback to eighth grade English, you’ll recall that a word that modifies a verb is called an “adverb.”  We’re living in a time when the Bible’s teaching that believing is the one essential thing God asks of us is suffering what we might call “death by adverbs.”

According to some, we can’t really know God just by entrusting ourselves to him.  We must entrust ourselves sincerely, or truly, or faithfully, or genuinely, or fundamentally, or boldly, or whole-heartedly, or radically, or charismatically, or unreservedly, or some other kind of word that ends in “-ly.”

The problem with this earnest teaching is that you can’t find it in the Bible.  The verb “believe” never appears with such adverbs anywhere in Scripture.  As John puts it with unadorned simplicity in the text above, “to those who believed in his name…”

When it comes to being in relationship with him, God makes it easy. We are the ones who make it hard.

Don’t worry if your feelings are all over the place, and if you really don’t know what you’re doing.  When it comes to surrendering to God, we rarely if ever know precisely what we’re doing.  Jesus hears the cry of every heart, even if our theology, motives, and character are off the mark.  As the late Brennan Manning used to say, “We can’t wait to come to God until we are what we ought to be, for in this world we shall never be what we ought to be.”

That means today – this Christmas Eve – is the right moment to entrust yourself once again to the Lord.   

We can’t afford to play the When / Then Game:

When things settle down, then I’ll figure out what it means to believe.  When my spouse becomes more supportive, then I’ll work on being a great partner.  When I get on a better footing financially, then I’ll become a generous person.  When the holidays are finally over, then I’ll find time for God. 

Amazing things happen when we finally decide that “then” has become “now.”

You already have everything you need.

Just believe.