A Sacrifice of Celebration

Editor’s note: If you’ve been following the blog this week, you know that ROH international ministries have been on our mind, along with our goal to raise $150,000 toward international projects this #GivingTuesday. Thank you for praying—and giving generously—with us! Because of your support, more than $137,000 was given! Our hearts are overflowing with gratitude. 

It was a mild October Saturday, and I was out running errands as I often do on weekends. But rather than simply focusing on getting from point A to point B, I found myself driving a bit slower through the neighborhoods near our home. Fiery maples and multi-colored ash trees lined the road. Porches were adorned with potted mums and decorative pumpkins. The beauty of it all made me catch my breath as I tried to take it all in. Although this sight comes around every year, the experience of delight felt like a precious gift as I reflected on this time last year. 

The 2021 holiday season found me with songs of sorrow and pain filling my heart. Chronic health difficulties, relational fractures, and continually sick children left me reeling, with no appetite for the festivities of Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve often thought of autumn as the prelude to the Christmas season; two movements of a beautiful sonata of celebration that I’ve delighted in for as long as I can remember. But the pumpkin-picking, twinkly lights, and spicy scents failed to bring that familiar thrill, drowned out by the waves of grief and illness in my mind and body. All felt bleak. 

Yet, I sensed the Lord’s prompting: even so, celebrate.

How, Lord? How do I celebrate in the midst of these overwhelming tears?” 

True to His character, our faithful, gracious King used that painful season to teach me in a deeper way what it truly means to remember and rejoice in what He has done for us. 

Sacrificial Praise 

The ability to rejoice in the midst of suffering is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian life. And the more we grow in our understanding of what Christ has done for us, we come to realize that we don’t rejoice despite our suffering, but rather our suffering becomes a poignant prompt to turn our eyes upon our Savior. 

Psalm 31:7 says, 

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul. (ESV, emphasis mine).

In Hebrews 13:12–14 we’re reminded of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. Then verse 15 says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name”(ESV).

Indeed, sometimes the praise we bring really is a sacrifice offered from a hurting, heavy heart. The fruit of lips that acknowledge Jesus truly can be painful due to the reactions we receive from others. We live in a world full of the hardship caused by sin, and we feel its effects in our own bodies. But in these moments our worship signifies a reality that goes beyond our suffering, displaying a hope that is impossible to come by in any other way. This hope is a testimony to those watching and to our own souls as we acknowledge that God’s grace is stunningly sufficient in our weakness. 

Throughout the Old Testament we can see that God ordained times of celebration (feasts) in order to signify truths yet to come (Ex. 34). We know there will be celebration in the new heaven and new earth one day (Rev. 19), so we can conclude that setting aside specific times to celebrate what Christ has accomplished on our behalf is appropriate as we await His return. But time and circumstance don’t take into account these celebrations. Sometimes we enter holidays in the midst of grief and pain. Just like sacrifices of praise, we’ll need to offer sacrifices of celebration. This might practically look different than in seasons of earthly abundance and joy, and that’s okay. But this discipline of the soul, to celebrate in the midst of sorrow, might just be the very thing God uses to strengthen us and bolster our faith.

Three Steps to Sacrificial Celebration

When you find yourself in a season of sorrow, how can you go about offering this kind of sacrificial celebration for God’s glory? 

1. Preach to Yourself 

In seasons of difficulty I often think of David’s words in Psalm 43:5:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (ESV)

David had very legitimate reasons to be downcast and discouraged. Yet he chose to remind himself of God’s never-failing goodness. He ministered to his own heart with truth. Did that change the situation or take away his suffering? No. But it realigned his heart to dwell on the greater, eternal realities of God’s love and goodness that never fail even when walking through trials. 

We should be intentional to dwell on truth in this way during seasons of celebration. I’ve loved going through Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Advent devotionals, both on my own and with my family. They aid me in turning my eyes back to Him and why we are celebrating at all. And even though the glow of Christmas lights might fail to delight me, Jesus never will. His love and mercy displayed in coming to this earth will never dim in brilliance.

2. Focus on Others 

One of the greatest aids to me in the midst of my sorrow was focusing on helping my family celebrate the joy of the holiday season. These five precious people God entrusted to me gave me motivation beyond my own feelings. I don’t think more than one batch of cookies made it into the oven, and there certainly weren’t a lot of elaborate outings. But taking the time to prepare simple yet purposeful ways of commemorating the coming of Jesus ministered to me just as much (if not more so) as it did to my kids. 

Last year we used Jesse Tree Ornaments to walk through the significance of Christ’s coming, and we set up a small tree in our dining room to hang them on. Every evening after dinner we’d gather as a family, the children excitedly taking turns hanging the ornaments after we’d read the devotional for that day. As my husband and I taught them, I was being reminded of these truths that undergird my life. 

For you it might be bringing homemade goodies to a lonely neighbor. It might mean helping a single mom in your church buy gifts for her children, or sitting quietly with a grieving friend. When we intentionally turn our eyes off of our own trials for the sake of loving others in Jesus’ name, I’ve found He ministers to our own hearts with that very same love. 

3. Fill Your Home with Worship 

I’m an avid aficionado of Christmas music. However, last year it gained deeper significance to me when I was desperate to fill our home with joy. And I found that the only Christmas music that truly did that were the songs filled with truths about who Christ is and what He’s done. Listening to these gave me the space to praise, to weep, and to proclaim what I didn’t have words for. I’d often sit down at the piano and play them with my own hands as a statement to my soul that I live for a greater spiritual reality beyond my present circumstances. I will forever remember those songs as I remember how the Lord used them to renew my eternal vision in the midst of dark days.

Consider putting together a Christmas worship playlist filled with songs that will specifically draw your heart to Him in worship and adoration. Put it on when sorrow feels like it’s going to overtake you. Allow the truths to fill your heart and mind. 

As I prepare my heart for this Advent season, I marvel at how God used the pain I was experiencing last year to teach me what it truly means to celebrate Christ and what He’s done for us. The joy is intensified, and the gratitude runs deep. I’m in no way eager for another trial, but I know that when it comes He will be just as faithful to use it to sharpen my gaze on the hope we have in Him and the glory that awaits us when He returns. 

As it says in Revelation 21:4,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (ESV)

By God’s grace, we have the ability to celebrate even when our eyes are filled with tears. Not because of the hope of fleeting relief here and now, but because of the expectation of perfect, everlasting joy in the presence of our Savior. That, my friend, is reason to rejoice today and forever.

You can order a copy of one of the devotionals that Heather mentioned in this post in the Revive Our Hearts store! In fact, it’s a part of our Celebrate the Season Sale, now through December 12. Shop today to save on trustworthy resources for your whole family. 

About the Author

Heather Cofer

Heather Cofer

Heather Cofer is a wife and mother of six living in northern Colorado with a passion for encouraging women to love Jesus. She is the author of Expectant: Cultivating a Vision for Christ-Centered Pregnancy, and has also written for Set … read more …

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