Alongsider Briefings: Reflections of a Life Lived with God

Don’t miss the WOW!


It’s December and Christmas is almost here. I’m a huge Christmas fan. I love how neighborhoods and shopping malls explode in color. I walk through the shops savoring the decorations and soaking in the holiday music. For me, there’s a silent “wow” about the whole season.

I know some downplay the pomp of Christmas. They’re concerned that we’ve bought into the values of our consumer culture. I say, “Bah! Humbug!” Let’s enjoy the wild frenzy of lights and decorations. Let’s be generous about giving gifts. Let’s allow the dazzling sights and sounds point us to a Lord who loves beauty and generosity. Let’s love the WOW of Christmas.

Jesus’s life possessed the WOW factor. He left people in a state of wonder, amazement, and even danger. Life wasn’t safe around Him. Consider these examples from Mark’s Gospel.

Mark 1:22 “and they were completely astonished . . .”
Mark 1: 27 “and they were so amazed and almost terrified . . .”
Mark 2:12 “so that they were all amazed and recognized and praised and thanked God.”
Mark 5:42 “And they were utterly astonished and overcome with amazement . . .”

The Gospel birth narratives of Jesus are soaked with the WOW factor. We label Mary’s prayer in Luke 2 the “Magnificat” from the word “magnificence.” An army of celebratory angels appeared to the shepherds after they visited the Christ child. Magi came to wonder and worship this newborn king. Unfortunately, their visit triggered the revenge of an insecure ruler on innocent people. Wonder and danger followed Jesus, even at his birth.

It’s easy to lose the WOW about Jesus. Sometimes he can become another “drive-by” experience for me. You and I have well-traveled routes to work, friends, or favorite stores. We’ve driven these streets so often that we stop looking at the scenery. Like this daily drive, Jesus becomes so familiar that I stop looking.

When I stop looking I need a jump-start to my senses. Author Annie Dillard put it this way, “Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a package tour of the Absolute? It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares: they should lash us to our pews.” Imagine walking into that worship service!

How do we re-capture the WOW? Mary provides an example. She watched royal dignitaries and common shepherds parade before the manger giving homage to her son. What did she do? Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Jan Johnson writes that this “treasuring” describes how you “store memories in a scrapbook to pore over for years to come.” Mary looked for, remembered, and reflected on the WOW moments of God’s presence.

Unlike Mary’s extraordinary experience, our lives are largely a mosaic of little things — routine events, everyday duties, and ordinary conversations — what author Eugene Peterson calls the “splendor of the ordinary.”

In the splendor of this ordinary hides the presence and wonder of God. But we need to look for it. “Wonder begins with giving rapt attention to what is immediately in front of us,” writes Esther DeWaal. “People often think that the basic command of religion is, ‘Do this!’ or ‘Don’t do that!’ It isn’t. It’s look and wonder!”

An easy step to focus on the WOW is to record in a journal those moments of God’s spotted glory. We can savor His presence in a conversation, the taste of a rich meal, the beauty of a lighted home, or the sound of a familiar carol. Stop and record in a sentence or two how you were you reminded of Him in the ordinary routines of life. What did you see about His goodness, grace, love, or holiness?

All of these small events — life lived in the “splendor of the ordinary” — should cause us to pause and say WOW, God is present at this moment.

When I embrace the Bible’s view of life, I look eagerly for God’s presence rather than focusing obsessively on self. Richard Foster’s observation rings true, “We see a sunset and are drawn into analysis rather than doxology. We ignore the smell of deity.” The smell of deity is all around me if I take time to look and sniff. WOW is found in the little things of life, spotting God’s beauty poking through daily routines.

John Calvin wrote that every human being is “formed to be a spectator of the created world and given eyes that he might be led to its author . . . first [to] cast our eyes upon the very beautiful fabric of the world in which [God] wishes to be seen by us. . . . As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at His infinite good, wisdom, and power.”

I want my mind to be ravished with wonder at God’s infinite goodness this Christmas. I want to catch the scent of Deity in the evergreens. I want to spot His beauty in the lights and gifts. I want to store up treasures of His presence in my heart’s scrapbook. I don’t want to miss the WOW of Christmas.

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