God's Real Love: The Ultimate Christmas Gift – Shades of Grace | Natalie Nichols- Shades of Grace | Natalie Nichols

God’s Real Love: The Ultimate Christmas Gift

Merry Christmas from Shades of Grace! May you have a blessed holiday season filled with God’s gift of real Love…

“This is real love—not that we loved God,
but that he loved us and sent his Son
as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”
1 John 4:10, NLT

If you’re like me, you enjoy watching romantic Christmas movies this time of year.  The couple who falls in love may seem to represent real love, but love between a man and a woman is still flawed — because as human beings, we’re imperfect. We easily wound the object of our love through selfishness, jealousy, pride, impatience, magnifying faults, keeping records of wrongs, being inconsiderate, rude, hurtful, and careless.

God’s love, on the other hand, is perfect. It’s never selfish, greedy, or impatient. God is incapable of hurting the object of His love (us).

God Loves You

Jesus is God’s demonstration of His love for upi:

 “God demonstrates his own love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8, NIV

God’s real love for you means that He sent his Son to pay the price for your sins. This was no small, insignificant, inconsequential act.

God is perfect and without sin. But human beings have a sin nature—we’ve chosen to rebel against God and go our own way. The result is death and separation from God.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). (See also Romans 5:12 and 3:23.)

God is righteous and must ultimately judge sin. He’s going to judge the world by the standard of the Ten Commandments—a standard of complete perfection from the day we were born till the day we die. The only One who can meet that standard is Jesus Christ. God chose to provide His son Jesus as the “sacrifice” for our sins. Through His death, Jesus took the punishment for our sin and bridged the gap between God and people.

  • “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
  • “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus’ sacrifice began long before the suffering of the cross. It began when He willfully turned away from ecstasy in Heaven in order to take on flesh. He walked away from ultimate happiness that we might share in His holiness. He sacrificed more than we can imagine … all because of His love for us.

“Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:13, ESV

Oh that God would give us the grace to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Ephesians 3:18).

The Demonstration of His Love: He Gave Himself

The following scriptures remind us of the gift of Himself that Jesus gave so that we might know real love — and that we might receive eternal life:

Matthew 1:21

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

John 1:14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 3:16

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.

Galatians 4:4-5

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

John 17:3

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

1 Timothy 1:15, 17

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. … 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 2:6-10

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

God’s Love for Trying Times

As much as we’d love to be transported to the idealistic scenes of a Hallmark movie, life is not ideal. There are moments in which all our desires are temporarily met, but they’re the fleeting exception, not the rule.

Elizabeth Elliot defined suffering as “having what you don’t want and wanting what you don’t have.” Defined like this, we’re all suffering in some way.

What do you have that you don’t want? Financial hardship? A job you dread going to every day? An illness?

What do you want that you don’t have? A perfect relationship with your spouse? Teenage children who aren’t rebellious? A job promotion?

God Cares About Your Suffering

Suffering is by nature isolating. No one can enter into our unique combination of trials and understand what we’re going through. Other people can try to empathize, but no one can completely understand. No other human being, that is. God, on the other hand, completely understands what we’re experiencing—our unique challenges… our discouragement … our hopelessness… our despair.

God cares about every need, desire, and cry of your heart. He knows and cares about the anguish of your soul—because He loves you.

“I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul” (Psalm 31:7, NLT)

Not only does God care, but He’s watching over every second of your life. Not a detail is beyond His sovereign control and loving hand.

You and I may not be able to see it, but He’s working on our behalf … constantly! He’s busying Himself with our every step.

“The steps of a [good] man are directed and established by the Lord when He delights in his way [and He busies Himself with his every step]” (Psalm 37:23, AMPC, emphasis added).

The NLT says, “…He delights in every detail of their lives.” God loves you and is busying Himself with every detail of your life!

God Offers Supernatural Power in Your Suffering

“This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him” (1 John 4:9, CEB).

Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t only mean forgiveness of sins and life in heaven for eternity. It means experiencing the life of Christ now.

As sinners, we are spiritually “dead,” according to scripture. When we receive spiritual life through faith in Christ, the Bible compares it to a rebirth or being born again. Through this rebirth, we become children of God. He imparts eternal life to us. (John 1:12-13; 3:3-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1–4, 18).

This rebirth means that Christ lives in us (see Galatians 4: 6 and 2 Corinthians 1:22). Consequently, we dwell on two plains: a temporal, earthly plain—in our ‘natural’ man—and a spiritual, eternal plain through the Spirit of Christ.

This benefit of God’s love is almost unfathomable. Jesus Christ—the One who spoke the world into being, who sustains all things by His powerful word (John 1:1; Psalm 33:6,9; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3)—dwells in us weak, fallen, sinful human beings. His unlimited power and unyielding strength are available to us.

When we choose to take refuge in God’s living, active word in our suffering and surrender our will to Him—when we trust Him and His sovereign plan—we discover that Jesus is not only living in us, He’s living for us.

Only in Christ and the experience of His life living for us can we find true happiness. Suffering should escort us to the foot of the cross where we exchange our life for His resurrection power. When we suffer, we become one with Christ in His sufferings. He takes on our flesh and we take on His holiness (see Hebrews 12:5-11). This is the great exchange! We die so that He might live through us.

Suffering impairs our ability to live autonomously of God—to survive by the abilities of our natural man. Suffering pushes us to the end of ourselves … to the place where the life of Christ and God’s Word become indispensable necessities. This is where we discover the unlimited strength, endurance, hope, peace, joy, and contentment available to us — treasure we would not have discovered apart from our suffering.

My Suffering: Long Covid

If you follow me on X (formerly Twitter) or Facebook, you know I’ve been battling Long Covid for three years. I’m now beginning my fourth year of a difficult, restrictive illness. It began a few weeks after acute Covid infection with constant, heavy panting and shortness of breath.

Then six weeks later, brain inflammation set in—inflammation exactly like my testimony videos thirty years ago in which I screamed and wailed and hit my head nonstop. After several months, treatment reduced the inflammation to a more muted level, so that most of the time, people around me can’t tell, but it’s always simmering underneath. I feel electrocuted in my brain. I’m angry and short-tempered (medically it’s called “Poor Frustration Tolerance.”) Every sound is torture—a page being turned, a water drop, footsteps on the floor. Tiny sounds no one notices feel like someone has extracted every nerve of my body and is scraping them with a knife. It’s always present to some degree. Some days are better. But on other days, like today, the sensation is severe.

A Bad Day

As I write, today is one of the bad days. It’s evening on Christmas Eve, and I’ve not been able to be around people yet today. Sound and movement are unbearable. I’m in my room in the quiet and the dark, and yet the sensation of the electrocution and torment of the sound of the keyboard as I type are excruciating. (I spent my birthday similarly two weeks ago — in bed, in the quiet and the dark, with no food or people or celebration.)

In three years of Long Covid, I’ve eaten one actual meal — on New Year’s Day of 2023. Except for that rare occasion, I’ve only been able to eat a few bites of a single, unseasoned food — no sauces or sides — two to three times a day. My food choices were limited to four or five foods that caused the least reaction. If I combined foods or ate foods other than the few tolerable ones, I was unable to breathe for hours afterward (due to asthma and other Long Covid lung issues.) That was fine; I was at least obtaining a little nutrition.

But I spent the spring and summer helping my mother through a surgery. It was physically demanding with little sleep. (I’d met similar physical challenges before—far worse, more demanding, and lengthy challenges, dozens of times before, helping my parents through hospitalizations and post-acute care. Advocating for the elderly in the throws of the pandemic, I posted about some of it on social media in 2020. But I didn’t have Long Covid during those caregiving demands. Just Lyme Disease. Lyme reactivated by Covid plus Long Covid proved to be too much.)

I got my mother through; she’s doing well. But I emerged with Long Covid in overdrive. Progress I had worked for two and a half years to obtain was instantly gone.

Unable To Eat Anything and Still Breathe

I emerged in late September unable to eat anything and still breathe. Even one sip of a hypoallergenic elemental diet shake of vitamins and amino acids (so tolerable it’s used by cancer patients) took my breath away for hours. One tiny bite of food caused me to suffocate and pant for twenty-four hours. (I wrote about it in this Facebook post.)

The past few months have been challenging, to say the least. I spent two and half months on my back in bed, perfectly still, because that was the only position in which I could breathe. My brain inflammation which had finally become manageable after two and a half years also went into overdrive as a result of the demands of caregiving.

It would take pages to list the host of symptoms I’m battling or the dozens of medications and nutraceuticals I’m taking to combat them.

Long Covid has presented enormous financial challenges as well, in addition to the long list of physical challenges.

I’m not the only one experiencing this, though. Millions of people are battling disabling illness from Long Covid. For millions of people, Christmas … birthdays … holidays … vacations … hobbies … work, … parenting … have not been normal in any sense after acquiring Long Covid.

Lost Years to Grieve

Compounding the suffering is the loss of the past eleven years to caregiving. I made significant career and ministry sacrifices to prioritize my parents, as many women do.

I chose to do that because I love my parents and wanted to repay them for all they sacrificed to take care of me when I was sick in my twenties — and because I trusted God to take care of the fallout (fallout reverberating for decades affecting health, income, opportunities, and retirement.)

As much as I love my parents, I only had a finite amount to give. Before my father passed away three years ago, I’d exhausted my physical and mental supply. I wasn’t the same person I had been when I assumed the caregiving role. I was depleted beyond recognition. Then caregiving demands multiplied as both of my parents got Covid… were in the ICU … then both were out of the hospital, deathly ill, in need of care…in two separate locations. Then I got Long Covid in the middle of months of nursing my mother back to health. That, plus having Long Covid that has been disabling for the past three years, has taken even the what fumes I had left.

Everywhere I turn throughout the day, there’s a new loss to grieve. I lost the first fourteen years of my adult life to a disabling, confining illness, and the last eleven caring for my parents. I’m fifty-three, and I feel I’ve lost my entire adult life except for seven brief years. I’ve dealt with the loss of the first quarter of my life. But the past eleven cause near constant mourning, because daily there seems to be a new price to pay, a new consequence to endure — Long Covid being one of them. (I got Covid as a result of caregiving.) I didn’t just lose time, I lost identity.

My first fourteen years of disabling illness took away the person I had been prior. I died a death of sorts. I emerged an entirely different, unrecognizable person. The same has happened again. It’s an odd experience trying to figure out who I am this time, after this death of sorts.

Your Suffering This Christmas

Your pain and heartache this holiday season may not be caused by illness. Your losses may be things other than lost time and identity.

  • You may have lost all your possessions in a natural disaster…
  • Your family may not get along. They may not be willing to talk to each other let alone be present in the same room with each other …
  • You may be in the midst of bankruptcy and losing the business that was your lifelong dream…
  • You may have just buried the love of your life
  • Your rebellious teenager may be keeping you consumed with worry…
  • Your spouse may have left you, tearing your family apart
  • It may seem like your entire life has been in a hurricane — like it’s a non-functioning disarray of broken pieces, a sad reminder of what used to be and what could have been “if only…”

The love of God reaches even to this unprecedented low in which you find yourself right now.

God’s Love: Exactly What You Need Right Now

Refuge in His Wings

His love will give you refuge:

“God, Your faithful love is so valuable that people take refuge in the shadow of Your wings” (Psalm 36:7, HCSB).

Transported to Heavenly Places

I mentioned earlier that as Christians, we dwell on two plains: a temporal, earthly plain—in our ‘natural’ man—and a spiritual, eternal plain through the Spirit of Christ.

Because of God’s love and grace, your spiritual man has been seated with Christ in heavenly places. You can set your mind on things above, not on these disappointing, earthly circumstances.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-9, ESV).

Right where you are, you can escape your suffering

By looking up and being alert to what’s going on around Christ. By seeing what’s going on in heavenly places. By letting God give you His end-of-time perspective, which reveals your real life in Christ (hint: it’s not the here and now). By realizing that the suffering of this temporary journey will not only fade into the distance in heaven but that it’s currently accruing for you eternal rewards:

  • “Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.3-4 Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life—even though invisible to spectators—is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ” (Colossians 3:1-4, MSG)
  • “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later (Romans 8:18, NLT).
  • “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! (2 Corinthians 4:17, NLT)

The Results of Your Suffering Will Not Disappoint You

Because God’s real love has been poured into your heart, you can be assured that the results of your suffering will not disappoint you. Your suffering is producing endurance, which leads to proven character, which produces hope — and this hope in Christ will not disappoint you!

3 And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4 endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. 5 This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, HCSB).

Or the Message paraphrase says:

We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (MESSAGE)

You Are More Than a Conqueror Through Christ

Therefore, in the middle of your suffering — not just when your suffering has improved or has been removed — you are more than a conqueror through Christ.

“Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:34-39, ESV)

May the riches of God’s love be your ultimate gift this Christmas. May His love — and all the strength, hope, and encouragement it affords — fill your heart and your home this Christmas season and throughout the new year!

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.
With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”
Jeremiah 31:3, NLT







Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Shades of Grace will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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