Last week I was in the Live Nativity again at First Baptist Church. I don’t know when I first started doing this, but I’ve been participating on-and-off for several years. I think they keep asking me back because I have a real beard. Through the years I have been a shepherd, a wise man, and even Joseph. This year, I was a shepherd.

It is the most simple of all drama assignments. We dress in costume, submit to stage makeup so we’ll look Middle Eastern, go outside in the cold and stand for an hour without moving or speaking. I think I am actually too old to be a convincing third-world shepherd; I expect they were all teenagers or younger. However, after living outside all day all year, maybe even teenagers looked 50-years-old.

So the best news about being a shepherd was that I didn’t have to be a wise man. The wise men have to kneel, and I would never have made it even twenty minutes kneeling. And if I miraculously survived kneeling, I wouldn’t be able to stand and walk back into the church afterward. As a shepherd all I had to was stand behind Mary, off her left shoulder, lean against my staff, and gaze at the baby Jesus. My knees handled that assignment just fine.

It was cold outside, but I was very comfortable. Underneath my costume I wore black jeans and a black long-sleeved T-shirt. (A friend saw me walking into church beforehand, noticed my all-black outfit, and said, “Merry Christmas.”) I remember doing this in previous years when piercing cold was the dominate factor of the night. One year was so cold we stayed outside only 30 minute at a time. But this year was almost balmy.

So we posed nearly motionless for an hour; the hardest part of the evening was deciding what to think about for so long. I thought about my own experience as a new father when Byron and Katie were born, and it occurred to me that if I had been Joseph I would have been staring at Mary rather than Jesus. I remember being so proud of our new babies, but even more than that, I was proud of Cyndi. She was wonderful as a brand-new mother, and I just wanted to hold her close and make her feel safe and guarded and well-loved. I’ll bet Joseph felt the same way about Mary.

To keep my mind entertained, I reviewed all the Bible verses I could remember, several times, only to discover we still had thirty minutes left. So, I stood staring at baby Jesus and prayed my way through my life and my family. I’ve never thought of myself as a great prayer warrior, but I’ve learned to cherish private prayer moments. I tend to start by praying for specific needs in my life and in the life of friends, but the time is most meaningful when I systematically walk through my life and discuss all my thoughts and concerns with God.

This year my strongest and longest prayers were about writing and selling books. I reminded God of my passions and dreams, and then asked him to speak to my heart and align it with his. I am sometimes embarrassed that my prayers are nothing more than pitching my best-case scenario at God and hoping he buys into it. I want to do better.

“Lord, I have all these dreams of writing and publishing books and being read by people all around the world, and I have dreams of creating trusts funds and scholarships and giving money away … I have lots of dreams, but my most honest prayer is this, I want to honor you with my life, and I don’t know how to do that on my own. You have to teach me.”

It was my genuine prayer, the prayer of my life. I think Joseph’s prayer was similar. He didn’t have many answers for his life, or special insights into the future of his young family. He just followed God, trying to protect the gifts God had given Him (Mary and baby Jesus), and trusting God for the future.

The Live Nativity is an unselfish gift from First Baptist Church to our community; its one more point of contact aimed at a city full of searching people, one more method of telling the grand story of Jesus. It’s also a good reason to dress like a shepherd and stand in the cold once a year. I need the time with God.


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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