Several years ago, my family and I were having a very difficult time on the way to the Feast. After several hours in the car, the kids were agitated with each other—which, in turn, caused my wife and me to become agitated with them, and eventually with each other. By the time we arrived at the Feast site, we were all “bent out of shape.”
As we unpacked the car, we bickered and were short with one another. We finally made it to the rooms, and they were smaller than we expected. It was less than ideal for the money we were spending.
As we explored our accommodations, my wife and I went out on a bedroom balcony to see the view. Within a couple of minutes, one of the kids closed and accidentally locked the balcony door, and none of them were able to get it back open! Now we were stuck outside on the balcony with no way to get back in!
We yelled through the glass door to tell the kids to try to open the door to their balcony, which was right beside ours. They finally got theirs open. So, several floors up, I carefully made the precarious climb from our balcony to the kids' balcony, so I could open our door and let my wife back in.
This didn't help our already stressful situation. By now it was the worst beginning to a Feast we had ever experienced as a family—and the Feast had not even begun! We started out wanting to have a wonderful spiritual Feast, but, little by little, we allowed it to descend into chaos. We had allowed the circumstances to determine our attitudes, and we had allowed wrong attitudes to dominate our interactions.
We left the house with every intention of having a great Feast. God says, "You shall observe the Feast of Tabernacles seven days… and you shall rejoice in your feast…" (Deuteronomy 16:13–14). The only way to properly keep the Feast is to "rejoice"! But up to this point, we had utterly failed.
After our regrettable beginning, we realized we needed to turn things around. We realized we needed to pray, and repent, and ask God for His help and strength. I don't remember whether it was before or after the Opening Service, but we all got down on our knees together to ask for forgiveness for sinning in our wrong attitudes, and for God to help us "rejoice" the way He intends us to!
For the rest of that Feast, and every Feast since, we made a focused effort to put into action three main keys we have heard over and over again, every year at the Feast—three keys to a profitable, wonderful, and joyous Feast of Tabernacles!
"Shut It Down"
The first key we had learned years earlier from a sermonette given at a previous Feast of Tabernacles. The title of the sermonette was, "Shut it Down!" The speaker's main point was to encourage everyone to get to bed early during the Feast in order to have quality time with God in the morning, and to be alert during the messages the next day. He actually had everyone in the audience shout "Shut it Down!" on his cue. It was a helpful message and has stuck in our minds ever since.
At the Feast, it is so very easy to stay up too late! We want to talk with those we haven't seen in a long time, or new friends we have just met. But going to bed at a good time can help us keep the focus where it needs to be:
• It gives time to talk about the day as a family before rushing off to bed.
• It gives time for properly closing the evening out with prayer.
• It is easier to get up in the morning for Bible study and prayer.
• We will be more alert during the messages, helping us gain even more from them.
• Getting our sleep helps our attitudes overall.
Paul's dire warning in Ephesians should be a clear and important lesson about managing our rest during the Feast: "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:15–18). Getting to bed at a responsible time can also help keep us out of the sort of trouble that seems to seek people out during late hours, which helps us grow in the Spirit of God. It helps us to make the most of the time we are awake! Being well-rested provides a foundation to rejoice, and it is certainly one of the keys to a wonderful Feast.
Pray, Review, and Meditate in the Morning
The second point we have heard so many times, and we made a concerted effort to implement it that particular year: Make time in the morning for personal prayer, Bible study, and meditation. Making sure the day is started with prayer and Bible study is critical to gaining the most we can from God's Feast of Tabernacles!
One thing that many have found helpful over the years is to review their notes from the previous day's messages. (For instance, read Dr. Scott Winnail's article "Find Joy in the Morning this Feast!" in the September-October 2017 Living Church News). Reading your notes and the Bible scriptures used during the message helps paint an even clearer picture of what God was conveying through the speaker. By taking the time to think about the message in the context of the Kingdom of God, many find that they "connect the dots" in a way that they would not have otherwise.
Jesus' example was to rise early and pray before the day began: "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed" (Mark 1:35). This is a key to our spiritual life. How much more should we consider doing this at the Feast?
Prayer and Bible study (reviewing notes) each morning during the Feast not only starts the day right, it can deepen our understanding and widen our vision of the Kingdom of God and our purpose in life! It is one great key to having a joyous and meaningful Feast.
Intentionally Serve Others
Serving others is something we hear about every Feast. It is definitely a key to truly rejoicing. We are there to picture the coming Kingdom of God, a time when we will be serving this world in a special way. Serving others gets our mind off ourselves and onto the needs of others. It helps us grow, it helps us have a good Feast, and it allows us to help others have a good Feast!
We can all serve in different ways. Those of us with families must make sure we don't neglect them while we seek to serve others. We must make sure to serve our families and help them have a good Feast (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8), but there is still much for everyone to do. Maybe we can serve by taking a widow out and giving her a special time. Maybe we can serve by finding those who are struggling and helping them have an encouraging Feast. Maybe we can serve in the choir, or greeting, or ushering, first aid, the business office, or the information table. Maybe we can serve by actively choosing to be uplifting in our conversations with others. We can even serve by participating in the organized activities at the Feast site alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. These activities are organized for our enjoyment as well as to bring us together as a Church family.
This embodies the spirit of Christ's words in the gospel of Matthew, when He said that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve" (Matthew 20:28). We find His disciples following in His footsteps, remembering that He told them, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). Jesus Christ lived the perfect example of this, and the Feast is a wonderful opportunity for His followers today to put this concept into action. Regardless of how we do so, serving others ensures we are not depending on outside circumstances to determine whether or not we have a joyful Feast. Rather, we are taking action and helping others to have a joyful Feast, and—by doing this—we can't help but have a beautiful and jubilant Feast, ourselves!
Worth the Effort
These keys require purposeful effort but are well worth it. Getting enough sleep at a responsible time, praying in the morning and meditating each day on what we've learned and on God's word, and serving others—these efforts make all the difference as to how great our Feast will be. Doing these things can help us obey the command God gives to rejoice at the Feast.
Those many years ago, our family started that particular Feast on the wrong foot. But, with God's help, we made a concerted effort to have the joyous Feast God commands—the one we had intended at the beginning. That Feast, as a family, we learned the importance of these three keys. We had heard them so many times throughout the years, but it was only when we purposefully and intentionally put them into action that we did not simply have a great Feast—we actually turned one of our most challenging experiences as a family into one of the best Feasts we ever had!