With the onset of the harried holiday season, I am breaking from my Now Faith series one last week to share a timely litmus test I pray will liberate us from unnecessary obligations and distractions that tend to rob us of the very peace and joy the Savior we celebrate promises to us. Today’s blog is a bit longer than normal, but I pray it is worth your extra time.
I can’t help but think of the Veggie Tales story of a cute and cuddly fib that arrives from outer space and coaxes Junior Asparagus into telling a little white lie about how his dad’s favorite bowling plate ended up shattered. As Junior piles up falsehoods to cover up his initial story, the little fib from outer space grows into a 30-foot monster.
That’s what happened with Christmas in my home!
As a new wife and mom, broke and in debt, Christmas started out small and simple. Each year, in the excitement of the season, we’ve added traditions, decorations, and activities we enjoy together. Here and there I would remember a favorite childhood memory and threw that into the mix, as well. I did everything that is expected of a good American, Christian family, and in the process, Christmas became all about the doing and decorating and buying. Sure, it was celebrating the arrival of our Savior, and we included traditions that made us feel like our Christmas celebration qualified as Christian, but really, we were just squeezing Jesus into Christmas.
And we ended up with a monster too overwhelming to tame.
As the pressure of keeping up with all the expectations, including the ones I created and placed on myself, became too much to bear, I cried out to the Lord to help me with how to celebrate Christmas in a way that genuinely honors Jesus.
He began to show me it’s not about adding something more to make it more about Jesus, but it’s about Jesus being Christmas.
So I have a CHRISTMAS litmus test to help us simplify and survive. I pray it helps us all maintain our joy and our priorities so we’re not adding guilt to the pile of things we have to deal with this season. When evaluating traditions, commitments, new ideas, requests, and invitations, let’s ask ourselves, is it:
Will this honor and glorify Jesus, drawing me and others closer to Him?
In His presence is fullness of joy, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
Will this give me time to be in His presence, spending time at His right hand, reading His word, worshiping and praying, listening to praise music and good teaching, recounting His goodness and faithfulness to others, or will these things get squeezed out?
Is our motive eternal or temporal?
2 Corinthians 4:18 explains, “We do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
A lot of what I do is according to its Shauna or Wallace family value, what I or we’ll get out of it. So especially at this time, I want to shift my focus even more intentionally to keeping things kingdom centered.
Will I be able to get the rest I need to be the wife, mom, friend, sister, daughter, etc. I need to be during this time? Will I be able to rest inside – have peace – that I am not neglecting the important for the frilly?
Will I be a Mary or Martha?
Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (in Luke 10:38-42).
Will what we are considering place us at the foot of Jesus, doing the one thing needed, or will we be the ones distracted and having a pity party because we’re working ourselves to death?
Not everything good is God. If it’s not God, it’s not important for you to do. This is where we consider what is necessary and what is simply nice, because sometimes we need to say “No” to someone or something in order to say “Yes” to God.
And what is our motive? Proverbs 29:25 warns, “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”
Are we doing something to impress or receive recognition or admiration or to avoid disappointing someone rather than placing our trust in God and what He wants of us and our families, not just during this time, but always?
Is it going to add or take away from the existing stress of our lives and the season?
In Mathew 11:30, Jesus clearly establishes His yoke as easy and His burden as light. This isn’t to say what is required of us will always be easy, but when we’re about Jesus’ agenda, even when it requires hard work and sacrifice, obeying Him will not become a burden. It will actually lighten our load because it will require letting go of the worldly things that weigh us down.
Is it going to require time we don’t have for something we don’t really need to be doing?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said yes to something without looking at my calendar and then found myself obligated to a whole bunch of activities that when they arrive are not the best use of my time. I find myself resentful and exhausted! There are a lot of things that would be fun to do, but what is Christ-centered, heavenly, restful, important, and stress reducing, to say yes or no?
During the holidays and always, “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” (Ephesians 5:15-17).
Will it be memorable for what I get out of it or because of what it does for someone else or the kingdom?
According to Galatians 5:13, we “have been called to liberty,” nor in the sense that we have license to do whatever we want; rather, it is the freedom to do or omit things that have nothing to do with salvation. It is living as we should and not as we please, so “do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
As we consider our commitments in light of being memorable, let us consider whether we are using our liberty for the flesh or to serve one another.
How much will what I’m doing or considering cost? Can or should we afford it? I can’t imagine any circumstance when we would be honoring Jesus by going into debt for His birthday.
Romans 13:8 advises us to owe no man anything. “The borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7), and Matthew 6:24 insists we can’t serve two masters. If we are in debt, we are serving that master and can’t serve Christ.
Just as important, we need to ask ourselves if we should afford all that we want to do or buy. In my going overboard, I have known I wasn’t being a good steward, but I would justify my actions by using credit card points or telling myself it was okay because I wasn’t spending more than we had, but I knew my choices did not please God. Yet, out of a desire to impress my kids and create something materialistically and experientially memorable, I shopped way past peace.
There’s a good chance saying “No” and letting some things go is going to require sacrifice. It’s hard to be a nonconformist. If Christmas is really about Jesus, what more appropriate gift could we give Him than our total surrender and obedience? Following Jesus’ example, let us do nothing through selfish ambition or conceit, but instead esteem others, having the mind of Christ, humbling ourselves in obedience, even to the point of suffering (Philippians 2:3-8).
What more appropriate gift than that of our lives placed upon His altar? As Romans 12:1-2 implores, “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
Sometimes doing hard things requires sacrifice. Disappointing people who expect something different form us is hard. Giving up what we want for what we know God prefers is hard. Buying on a budget is hard. Saying no to good things that aren’t God things is hard. Saying yes to things that require a lot of us or require us to give up other things we really enjoy is hard. Letting go of things we really enjoy but know aren’t the best us of our time is hard.
Yet, our obedience is the greatest gift we can give Jesus. In light of what He’s done for us, our celebration of Him should have nothing to do with our own pleasure and everything to do with pleasing Him.
I want more and more of what I do to be a “Yes” to CHRISTMAS. The frivolous and just-for-fun are NOT wrong, but if we’re stressed and don’t have time for what’s most important, perhaps this CHRISTMAS test will help us do as Hebrews 12:1-2 encourages us and get rid of unnecessary burdens that weigh us down and run with endurance the race before us, not just this Christmas, but all year round, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Lord, sift through our every commitment and bring us to a point of laser living for You as we become more wholly Yours this holiday season.