On Thursday I saw a friend who had just returned from a trip to Burma. He shared about the conditions in a town he had visited along the Burma-Thailand border and how—during a lay-over in South Korea on the return trip—he was struck by news coverage there of “Black Friday in America.” The contrast between poverty and wealth was huge, but the stronger affront was our materialism—not only do we have great abundance, we constantly want more. I say “we” because Christians in America most often live the American Way, which is not the Jesus Way. I wonder, for me and you, as we journey from Thanksgiving to Christmas, will we simply repeat the words “Let every heart prepare Him room,” or will we actually make room for Him?
For me, these thoughts follow on the heels of some conviction by Papa concerning gratefulness and my expression of thanks. As Thanksgiving approached I knew my own “level of gratitude” was . . . low. The Spirit used this to reveal how, for me, “thankfulness” too often relates to the tangible. Even my response to the musical encouragement, “Count your blessings. Name them one by one” moves me toward a listing of family, friends, ministry opportunities, and material comforts. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be thankful for all God provides, but I do think we need to acknowledge that the American Way has tainted even our theology. Can you imagine trying to explain your view of “blessings from God” to a brother in Ethiopia who is rejoicing in the love of Jesus, even though he will die of starvation later today? Thus, I ask—is our thankfulness and gratitude based in Jesus or in some American dream?
Part of how Jesus was convicting me about these issues was through a simple yet painful thought (which He brought to me more than a week before I learned that a friend’s father had been diagnosed with ALS [“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”]). Here is that painful thought: If you were confined to a bed, able to think clearly but totally unable to move or speak, about what would you give thanks? I have long insisted that we are told to give thanks “in” all things, not “for” all things—but that distinction doesn’t answer the Spirit’s inquiry. My thoughts took the question to a different place: If I owned nothing, had no money, no job, no family, no public ministry (I acknowledged that I could still pray, even if I couldn’t speak)—about what would I give thanks? In such a situation, what would be included on my “Count your blessings” list? Where are those things on my list today?
Amid all this I was quick to affirm the truth of Ephesians 1:3, that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. And, perhaps as a result, my thoughts moved to a question which I believe is rooted in The Jesus Way: Is God Himself the core of my gratitude and thankfulness? Not the material. Not the tangible–not family, not friends, not service (“ministry”). Not even the spiritual blessings. God. I am not sure it is accurate, but my mind went to a sort of “cake and frosting” image: To a fair degree, I have made the “tangible” things of family, friends, and ministry (along with material wealth and possessions) the “cake” and His promises and spiritual blessings the “frosting.” Yet the example of Jesus is the different—for those who would live His Way, the intimate experience of God Himself is the “cake” (the substance) and whatever other “tangible benefits” we receive—especially the material—is “frosting.” Is this not the import of the words, this is eternal life, to experientially know Abba, the only true God, and Messiah Jesus whom He sent (John 17:3). While all this was fresh in my mind, my reading brought me to Luke 12, where Eugene Peterson quotes Jesus saying:
Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed.
Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.
I don’t share all this to play Scrooge! Most of us enjoy a level of material wealth which allows us to select and give some wonderful presents. Considering the greatness of the gift of The Son, extravagant giving may actually offer others a good image of how Papa acts toward the whole world. Yet, even the good can be corrupted by the ways and thinking of the world. What a sad commentary on Christians in America when at Christmas we focus on things and make gifts based in the American Way rather than in The Way of Jesus. The One who left His throne and kingly crown and came to earth of lowly birth (who “laid down His life for His friends”) says we show we are His when we become “at home” (abide) in His love and love one another as He loved us. He doesn’t call upon us to do this in our own strength or resources; His love for us fills us first, then overflows to others. But it is hard for Him to fill us when we are full of ourselves, our accomplishments, our material possessions, our life, our plans, our . . ..
In anticipation of a new intimacy with Him this season, I encourage you to invite His Spirit to speak to your spirit about what you value. Listen, and allow Him to move you further toward the Jesus Way.
May we all prepare Him room.