Over Thanksgiving and Christmas we often find increased opportunities to catch up with family members, old friends. However, we also find old idols and sin patterns. Yeah, you know it. Whether it is returning to the house you grew up in and you find old High School sin patterns creeping back in, or you find present struggles turned up during a stressful season, these things happen. But instead of just letting things happen naturally consider these points for how to continue to prepare your heart in the holiday season.
Where do you find value?
The holidays have a keen ability to show where we find value. Where is it that you seek value in the holiday season?
- Comparison-Holidays are a natural time for comparison. We often compare our situations (life stage, financial), our calendars etc. Just checking social media can feel like, who has time to have all this fun? Or why does it seem like everyone else is living their best life now? This is a common struggle at Uptown. Many have noted that Uptown is a group of people that on the surface seem to have it all together, but we have to realize that often our social media feeds don’t show the deeper struggles God is leading people through, but those stories are there.
- Busyness-Does packing your calendar make you feel popular, special and valuable? Or the contrary, does your self-worth plummet in holiday season because you think everyone else is busy and your lack of busyness is a reminder that you aren’t living the life you wanted?
- Perfection-Maybe at the holidays your race isn’t against others as much as it is against yourself by seeking to attain perfection. You feel good about yourself because your house is decorated perfectly, because your family appears to be the perfect family, because your Christmas card says your family has got it going on making others think, Man I wish I could wear an Argyle sweater and be in that picture too.
The problem? None of these things can dictate our value, we always fall short so we can either change the goal to feel better about ourselves or repent and find value in the only one who was perfect, our savior Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:15).
Where do you seek comfort?
Often the holidays show where we go for comfort. Where do you seek comfort in the holiday season?
- Food– This is the time of year when friends deliver homemade desserts, the cookies stack up, there are cakes on the counter and pies in the fridge (yes, the fridge, pumpkin pie is way better cold). Food can be a simple and short lived escape, each bite of a chocolate chip cookie can feel like a small cuddly blanket that makes you feel good and safe….for about 11 seconds.
- Entertainment– You are stressed from guest’s staying multiple nights or being a guest at someone else’s house and all you want to do is slip away and read a book, watch a movie, take a nap, do a power hour session on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram.
Wherever you go seeking comfort, the answer is likely not cutting that thing out all together, it is learning to relate to it rightly. There is also no doubt that part of the solution is learning to turn to Christ for comfort. As Philippians 2:1 tells us, it is expected that God’s children find comfort in his love, if that is not our focus we will turn to things that can’t offer lasting comfort.
What do you need to put off?
What sin pattern or idol shows up during the holidays or seems to be a particular struggle for you right now? How is a certain sin being used as a successful attempt from the enemy to distract you from celebrating the gift of a savior who came to earth out of love, to live out his mission, to bear the burden of your sin and to offer salvation through faith alone?
- Self focus– Many of us live in a self-focused existence. Is it better to give than to receive? For you…Yes, certainly! For me? Ummm… How can you fight against being self focused over these holidays? What are ways you can put off self focused tendencies or patterns and fight against it with serving those God has placed around you? Family, neighbors, co-workers, etc.
- Comparison and Bitterness– While looking at peoples lives from a distance, or on social media we can often fall into comparison and if we find ourselves lacking it can create a seed of bitterness that quickly sprouts, is strengthened unless fought against and produces a crop of many fold. Bitterness is a weed that chokes out that which the fruit of the spirit needs to grow and thrive.
- Distraction– If you are used to answering work emails all day everyday then slowing down over the holidays can be a challenge. For some of us this is a daily battle, but it is a battle worth fighting. If left unchecked we will just funnel that energy and will likely funnel into other business, but the question is where do you want to invest that extra time and energy?
Maybe it was already listed above, or maybe it will not be mentioned. But you likely have an idea of what needs to be put off. To fight against, or put off, sin requires being intentional. Right now you are just coming off of Thanksgiving where you likely saw your sin on display in many ways. Now in the calm before the Christmas storm spend some time considering, repenting, and asking God to help change your heart. By his grace our patterns can change.
“put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.” -Ephesians 4:22
What do you need to put on?
You likely have extra time around the holidays, how will you use it? Will you reinvest your time in twitter or scripture? Will you swap being swamped by work emails with a new found interest in researching how to best organize the apps on your phone’s homescreen?
- Focusing on others– Focusing on ourselves comes naturally, it is a part of our sinful nature, but focusing on others takes forethought and effort. Christ has designed us to pour ourselves out for others. How can you focus on that in this season? Maybe it is not focusing on what you don’t have and how you don’t feel loved, but rather focusing on what you are able to give to others (time, words of encouragement, gifts) in order to make them feel loved.
- Giving Thanks– It is so easy to grumble, but thanksgiving is a discipline. While many think some people are just naturally thankful, most people have had to work to make that their reality. It is a discipline that must be practiced and strengthened. If you struggle with bitterness, how can you fight against that? How can you fight internally, and express thanksgiving externally?
“put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
How can you prepare for Christmas by dwelling on the gospel and growing in your love for your savior?
Okay, so this is a subset of putting on, but it’s the gospel…so I thought it worthy of its own point. I am going to list one family idea and one personal idea, but I would love for you to comment about what you or your family usually do, or something you are going to try this year.
- Family Idea: Jesse Tree- The Jesse Tree is a fun interactive way to have Christmas devotionals as a family. Each day includes a short devotional on a messianic promise from the Old Testament and an ornament representing something connected to the story. Kids LOVE the ornaments and it is really helpful. You can buy a Jesse tree kit or make your own, or make it a group effort! There are lots of great resources out there for making crafty ornaments like these, or a kit like this, and then there are multiple options for the devotional. We usually use this devotional and the Jesus Story Book Bible. Don’t let perfection keep you from this joy. Yes, there will be days that you miss due to an evening activity, and your ornaments may not be perfect, but perfection isn’t the point, treasuring Jesus is. This year you can just print out pictures, maybe next year you can organize an ornament swap.
- Personal Idea: Advent devotional- If you are not currently participating in a structured devotional plan then maybe you should consider working through one of these free advent devotionals. Depending on when you read this you may already be behind, but don’t let that stop you, jump right in to savoring Jesus:
I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, Christmas is now on the horizon. Let us continue to prepare our hearts and treasure our savior who was sent on our behalf, to redeem us from sin and call us to himself. Let us know what your families traditions are in the comment section below.
Author: Rev. Dave Kulp
Image: Google Image found here