I absolutely love this time of the year, watching fall turn into winter. It is such a peaceful season. Even November (which one of my favorite fictional characters, Anne of Green Gables, named the ugliest month of the year) has something quite still and beautiful about it. And I have always enjoyed the holiday season with the white lights, candles, and pine wreaths. To me, these have been things that have brought joy and invoked gratitude to the Lord for creating beauty and giving us the ability to enjoy it. But in recent years, I have had to ask myself, “Would I enjoy this time of year just as much if I didn’t have all these beautiful decorations surrounding me? Are these things too important to me, or do they in any way distract me from my focus on Christ?”
During the Christmas season, shopping skyrockets. People are busy buying gifts and making lists of things they would like to have, whether on paper or in their minds. It is so very easy, especially in our western culture, to get caught up in the frenzy of materialism, whether it be finding the perfect gift, gracing our homes with the nicest decorations, or filling our closets with the cutest wardrobe. Now, don’t get me wrong — I love gift giving, tasteful décor, and classy clothes. But when that or anything else becomes the focus instead of Christ, it is ultimately of no eternal good.
Jesus says in Matthew 6:19-21:
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where both moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
What does it look like to lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven? It means seeking Christ and His kingdom first in everything. It means not being distracted by the shiny trinkets of this world. It means choosing to forgo some earthly pleasures in order to have an undivided heart for God. It will probably look a little different for each of us, but there will be a commonality between each person who chooses to treasure Christ above anything else.
Paul says in Philippians 3:8:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I might gain Christ.
It is all too easy to come to a place of grasping the things we possess with an iron grip. I have to periodically come before the Lord and allow Him to show me if there is anything I am holding onto in a way that keeps me from seeking Him fully. Sometimes it’s a little thing like a certain kind of treat I have a hard time going without (yes … I have had to take several coffee fasts for that purpose), or it could be something bigger like the desire for a nicer home or more children. Now, these things are not bad in and of themselves, but when they cause me to become discontent, frustrated with my current circumstances, and I am constantly thinking about them, it is evidence that my heart is not in the right place.
I recently had a conversation with someone (not a believer) about growing up overseas. Somehow it came to the place where I was sharing that my parents were willing to give up everything — possessions, family, comfort, health — out of love for God. I could tell she was quite taken aback by this and not really sure how to respond. Living in a way that puts Christ first will baffle those who do not know Him. But it is when this is openly demonstrated in the lives of believers that they will see the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus.” It is an absolute tragedy when people who claim to be Christian say, “I could never pick up my family and move somewhere like the African desert…” or “If God wants me to do that thing, He’ll have to drag me kicking and screaming.” What message is that sending? That Christ really isn’t worth it. But, HE IS! Anyone who has fully surrendered their lives to Christ, no matter what difficulties and trials they have faced or will face, will tell you that. No one who has lived a life fully sold out for Jesus will ever say they regret it.
Take the apostles and earliest disciples of Jesus. There are people who still will say that they took the body of Jesus and hid it, spreading lies about His resurrection. But think about it for a minute — who would be willing to live a life full of greater hardship, persecution, and brutal deaths to defend a lie that they had created? Only someone out of their mind would be willing to do that. People are driven by the desire for fame, wealth, comfort and ease, not the opposite. Only someone who truly believes that Jesus is the highest and greatest treasure would be willing to forsake everything in this life to love Him and serve Him at all costs.
I love the hymn by Horatio Spafford, “It is Well.” The first verse says,
When peace like a river
attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea
Whatever my lot Thou hast
taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with
He was able to write this after losing every one of his children because Christ was his highest treasure. And if we also choose to put Christ first and foremost, our lives will be marked by a supernatural joy, hope, and peace that cannot be taken away.