The Greatest Gift You Will Receive This Christmas
Removing Your Chain of Spiritual Stagnancy
Among the endless warm and cheerful quotes from the library of familiar Christmas stories, Charles Dickens penned perhaps the most chilling. He gives us a glimpse of an eternity lost from the woeful lips of Jacob Marley, the long deceased colleague of Ebenezer Scrooge.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”
Marley comes to warn Scrooge to set off the things that bind him in this life. It is a warning for all of us. Note these are not chains that are set on us by circumstances beyond our control. They are chains we forge for ourselves. And, like Marley, we bear them of our own free will.
As we approach Christmas I urge you to consider one heavy chain that you may be wearing; a chain you have forged yourself. It weighs you down and robs you of the joy and peace this season promises. It is the chain of spiritual stagnancy.
Does it seem strange that in the midst of one of the holiest seasons of the year we could be burdened with such a chain? That is the point.
The irony is that the ‘doing’ nature of the Christmas season can produce this spiritual stagnancy. The gift God has for us at Christmas is highly personal and engaging. It is the precious gift of intimacy. Hebrews calls us to “draw with confidence before the throne of grace.” (4:16) In Romans Paul says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15).
The gift that awaits you this Christmas is Jesus Himself, here for us. We are invited to be with Him as the one who came to be with us. But this requires presence. It calls us to a life of reflection. We steward this gift through the disciplines worship, prayer, fasting, meditation on God’s word, devotion, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession and celebration. (1) As we practice each, we act as stewards of this gift of intimate relationship with our Savior.
It is in this intimacy that we find the freedom Christ won for us. Intimacy is the soil in which this freedom grows. It is the precious gift of the steward leader. It is in our freedom that we joyfully respond to God’s call to deeper intimacy. Our devotional time, our prayer life, our worship and our meditation on God’s word are free and joyous responses of the godly steward. And they are the foundation upon which every steward leader must stand.
The problem is this all takes time, and time is a precious commodity in the hectic pace of Yuletide preparations. We can become so busy getting ready for the birth of Jesus that we have no time to be with Jesus. Instead of receiving His gift of intimacy, we put on the chain of stagnancy and are left to go it alone on our journey to the manger.
Like Jacob Marley, we forge this chain ourselves, link by link. We forge it by focusing all our time on buying presents, baking, preparing, decorating and more. None of these preparations are wrong unless they so overtake us that we have no space left to cultivate a deeper relationship with Christ, the Savior who is born.
Oswald Chambers writes,
“Both Scripture and experience teach us that it is we, not God, who determine the degree of intimacy with Him that we enjoy. We are at this moment as close to God as we really choose to be.”
Do we believe that? Our level of intimacy with God is the result of the choices we make each day.
What choices are you making this Advent season? The enemy wants us so consumed by ‘doing’ that we fail to ‘be’. He wants us to spend so much time working for God that it leaves no time for God to work in us. He wants us driven and spent, rushed and riled, bearing down and burning out. And it’s okay with him if we do it ‘all for Jesus’ just as long as we don’t do it with Jesus.
What chains are you forging this Christmas season? Are your Advent preparations bringing you closer to Christ or is there just not enough time left in the day for that?
I used to see Advent as a journey to the manger. The problem with that view is that I only found the intimacy I was seeking when I finally arrived there, usually at the Christmas Eve service. Now I am seeking to start Advent at the manger and let the season be a journey with Christ instead of to Him. This Christmas we are invited to unlock the chain of stagnancy by focusing our Advent on the Christ who is already with us.
Recently I published a book entitled, The Seventh Key. It is a story about two men in search of the keys that will free them to live fully for Christ. The key to unlock the chain of stagnancy is the third of these seven keys. I invite you to discover these keys for yourself. The result is the life of freedom and joy God created you to live. That might be the greatest gift you will ever receive, and it starts with the choices you will make today that bring you nearer the manger.
Oh come let us adore Him, Oh come let us adore Him, Oh come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.
1 These were taken from Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline. Harper and Row, 1978.