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Friend or foe?

Is it wrong to buy Christmas gifts? No.

Is it wrong to desire material things? Not necessarily.

At any rate, these are surface level questions that I intend to bypass for the more important questions of the heart in these matters. Please resist the urge to assume that these questions are the meat of the following thoughts.

Be sure to get me a list of what you want for Christmas here soon, ok?

My mother raised her eyebrows to emphasize the request that she made over Thanksgiving a few days ago. I don’t blame her. It’s annoying, I’m sure, how easily I seem to forget about those simple tasks that are all too easy to mark off of an ever growing to-do list.

However, something was different after this reminder to compile a list of presents for myself. I felt a familiar tug in my heart that I honestly hadn’t picked up on in a decent amount of time. Consequently, the decision made to follow after that pull came with a disturbing amount of ease that I wasn’t to notice until later.

I set myself to the task of scouring website after website for anything that might meet the standard of being on my own Christmas wish list. My mind was hard pressed to remember all the things I had surely put on a list somewhere that I swore one day I would own. Old desires for forgotten items began to surface one after another, and I found myself growing more captivated by the prospect of soon acquiring such treasures.

These thoughts continued throughout the night and on my drive from Tyler to Austin. After all, I had to have a list of things for me to receive Christmas morning. It’s natural. It’s what we’ve always done. What a perfect excuse for me to spend a substantial amount of time thinking about me.

The next morning I woke up and seemed to naturally slip into a continuation of the same thoughts. It was easy to do so. Too easy. It continued for about an hour until the counter-pull tugged away gently at my heart.

It was the thought that threatened to ruin everything.

You should spend time with Jesus this morning.

It was disturbing to see the amount of dread with which my heart seemed to instantly wrestle this suggestion. How could my heart be so cold to this thought, which days before had warmed my soul and fueled my very desire for life? Something had changed. Something was different. Something had rooted within my heart that did not mix one bit with my Savior. It left a bad taste in my soul.

Just what exactly went wrong?

Well, in the letter from James we are warned that friendship with the world is enmity with God (4:4 a). Now, I may have a college education, but I have to confess that enmity is one of those words that never quite stuck in my brain. When I look up the definition it reads like this: the state or feeling of being actively opposed or hostile to something or someone.

That seemed to fit the bill for a description of what I was feeling when the thought of Jesus wiggled its way onto my Christmas list.

Ironic, I know.

I felt the hostility of the two separate trains of thought. I felt the tension of needing to choose which train to take a ride on, and I knew I couldn’t ride both.

But wait¦ friendship with the world is enmity with God, right? Surely I wasn’t being a friend of the world, yes? I mean, nothing had happened. No gifts were purchased, no transactions made. There was no activity to speak of yet. So, why the tension?

Well, if we continue in James we see that whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4 b). Now, that puts quite a different reality onto the playing field. The Holy Spirit shows us through James that actual alignment with the world in friendship is not required to provoke hostilities. In reality, the only thing necessary to reach this uncomfortable state is a wish, a desire. That’s exactly where I found myself lingering: the seemingly harmless territory of desire.

We understand this truth easily when it comes to other situations that don’t involve Christmas lists and Jesus. Take marriage, for instance. Let’s say you are married to your spouse, yet one day you find yourself starting to desire intimacy with another. Then, let’s say your spouse finds out about it¦ yikes. Don’t you think that would cause some tension? Don’t you think that would make your home feel like a hostile environment? And there’s not even an affair to speak of in this scenario. Yet, it seems that simply the desire itself is enough to threaten the relationship’s harmony.

What makes us think that our relationship with our Heavenly Father through Jesus operates on different principles? And make no mistake, it is an intensely personal relationship that we are discussing. James describes God’s desire to be with us relationally by saying that “He yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us (4:5 b).

So, am I saying that Christmas gifts are evil? No.

Am I saying that desiring something material is evil? Not necessarily.

What I am trying to say clearly is this: we should struggle with all of God’s might to keep Christ upon the throne of our hearts in the midst of an approaching holiday season that urges us to look to ourselves and to what we can receive.

Let us not stray sheepishly into the territory of seemingly harmless desire that subtly dethrones Jesus for a lesser desire that inevitably will not satisfy our souls. Keep your eyes fixed on the one who came that you may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Reject the narrative of materialism that claims a direct relationship between material gain and satisfaction.

I encourage and urge you to spend time with Jesus more and more this holiday season. Avoid the trap that threatens to swallow whole your time, focus, and energy for a few material possessions. Instead, spend time sitting at the feet of your Savior and find your soul satisfied and overflowing in His presence.

This is not a call to a monk’s destitution. This is a call to a deeply satisfying walk with your Savior.

So, what place does Jesus hold in your heart? Does the thought of spending time with Him threaten other things in your life? Do you wrestle with the thought of surrendering to His kind rule?

I encourage you again to spend time with Jesus more and more this holiday season.

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