Over the holidays, many of us watched as kids ripped open presents Christmas morning, only to break or discard them a few days later. We stressed over obligations (to shop and entertain) but missed opportunities (to share the Gospel). We fought crowds at the mall yet ignored the lonely shut-in a few doors down. We put energy into finding a “perfect” gift when we already had THE perfect gift in hand.
Yes, many Christians fell victim to the pull of American culture, which does its best to shift our attention from BELIEVING to BUYING, from OPPORTUNITIES to OBLIGATIONS, and from COMPASSION to CONSUMERISM.
The good news is we can “right the ship” and experience the joy of Christmas all year long in 2019. On the other hand, we could continue to miss out on joy by setting New Year’s Resolutions aimed at increasing our own happiness.
Happiness is overemphasized and overrated. It is incessantly being sold to us, normally by those who stand to profit from our pursuit of it. Despite slick advertising that sounds rooted in compassion, no one selling “You deserve this!” or “All your friends have it; you should too!” is looking out for your best interests. Pitches are also carefully crafted to convey generosity, but no one telling you “Your children will be so excited!” or “Your girlfriend will thank you!” are actually concerned about their happiness. The world is clever at disguising consumerism as compassion and greed as generosity.
Even pastors enable a consumer mentality by redefining church as a place, invoking happiness-oriented strategies to attract and retain people. Modern church growth models dissuade Christians from seeing themselves as the embodiment of “church”, making them likely to miss the “reason for the season” as they get caught on the holiday hamster wheel. Pastors encourage members to leave evangelism and discipleship to the “professionals”, fueling the commercialization of Christmas, of our culture and of our churches by paying pastors to assume each Christian’s rightful responsibility for sharing Christ. Instead they simply ask members to invite their friends to church next Sunday.
GC2 (Great Commission and Great Commandment) is a mandate and mission that Jesus lived out year-round. We should follow His example (Matthew 20:26-28). Normally, regifting is frowned upon, but not in this case. Jesus gave us the greatest gift of all, and we have the opportunity to pay it forward to others on a daily basis – not just on Christmas day. Christ came to bring redemption and reconciliation so that we could pass along that joy, hope and promise to others. Yet studies show that few Christians take the Great Commission seriously.
In other words, cultural Christians exchange certain joy for an outside shot at happiness. They miss the joy of sharing the eternal gift of Jesus Christ and overspend on temporary ones. They miss the joy of our Savior and overemphasize Santa. They miss the joy of authentic faith and are overzealous for “religion”. They miss the joy of compassion and overindulge in consumerism. Joy remains regardless of circumstances – happiness is obliterated by misfortune. Joy endures. Happiness is fleeting.
You can make Christmas last all year long by ending your search for happiness in what can never bring joy. Will you pursue HAPPINESS or JOY in 2019?
- Life – Those falling victim to consumerism at the altar of Selfism are complicit with retailers in taking Christ out of Christmas. “You can’t serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
- Love – A beautiful picture of Agape love is serving and sharing Christ with the helpless and hopeless, those who (in the immortal words of Rodney Dangerfield) “can do me absolutely no good”.
- Romance – Eros, the world’s sexually-charged definition of love, is immediate gratification or excitement about a new relationship that one day fizzles into a sense of normalcy and often complacency, leaving some wondering whether the grass may be greener in other pastures.
- Reconciliation – Eternal joy is found in loving the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. Unlike the intimacy experienced between two people, God’s love for us never fades or fails.
- Friends – Phileo love brings happiness as we spend time with those closest to us. Companionship is one of God’s greatest gifts, but it was never meant to supplant our relationship with Him. Friends may move out of town, let you down, and eventually pass away.
- Father – Joy is found in understanding the Lord is the most reliable, trustworthy and dependable friend we’ll ever have. He’s also a jealous God, expecting us to put nothing, or no one, ahead of Him.
- Money – Most believe a sudden windfall would bring happiness, but studies show lottery winners typically return to their previous state of mind after the initial exuberance subsides.
- Meaning – Joy is a result of living consistent with our Designer’s plan for us – the Great Commission. Choosing money over God is the road to momentary pleasure, but eternal bankruptcy.
- Success – Ambitious workaholics sacrifice time with family, God and friends, believing wealth and early retirement will bring happiness.
- Significance – Joy is impacting the world for Christ in the few years we have on this earth. The Great Commission may involve losing everything in the here and now, yet gaining what “moths cannot destroy…and thieves cannot break in and steal”. That’s success in God’s eyes.
- Popularity – When there’s a buzz surrounding us, we relish the 15 minutes of fame. However, notoriety is fleeting and attention spans are fickle. The question is…when we’re out of the spotlight and back at home looking in the mirror, what do we see?
- Purpose – Joy comes in knowing God’s opinion of us never changes. Therefore, we play to an audience of One, humbly serving and sharing Christ with others even though they may no longer look up to us if we “stoop to the level” of a servant.
- Power – Exerting influence and authority gives us a false sense that we’re in control. At some point age, upheaval, betrayal or circumstances outside our purview will conspire to overthrow or undermine what little control we actually had.
- Potential – There is joy in surrendering control to the One who really had it all along. “Fixing our eyes on Jesus” reestablishes the proper and intended order, relieving us of the responsibility of trying to force God’s hand to ensure our desired outcomes, which likely go against His will.
- Religion – Hope once found in a man-made set of rules and empty promises to make our lives better disappears when difficult times eventually come.
- Relationship – Joy is knowing Christ as Lord and Savior, loving and serving Him no matter what the cost. That kind of faith endures through good and bad.
- Worldliness – Countless shiny lures grab our attention and provide short-term happiness, yet distract us from all that would bring authentic, impermeable joy. To no avail, we seek quick earthly fixes to satisfy an innate hunger for meaning and relational intimacy that can only be satisfied by loving and serving our Creator.
- World-Changing – Joy is picturing all those who will be in Heaven because of how the Lord used you to reach them. Joy is the privilege of being chosen by God to be an instrument of hope and peace in a broken, fallen world.
- Escapism – Alcohol and drugs provide a temporary reprieve for those who can’t cope without hope. Once the effects wear off, they need to do it again quickly or risk confronting the harsh reality of a joy-free existence – and soon addicts get hooked.
- Evangelism – Joy is finding fulfillment through a Prayer, Care and Share lifestyle, dedicated to worship and witness, not recreational self-medication.
- Parties – Some jump from one social engagement to another in a vain attempt to fill their schedules…and their “God-shaped hole”.
- Peace – Joy is “the peace of God that transcends all understanding…that “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Contentment in Christ means not having to book ourselves solid to avoid thinking deeper thoughts about how God would prefer we spend our time.
- Transportation – The initial thrill of a new ride wears off after a few weeks, becoming just a way to get to our next destination.
- Transformation – The joy of being delivered from the brink of Hell to the doorstep of Heaven gives us a new (yet lasting) lease on life.
- Vacation – Many begin planning their next vacation the minute they return from the last one. Battling the emptiness of life without Jesus, they subsist only by making sure they have something to look forward to.
- Victory – Joy isn’t found in relaxation but in “pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”. There’s no vacation from being a disciple of Jesus – at every corner there are fresh opportunities to lead souls toward Christ.
From this list, we see that the best stress reliever and cure for consumerism is taking our eyes off ourselves (happiness) and looking to the Lord and those less fortunate (joy). All year long, we can #GiveAnEternalGift through acts of kindness for coworkers, neighbors or complete strangers in the name of Jesus Christ. Christ modeled how to #GiveAnEternalGift – by first demonstrating His love for them and then telling them who He is.
It’s Your Turn
What if your New Year’s Resolution was to make Christmas a year-round experience in 2019? What if the pursuit of eternal joy cost you some short-term happiness? Would you still chase joy all year long?