The last post was a hearty encouragement to really go for it at Christmas. Bake some goodies. Wrap some gifts. Celebrate.
Now, that sort of post quite naturally opens up a bigger question that Christians have wrestled with for hundreds of years; namely, “What is the role of material blessings in my walk with God?”
The real danger we face today is to love the gift instead of the Giver. We reject God (atheism) but enjoy all that he daily provides us with, snatching his gifts greedily without thanksgiving or praise. Many Christians fall into this trap. The “prosperity gospel” falls into this trap.
But there is a more subtle danger among Christians. It’s the danger of asceticism. Asceticism is denying the body and its normal, natural appetites. Rightly rejecting this atheistic attitude they seek to enjoy the Giver instead, or in spite of, his gifts. They pursue a sort of ethereal, spiritual, monkish existence where gifts are renounced as a way of showing how valuable the Giver is. They struggle with guilt and have a hard time receiving anything.
At this point I would encourage you to watch a short interchange between my two favourite breathing theologian/churchmen – John Piper and Doug Wilson. Jump ahead to the 52 minute mark:
So the answer to this apparent dilemma is that we need to embrace the tension of loving the Giver and the gift. Or perhaps you could say loving the Giver in and through the gift. On the one side we ought to reject asceticism and then enjoy the material blessings of God – music, sex, beer, bacon, family, among others. But on the other side we must constantly cultivate gratitude and worship towards God’s goodness such that we love the Giver even if – or better, when – the gifts are taken.
Three take-away points:
- Embrace the life of self-denial. The Christian life is one of self-discipline adn self-denial. As Jesus said in Mark 8:34: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” ESV)
- Maximize your gratitude instead of minimizing the material: “…everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:5 ESV)
- Incorporate punctuated anchor points of prayer and praise to the Giver throughout your day, every day, and especially at Christmas where gifts abound: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)