I was recently thinking of what I want for Christmas, and the first thing that popped into my mind was this quote from Oswald Chambers in “My Utmost for His Highest” that’s been running through my head ever since I read it back in September:
“When once we get intimate with Jesus we are never lonely, we never need sympathy, we can pour out all the time without being pathetic. The saint who is intimate with Jesus will never leave impressions of himself, but only the impression that Jesus is having unhindered way, because the last abyss of his nature has been satisfied by Jesus. The only impression left by such a life is that of the strong calm sanity that Our Lord gives to those who are intimate with Him.”
While I may not agree that loneliness on earth is fully excluded if you’re spiritually “right” with God (I think there’s still plenty of room for loneliness), I want that ‘strong calm sanity.’ I want it so badly.
A story comes to mind: my sister Heidi was driving us to the airport after our vacation in Alaska. Little 9-month-old James was safely strapped into his car seat, my husband next to him, and Heidi and I were in the front. Five minutes away from the airport, driving down the highway at 55 miles per hour, a woman suddenly pulled out a few yards in front of us, crossing the highway, nearly causing a collision. Heidi slammed on the brakes, our car skidded, and the women sped past us.
My heart was beating out of my chest.
And my first reaction was: “F***”!
I was shocked, and that was my visceral response.
My husband’s first reaction, a very natural one, was anger at this woman who had endangered all of our lives.
But Heidi, seconds after our car came to a halt, immediately breathed “Thank you Jesus!”
In that moment, I was so fiercely convicted. Obviously, my little sister was a woman of strong, calm sanity. The moment after a crazy driver had threatened the life of her little son, she wasn’t angry or swearing, but thanking God for keeping us safe.
Ever since then, I’ve been wanting to grow in that area. So I decided to make a spiritual Christmas list of 7 gifts that I want to ask for unabashedly and pray for energetically. Because after all, even though we like to say that giving is better than receiving and that Christmas is the season of giving (and it is), ultimately it’s the season of receiving. Of getting. And I’m not talking about the most recent gizmo from Apple or a full set of Le Creuset cookware. I’m talking about the Gift with a capital-G–a God who came down and walked among us. Who served us, and wooed us, and saved us.
So here’s my list!
1) Strong calm sanity. For me, this means being centered. Standing on the rock. You know that hymn that goes “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand”? That’s getting at the same thing. If I’m rooted in Christ and the gospel, the craziness of the world, my schedule, other people, circumstances, etc. won’t make me feel unbalanced and unhinged. I want to be at the eye of the storm of life. That way, the next time I’m in a near collision and kept safe by the grace of God, my first response will be a calm, sane “Thank you God” instead of . . . well, other choice words. Yup.
2) Grace. And in particular, I mean the opposite of judgment. I struggle with judgment sometimes–when I hear the neighbors thumping their bass downstairs so that the floor of our apartment shudders, I judge them. I start imagining they’re deadbeat, calloused, losers. When I see people being what I deem ‘obnoxious’ on public transit–eating a mess of chicken on the train at 8am, or yelling into their cellphones, or yelling at their kid–I judge them. I tread dangerously close to that Pharisee who prayed “Thank you God that I’m not like him“–which is not at all the attitude Jesus wants me to have. And how to stop judging? Well, one thing I do sometimes is quote John 3:16 to myself with that person as the object of Jesus’ love: “For God so loved this woman who’s pushing around her kid that he gave his only Son . . .” This immediately reminds me of this person’s intrinsic value, regardless of what they’re doing. Another way to get at this is the next point:
3) Praying for my enemies. It’s funny how liberating this is–I think this is more for our sake than the sake of our “enemies” after all! When I’m upset at the neighbors’ loud music and apparent disregard for our well being, I feel like they’re my enemies. And I can let myself sit and seethe in this vise of anger against them. But one night just the other week, my husband opened his blessed mouth and started praying for them. I joined in. We prayed that God would be present and active in their lives, bless them abundantly, provide for their needs, give them peace. And we slept like babies that night, without a trace of anger in our hearts.
4) Joy and contentment. I feel like I have this in my life right now, but I need to hold on to it. I will be in many different sets of circumstances throughout my life–I was single, now I’m married, perhaps I’ll be widowed one day; I may be living in a creaky apartment or a lovely house, working or jobless, mothering or childless–but I’m called to be joyful throughout everything. This goes back to the refrain “on Christ the solid Rock I stand.” He needs to be the source of my joy, and then my joy will not fluctuate.
5) Using my gifts. In that notorious parable of the talents, Jesus basically says that he gives different resources and abilities to each of us, and that we’re each held responsibile for investing in the Kingdom and using what he’s given us for its growth. The more you have, the more you’re accountable for. So the first question to ask is: what do I have?
Well, I have money. I have a nice camera and a love of photography. I’m a blogger, I love cooking, and I’m a musician. Am I using each one of these things for the Kingdom? Is there anything I’m not investing that I should be? Recently, I’ve felt urged in my spirit to blog more about God and spirituality. Last Monday, I met with a woman about taking free senior portraits for kids who can’t afford them. And I know it doesn’t end there! I need to stay open, because God will lead me to these opportunities. He has better things in mind than I do, and better uses for me than I could ever come up with! And this is related to the next point:
6) Generosity. Not just with money–but with my time (which can be so much harder). My talents. My home. My emotional energy. Jesus gave of himself no holds barred–so why do I feel like I have to conserve my energy and conserve my resources? Probably because I’m afraid I’ll end up tired and empty–so I need to trust that God will supply what I need to do (and to do well) what he’s called me to.
I love that verse in Ecclesiastes 5–“Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?”
I don’t want goods and riches that I simply have sitting around to “feast my eyes on”–I want to use any riches I have to love people. Riches are meaningless if they’re not in the service of loving people.
7) Thankfulness. So often–especially living in this country where we tend to feel entitled to everything (to comfort, to a TV, to an education, to money in excess of what we need)–I forget to be thankful. I want to live in a constant state of gratitude. I deserve nothing–but God has given me everything in his Son, and his promise of an eternal inheritance.
What’s on your spiritual Christmas list this year?