Last week, I wrote that the word of God discerns in us what we fail to discern ourselves, and I tried to show how this cutting work serves to draw us nearer to God. But what do we do when God reveals idolatry in our hearts? How should we respond when God highlights some object or dream or comfort or person and reveals to us our unhealthy attachment? The answer, I think, lies in how we understand gifts.
After showing the downward progression of sin (desire leading to sin which leads to death), James reminds his readers that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:14-17). James wants his readers to recognize God as the giver of good gifts so that they won’t pursue such things apart from him. Elsewhere, Jesus calls his followers to not worry, but to trust God to meet their needs (Matthew 6:25-33). God is both giver and provider. He meets our needs and satisfies our longings. As the psalmist has said, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11b). Man, sadly, fails to trust God and turns instead to pursue good things apart from him. We try to bypass the giver to get to his gifts, and, in so doing, we allow idolatry’s roots to remain deep within our hearts.
How can we remedy this problem? For years, I assumed growth in godliness could only occur if the idol was removed. If I began to look to God’s gifts more than I looked to God himself, I simply sought to remove the object of devotion, to limit my desire. This method appeared to work, but only temporarily. Before long, my heart would simply find another object to pursue, another gift to chase. Though the specifics might vary, my tendency toward idolatry stood unaffected because idolatry exists primarily as an internal problem, not an external problem. I directed my heart toward the wrong things. To truly grow, I didn’t necessarily need to love things less; I needed to love the Lord more.
Christmas can uniquely deepen our love for God if we let it. For these few weeks in December, we remember the greatest gift God ever gave this world. His love shines bright as we consider how undeserving we are of Jesus. Christ came in spite of our sin and rebellion and saved us from the fate we earned, giving us his own righteousness in exchange for our sin. Reflecting on God’s love can change us. Suddenly, the temporary blessings of this life seem secondary in importance as we behold the glory of the saving Lord of creation. We appreciate all of his gifts, but we begin to desire him above them all.
Let this be our prayer. As we give and receive gifts, focusing so much attention on the good things around us, let us pray for perspective to see through the shadows to the great reality beyond. Let us pray for hearts to recognize God’s loving hand in every good and perfect gift. And let us never idolize the gifts over the giver. The Christmas season carries the impressive ability either to intensify or to mortify idolatry within the hearts of men. How will the season affect you?