Can Christians be Faithful Consumers?
Reading Twitter and the news lately has revealed the annual tension for faithful Christians: how are we to respond to the spirit of Christmas that reached fever pitch on Black Friday? We can agree said spirit ebbs and flows year-round and we may argue the causes. To seek such understanding alone is worthy; however, the goal of this essay is to answer how we are to respond.
A brief overview of possible responses may help. Some withdraw from culture to keep themselves pure. Others will stay within the culture’s course till Christmas. Maybe it’s hypocrisy, or maybe they’re strongly diluted. It could be a sense of dejection and futility, a hopeful but vague belief God is in the midst anyway. Some Christians take a firm stand in the midst, a pillar of God built up against the Christmas spirit. Others launch attacks from the margins, a furious shellacking of tweets and sound bites and stories about gifts not bought and stores boycotted. These are only some of the points along a spectrum, reasons for response as deep and diverse as any other human motive, any choice.
To begin to answer the question is to seek the Spirit’s leading. The key influence in both testaments for the child of God’s life is the dominant influence of the Spirit. Before humans were even created, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. Micah 3:8 speaks of being filled with the Spirit of the Lord as his source of power, justice and courage. Numerous men and women in the Old Testament lived faithfully by the descent of the Spirit upon them for a time. Jesus was led by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit and anointed by the Spirit.
The same is true for Peter and James and John: in Acts 2 they stood in the midst of people of all cultures, like those around us stumbling in the darkness of a life without God. Paul teaches believers are a temple of the Holy Spirit and are to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. When Paul speaks of the past lives of believers, he writes to Ephesians they “formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” But he tells Timothy he, like all believers, has a Spirit of power, love and a sound mind. And Paul says the Galatians are to walk by the Spirit, to live in dependence upon the Spirit. That is the key to whatever response we may form to the ways of those around us.
Would we walk through our lives aware of what the Spirit says and does? When the disciples were days away from losing the tangible presence of Christ, the Lord’s own answer to them was that He would send them a Helper. The Greek word for helper speaks to one who walks alongside to encourage in life situations. At one point, Jesus said the disciples didn’t even need to worry about what to say because the Spirit would teach them what to say. In our day and time, it’d be far easier, frankly to simply follow whatever you read on the Internet or in a self-help book or a Christian theologian’s well-founded answer. But would we wait on the Spirit to teach us, as the early disciples did?
A second key to response is forming a response in community with other believers. A cord of three strands, as Ecclesiastes said, is not easily broken. Thus, if we are to find a faithful response, such a life will probably come in concert with others who take time to study the Scriptures with us, analyze the culture, help us search our own hearts and spend time in prayer before the Lord. I do not believe there will be an identical response for every Christian in America. I do believe linking ourselves together with other faithful believers is the next key. Acts 15 holds out the example for us of Christians sorting out complex matters in relationship with one another.
As an example, when I’ve seen Christians address this issue, they give gifts they’ve made such as crafts, jams, strawberry bread. One woman I know gave her brother and his wife a guide of fun, free things to do around their city. Other believers I know shopped at socially conscious businesses that build up communities. Some give to charities in the name of their friend or family member. Another option I’ve heard of is giving people things to do like museum or movie passes; unique, fun experiences are increasingly desirable as an alternative to products.
So, let the steps of others be starting points for yourself and your family. In light of how the Spirit worked in the lives I just described, discover a thoroughly personal path: enable yourself to experience the coming of Christ by whatever means available. Listen to songs about Him or journal, read aloud the Hebrew laments as holiday glitter fails to soothe your grief. Read again and again the true telling of Christ’s birth. Be overwhelmed by His coming. Then enter the world of those who don’t know He’s come, seeking to incarnate what you yourselves have received from Him, shining among those who have not known Him. Ask the Spirit where to go and what to do. Listen to the witness of others who you see walking faithfully and creatively, staying unstained from the world, as James calls us to, without failing to be salt and light, as Jesus declares us to be. Be a person of shalom in a sea of chaos, live a life that declares “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” You have been freely given what you could never wrestle from the hands of another.
Amid the tweets and the troubles, the grief no glitter can comfort, seek to see and hear Him who is invisible. Pursue intimacy with the Spirit and give and receive true Christian fellowship where we “encourage one another day after day” with tales of our own God-enabled faithfulness. See His coming until it outshines all else, dim the noise of our culture’s clanging cymbals until you, like Elijah, hear the still, small voice. We can live out stories that become living versions of Hebrews 11. Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those mourn.
“The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.” Prov. 4:18, NASB.