God’s Evaluation of Your Holiday

So, here we go. The “most wonderful time of the year” enters full swing as we pause to give thanks this Thursday and then enter the frenzy of Christmas shopping, parties, musical events, family gatherings, and, hopefully, some meaningful worship. 

Let me ask, “What makes for a meaningful holiday season?” Have you ever thought about which of your holidays was your best ever? What made it so memorable?

Yet, have you ever pondered the realities that make for a truly good holiday season from God’s perspective? Let me suggest that we should give serious thought to God’s evaluation of our holiday celebrations.  Psalm 50 offers a good framework for this very consideration. 

The Only Judgment that Counts

One of the great dangers of the Christian life is to go throughout our days apathetic toward God’s judgement and evaluation of our activities. Instead of being “transformed by the renewing of our minds” according to God’s truth, we are easily “conformed to this world” and no longer sensitive to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Because of the long-standing traditions, familiarity and busyness of the holiday season, we might be more prone to miss God’s true evaluation of our activities even more so than at other times of the year.

Because of the long-standing traditions, familiarity and busyness of the holiday season, we might be more prone to miss God’s true evaluation of our activities even more so than at other times of the year.

Psalm 50 starts with a fresh call to God’s people to cut through the clutter of religious activity to recognize with new clarity the ultimate judgement of God. The first six verses declare, “The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth…he does not keep silence …He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people.” (vv.1,3,4) True holiday wisdom is to pause, tune in to God’s perspective on all our artificial activity, and seek a fresh download of his truthful evaluation of what we are really doing…and why. 

True holiday wisdom is to pause, tune in to God’s perspective on all our artificial activity, and seek a fresh download of his truthful evaluation of what we are really doing…and why.

The Insufficiency of Superficial Sacrifice

In Psalm 50:8-13, God then addresses His people:

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? (Psa. 50:8-13)

Not to extrapolate too liberally, but I wonder if a fresh holiday application might be summarized in this way:

“Hear my people. I am God. I do not need your turkey dinners, your stressful labor in the kitchen, your expensive gift buying, your finely decorated homes, your mindlessly sung traditional songs, or your superficial holiday gatherings.  I am not interested in the exhaustion caused by your traditional and superficial religious activities.”

Sure, these can all be “good” things, just as the Jewish worshippers of Psalm 50 were going through the motions of good religion.  But, God is not interested in superficial sacrifice as much as sincere spiritual response to His character, provision and truth. 

God is not interested in superficial sacrifice as much as sincere spiritual response to His character, provision and truth. 

The Essence of Acceptable Sacrifice

The focus of Psalm 50 makes a turn in vv. 14-15:

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” 

I see four elements of God’s design for our lives and, perhaps, especially for our attitudes toward the upcoming religious holiday season.

The Sacrifice of Genuine Gratitude

Our Lord desires, even decrees, that we should “offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Millions of people around our nation will “give thanks” in the next few days. But, what makes our gratitude genuine and acceptable to God?

I think of the story Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee gave thanks but it was not acceptable to God. The “sacrifice of thanksgiving” springs from a heart that is humble, genuine, and in full recognition at the deepest level that all goodness, all merit, and all blessing comes from God alone. The gratitude God accepts is rooted in a heart that rejects all self-effort, self-sufficiency and self-righteousness. 

The “sacrifice of thanksgiving” springs from a heart that is humble, genuine, and in full recognition at the deepest level that all goodness, all merit, and all blessing comes from God alone

Psalm 107:21-22 exclaims,  “Oh that men would praise the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing”

The Sacrifice of Obedience and Integrity

Psalm 50:14 continues, “And perform your vows to the Most High.” 1 Samuel 15:22 affirms, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.”

This holiday season let’s remember that obedience trumps costly spending, integrity trumps impressive activity, and heartfelt worship trumps traditional ceremony. 

This holiday season let’s remember that obedience trumps costly spending, integrity trumps impressive activity, and heartfelt worship trumps traditional ceremony. 

The Sacrifice of Humble Trust

Psalm 50:15 further expresses God’s command, “And call upon me in the day of trouble”  Psalm 20:7 states, “Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.” 

The holiday season, regardless of the manifold festivities, can be a time of trouble. Our minds are tormented by financial burdens. Our souls are saddened by family fractures. Our hearts are heavy with sadness about the sweetness of years gone by compared to the struggles of the present moment. 

Let us resolve this holiday season to keep our affections fixed on a deep and declared trust in God alone as the source of our salvation, satisfaction, and security.  

Let us resolve this holiday season to keep our affections fixed on a deep and declared trust in God alone as the source of our salvation, satisfaction, and security.  

The Sacrifice of His Ultimate Glory

 The fourth prescriptive in this text states, “I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (v. 15b) Psalm 115:1 exclaims, “Not to us, Oh Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory; for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” God’s pleasure in our holiday worship is directly linked to our resolve to trust him for all deliverance and to give him all the glory for His loving and faithful intervention.    

We all need deliverance — everyday. Jesus taught us to live in the spirit of prayer that proclaims, “Deliver us from evil.” (Matt. 6:13) Perhaps we should pray, “Deliver us from the evil of self-glory, self-reliance and self-centeredness. Deliver us from superficial celebrations. Deliver us from a heartless holiday.”

Grace for True Sacrifice

Yes, God is the ultimate Judge of all of life and even every holiday. I pray we will embark upon these next few weeks with a fresh mindfulness of what He really wants of us, trusting Him for the grace to engage in the true sacrifice of thanksgiving, a life of obedience, a humble trust in Him alone, and a passion for His glory as he delivers us daily.