One year when my son was little, his class made a Christmas craft—little jars with one M & M for each day of Advent. My son was showing me his jar and he explained, “You get to eat one M & M each day of Advil.”
Does the time of preparation for Christmas ever feel more like the Advil season than the Advent season? Do you ever get that frazzled feeling thinking of all the things you have to do? Do you find yourself getting scattered in so many directions that you don’t accomplish much of anything? Or, on the other hand, do you get so task-oriented that you become inflexible and fail to meet unanticipated needs that arise? I struggle with all of these problems, and I suspect I’m not the only one.
But when you read the Gospels, you never get the sense that Jesus was frazzled or scattered or inflexible. He was incredibly focused, yet fully flexible. He had a clear sense of purpose for His whole life, and for each day. Yet He never made the mistake that we often do of getting so stuck on our own agenda that we become blind to what is really important.
When Jesus purposed to go to the home of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, it was urgent because Jairus’s little daughter was dying. Yet when an anonymous woman in the crowd touched His coat, Jesus stopped to minister to her, never losing sight of Jairus’s need. Another time He invited the disciples to come away with Him to get some rest, but His compassion for the multitude caused Him to change His plans. As the Father led, Jesus met the needs of the people who crossed His path—a dying girl, a bleeding woman, a demon-possessed child, a man with a withered hand, a grieving mother, a blind man, a deaf man, a dead man, a leper, a paralytic, an adulteress, the hungry and hurting multitudes.
Yet for all His flexibility, nothing could deter the Savior from the supremely important task for which the Father sent Him. Everything He did was leading ultimately to the cross, and when the time was right, He resolutely went to Jerusalem to fulfill that purpose.
All through His ministry, Jesus knew just what to do each day, each moment. How did He do it? Just because Jesus was God didn’t mean that He could simply coast along on His deity. In His humanity He had to maintain His relationship with the Father just like we do, and we have the record of His life so we can learn how He did it.
Jesus perfectly practiced something that we can do too: He knew how to walk in the Spirit. From His times alone with the Father, Jesus knew how to hear His voice and understand His will. He was aware of what God wanted Him to do each moment, and He always did it. He never gave in to external pressures and demands—and there were many on Him—but He always flowed with the inner leading of the Holy Spirit.
To follow in the footsteps of Jesus may seem like an impossible goal. But it is God’s desire for us, and He has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us. In Romans 8 Paul talks about life through the Spirit. He urges us to be set free by the Spirit of life (v. 2), to walk according to the Spirit (v. 4), to live according to the Spirit (v. 5), to set our minds on the Spirit (vv. 5, 6), to let the Spirit of God dwell in us (vv. 9, 11), to receive life in our mortal bodies through His Spirit (v. 11), to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (v. 13), to be led by the Spirit of God (v. 14), to listen to the Spirit bearing witness that we are children of God and heirs with Christ (vv. 16, 17), and to allow the Spirit to help us in our weakness and intercede for us (vv. 26, 27).
I wish I could tell you exactly how to walk in the Spirit, but I can’t because I’m just learning myself. But I can invite you to keep on searching the Scriptures, getting to know Jesus, who is our model for living, and learning how to listen, as He did, to the Father’s voice. We can purpose in our hearts to be controlled not by external pressures or guilt or other people’s demands or our own compulsions or society’s expectations or anything else except the Spirit of God. Then we too can experience the beautiful balance that Jesus had.
The Christmas season may be the most challenging time of the year for many of us to achieve that balance. The beginning of Advent is a good time to purpose to resist the pressures of the world and to walk in the Spirit. This year, will it be the Advil season or the Advent season? At the end of His life Jesus could say in John 17:4, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” If we make it our goal each day to complete the work God gives us—and only what He gives us—then we will have time and energy to do what needs to be done, and at the end of our lives we will be able to say when we stand before God that we brought Him glory on earth by completing the work He gave us to do.