Refocus on what matters: The busyness can distract from our ultimate purpose

By: Commissioner Willis Howell

According to the Andy Williams song, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” While that may be true, those of us in The Salvation Army know this season to be the hands-down busiest time of the year.

A small sampling of the annual Christmas chaos within Army world includes endless hours of driving workers and volunteers to and from kettle locations, counting kettle money, tending Angel Trees, organizing warehouses, food and toy distribution, corps parties and pageants, and literally hundreds of other demands and details to be handled. Pulling off the D-Day invasion might’ve been an easier challenge than coordinating the Army’s Christmas efforts!

Pop quiz: Why do we do all this? No, I’m serious. Why do we go through this annual exercise in exhaustion?

I can hear the answers that some might give:

  • “The funds raised are vital to providing the various range of programs, services, and ministries offered throughout the rest of the year.”
  • “The gifts we gather through our Angel Tree ministry ensure that the children of families who have perhaps fallen on hard times have something under the tree on Christmas morning.”
  • “Hunger is a cruel fact of life for so many. We want to minimize that risk for as many as possible.”

While each of these responses are unquestionably true, in and of themselves they also fall short of our ultimate purpose – the answer to why we do what we do. It’s exactly because of the busyness involved in Salvation Army Christmas work that I believe it’s easy for us to mistakenly focus our attention short of our most crucial, eternity-changing goal.

Back when Bramwell Booth was General, he addressed this very point.

“What, I ask, is the ultimate end back of your Christmas baskets of turkey…?Must it not be the salvation of the souls of the people – not as something to be dragged in at the tail end if a fairly convenient opportunity should present itself – but the ONE SUPREME PURPOSE?

“I say we have no right to spend one hour of our time, or one ounce of our energies, or one penny of our money on any of these things except back of them all and governing them all is the one leading purpose; the one object and aim – the capture of individuals for God!

“All these efforts…can only be rightly regarded as ultimately so many means of reaching those whom otherwise we could not reach…delivering them from the power of the Devil and enlisting them in [God’s] service.

“Anything less than that as an object is a betrayal of our trust. What better will a man be in hell because we merely filled his stomach when he was hungry or clothed him when he was naked? What profit will it be that we educate and train…children (or ensure they have Christmas gifts –W) … unless we get them converted by the grace of God?”


Friends, if we were to miraculously manage to have volunteer workers round the clock at every kettle location in our communities, raise more money than ever before, set records for the number of gifts we collect and give to children, feed everyone who is hungry in our cities and towns, community leaders and city officials would stand to their feet to applaud our work. News reporters would line up to interview us, and headlines would sing our praises. But if those amazing outcomes failed to result in anyone coming to know Jesus, we will have fallen short of our ultimate goal – the salvation of as many souls as we can possibly reach.

Let me be clear: the purpose of our Christmas work isn’t maximizing red kettle totals, or providing toys, or food, or shelter. Crucial as all that may be, those things are bridge-building material. They’re helpful tools that, when leveraged effectively and intentionally, assist us in developing all-important connections with people God has deliberately placed in our path for His purposes.

So don’t fall for the mistaken idea that the wide-ranging work we do during Christmas is nothing more than an annual blizzard of busyness – a necessary chore to be endured. Instead, see this time for what it really is: the year’s richest opportunity to fish for the souls who matter so much to God that He sent His Son to be the sacrifice for their salvation.

This Christmas, cast your nets wide, friends.