The Day I was on FacebookSome years ago I went on Facebook - for a week or so. I must have joined near my birthday and was shocked to receive so many "happy birthdays" - clearly Facebook is programmed with the assumption that Birthdays are very important events to many people.
I left Facebook because frankly, I don't want lots of people saying "Happy Birthday" to me.
Symptoms of spiritual diseaseFor me birthdays have become a symptom of several spiritual diseases in the Western Church.
First, the love of pleasure, "In the last days... people will be lovers of themselves.... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." (2 Timothy 3:1-5). Out there in the world, men and women get their kicks from earthly parties and so birthdays are a really big source of earthly joy; that's why so much time and money and energy are poured into birthday events. But we, surely, have more Solid and lasting Treasures and that should be reflected in the lower-key nature of our birthday events. But is this always so?
A second disease is the lack of sacrificial love for others. What do I mean? In the world birthdays are so important people will take a day off work (even if it's inconvenient for their colleagues or their company); if they have any other regular commitment to any voluntary organisation or person on that day, those can all go, because "it's my birthday and that comes first". Christians are called to think of others in all their actions, "How will this action impinge on my brother or sister? Will I discourage or encourage them if I am away? Will I build up or destroy?" The writer to the Hebrews says "Let us not give up meeting together together... but let us encourage one another" implying that our mere presence encourages or discourages (Hebrews 10:25). So if my absence from a Christian gathering or ministry - because it is my birthday - would discourage someone, then I will gladly forgo my absence for the sake of others. When we make a decision to be among God's people, what should come first in the mind of a Christian is the impact on others.
I don't know about you, but I am profoundly discouraged when a brother or sister in Christ puts a mere birthday above meeting with their brothers and sisters in Christ: it casts a shadow over the whole event. I think - and I am right to think this - "we can't matter very much to them."
The third disease is the priority of the earthly family. When we come to know the Lord, our church family becomes our main family, our true brothers and sisters, according to Jesus, because it is now our eternal family. "Who are my mother and my brothers?... whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Mark 3:35). If there is a clash between meeting with our eternal brothers and sisters and meeting with our temporary soon-to-pass flesh family, that choice should be fairly easy to make.
The fourth disease is a failure of cross-bearing. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34). In other parts of the world, our brothers and sisters are sacrificing jobs and homes, children and some their lives for the sake of the Gospel, but for us sacrificing a birthday is a step too far! If a mere birthday clashes with Christian service or a Christian gathering we won't give up that birthday for the sake of Christ! How far we have fallen! What small tiny sacrifices we are unwilling to make!
When it comes to birthdays, count me out!
So when it comes to birthdays count me out: because birthdays have become for me a symptom of the spiritual poverty of so much of western Christianity.
Biblically, birthdays are zero events - they have no spiritual value. When mentioned in the Scriptures they don't come out well and prove how these events can so easily become opportunities for excess. Pharaoh murdered one of his chief officials on his birthday (Genesis 40:20), Job was worried about his children sinning on their birthdays (Job 1:4), Herod murdered John the Baptist on his birthday (Mark 6:21). No New Testament letter writer ever says at the end of his letter, "by the way, do wish John a happy birthday" or "don't forget my birthday."
Perhaps when it costs us to be a Christian then birthdays will automatically recede into the far background, where they belong.
So when it comes to birthday wishes, count me out. It's my small protest against excess.
No redeeming features?Are there no redeeming features to birthdays? I'm not saying that. It's good to spend time with family and friends. In the Old Testament God's people celebrated festivals - we need breaks and happy events. It's a matter of balance and priorities.
Let us think Christ-like when it comes to birthdays. If our birthday or the birthday of a loved one falls on a day when we are due to meet with our brothers and sisters, or due to serve the Lord in a regular ministry, let's either move the birthday to another day or forget the birthday that year altogether. Let's be moderate about our expenditure, above all, let's fix our affections on things above.