The Wonder of Giving
Christmas. It’s a season of giving, isn’t it?
A time when we remember and celebrate God’s greatest gift given to the world, Christ the Lord.
A time when we search far and wide (or… this year, on the internet!) for the perfect gift to give to loved ones.
Yet the past 9 months have also felt like a season of taking. Many of the things we had counted on or looked forward to were taken away when this pandemic began: stability, relaxing vacations and fun events, sports teams and concerts, even singing at church, social gatherings and personal connections with family and friends. Some have experienced even deeper losses, in the form of jobs or losing family or friends.
It’s been a rough year.
And as Pastor Vijay shared in his sermon this Sunday, the griefs and losses of this past year (combined with the consumeristic pressure of the ever-increasingly secularized holiday season) may tempt us to be just a liiiiitle bit more selfish this year and think more about what we can get than what we can give. We may be tempted towards entitlement (because things are difficult, I deserve ________), selfishness (focusing on our own needs and wants), or self pity (poor me…).
I’m not going to lie to you: I’ve visited all 3 of those spots (entitlement, selfishness and self pity) just in the past 2 weeks! When we’re hurting, experiencing loss, or feeling pressed it’s a common human reaction for us to turn inward and think about ourselves. But a wise friend once told me, “just because something is common, doesn’t mean it’s normal.” What she meant by this is that just because something happens a lot, doesn’t mean it’s what should be happening! As followers of Jesus we know this. The default of a fallen humanity is selfishness, sure. But in Christ, we are new creations, and through the Holy Spirit we are to be continually transformed into greater and greater Christlikeness. And as Pastor Vijay shared this week, the image of Christ we are given through His birth, life, death, resurrection and reign is an image of self-emptying, self-giving love. So while selfishness may be our temptation (the common reaction), self-giving can be our choice (the new chosen reaction0. And over time, we pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit it will become our default (our new normal reaction).
But how do we get there? How do we get to a place of generous self-giving instead of giving in to the temptations towards entitlement and selfishness?
Well, friends… good question. One I have been wrestling with myself lately.
And so, while I was visiting the age-old temptations of entitlement, selfishness and self pity this past month, I began to ask Jesus this very question: How can I give when I feel like I don’t have a great storehouse to draw from? And it is out of that wrestling that I bring you our 5 reflections for this week. So let’s go on this journey together, shall we? Let’s invite Jesus himself to show us how we can experience the wonder of giving.
Day 1: Trusting the Giver
24 One gives freely, yet grows all the richer;
another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
25 Whoever brings blessing will be enriched,
and one who waters will himself be watered.
26 The people curse him who holds back grain,
but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it.
27 Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor,
but evil comes to him who searches for it.
28 Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,
but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.
The Bible is full of assurance of God’s provision for His people. Before money or farming began God provided Adam and Eve with food in the garden of Eden. You only have to read through the book of Exodus to see how generously God provides for His people, even in situations where it seemed like there was no hope (Exodus 16). We serve the God who causes bottles of oil to not run dry (1 Kings 17:7-16), uses 5 loaves and 2 fish to miraculously feed 5,000+ hungry people, and who assures us that just as much as we love to provide for our own children, so much more does our heavenly father provide good gifts to us (Matthew 7:7-12).
So often we clench our fists because we think to ourselves, “if I give what I have away, I won’t have anything left.”
But the backwards wisdom of God’s Kingdom teaches us that it is through generous giving that we will experience the blessing of God. We can give, even when things feel tight, because we know that we have a heavenly father who provides for all of our needs. Somehow, we can give freely, and still grow all the richer.
Consider you own attitude towards giving your… money, time, resources, energy, attention, talents, or praise.
- In which area do you feel most “impoverished” or tight?
- Where do you feel like you have the least to offer right now?
- Faith in this area isn’t a feeling. It isn’t certainty that even if you do this, there will be enough. It is a step of obedient trust, choosing to believe that the Lord will enrich those who bring blessing to others. How is God asking you to step out in faith today, trusting in His abundance, even in places where you might feel like you don’t have much to offer?
Day 2: Treasures in heaven
1 Timothy 6:6-19
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Another layer in learning to practice generous giving is acknowledging that not only do we already have all our needs provided for, but also that this world can only provide temporary comfort and security – and a type of comfort and security that can be taken away at any moment!
Hasn’t this pandemic shown us that in so many ways? Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is certain.
The riches God provides – they can never be stolen from us. Our inheritance is secure in heaven. Our future is sealed in Christ. We should be storing up treasures in heaven! These are the only treasures with everlasting guarantee! The market won’t drop, the gold won’t rust, nothing depreciates in the Kingdom of God. When we worry about earthly treasures: our stuff, money, security, jobs, even relationships… it can distract us from the things of everlasting value, worth, and security. Things like our faith, the faith community, sharing the good news, serving others, being a blessing instead of looking to be blessed.
- What goals are you pursuing in this season: Financial goals? Scheduling goals? Career goals? Grade goals?
- Goals are good. But aside from all of these, do you have any giving goals? Spiritual growth goals? Love goals? Generosity goals?
- How does the way in which you spend your: money, time, resources, skills, energy and power speak to where you are storing up your treasures?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you can re-allocate some of those resources to invest in things of eternal value instead.
Day 3: Unconventional Gifts Part I – Time
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Quite naturally, the first thing that comes to mind for most people when we talk about giving is money. But as we continue to grow in our desire to be generous givers, let’s explore some other areas where we may sometimes feel reluctant to give.
For some of us, money isn’t the thing we struggle to give away. The area where we feel most selfish, is in the arena of time.
I first became aware of this in my own life a couple of months ago when Pastor Vijay preached a sermon on the rich young ruler, and noted that while this particular man was sad he would have to give up his wealth to follow Jesus, for us it might be something different… something like:
- our future plans
- our relationships
- our health
- our time
And man did that last one hit me like a ton of bricks! The area of my life I’m most selfish with is definitely my time and energy. I’m an introvert (surprise!)and so those are the things I am often the most sad to part with.
Maybe that resonates with you too.
You see we live in a face-paced culture – a culture that rewards output, completed projects, emails answered and hours clocked. And if you’re already inclined to be a task-oriented person, or if you place even a little bit of your value or worth in what you DO, then time is more valuable than GOLD to you.
Or perhaps your not task-oriented at all, but you’re an introvert: you cherish your “me-time.” Or maybe you work in a service industry that requires you to give give give of your time and energy all day. Or maybe you’re a parent who never seems to get any time alone (especially in this pandemic!).
Whatever the case may be, for many of us time is the most valuable resource. Time is the thing we feel short on and don’t want to give away.
But then we hear Christ’s call to not look to our own interests, but to the interests of others. Yes we need healthy boundaries and to make sure we are healthy mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But we must be cautious of letting self-care, boundaries, or self-love become excuses that can keep us from loving others with our time.
To that end:
- Take a look at your schedule for the next few days or weeks. Pray over your schedule and ask God to show you how He wants you to prioritize and allocate your time and energy in that period.
- Slowing down (which we learned about last week) is related to this topic of time. How has God been encouraging you to slow down lately? What is He leading you to do in that extra space?
- Try this challenge: every morning for the next week, set aside 5 minutes when you first wake up to be still and ask God to be Lord of your day. Ask Him to show you if there is anyone you will already be interacting with, or perhaps need to reach out to, who needs the gift of your time and presence today – then make a point of giving that person the gift of your time.
Day 4: Unconventional Gifts Part II – Words
1 Thessalonian 5:12-18
12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Another area that we don’t often think of when it comes to giving is our words. While Scripture teaches us to be slow to speak, it also encourages us to encourage each other, love one another, speak truth to one another, hold one another accountable, and to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” All of these actions require the use of words.
If you’ve ever learned about the 5 love languages, you’ll know that one of the languages of love is words of affirmation. For many, a kind word is a gift. Consider giving kind words away freely today:
- Is there someone who could use the gift of your encouragement today? Ask the Holy Spirit to bring someone to mind, then give them a call or write them a note and encourage them. Whether you send them a Scripture, tell them something you love about them or just simply say thank you, give the gift of encouragement away.
- Rejoicing, prayer and thanksgiving are also ways we can give of our words.
- What are some things you can rejoice and praise God for? Take some time to tell Him!
- How much of you time is spent praying for yourself vs. praying for others? Ask God if there is someone in particular you could pray for today. See if anyone specific (or a specific group of people) come to mind. Then, give the gift of prayer by praying for that person or group, either in secret, or you could even consider giving them a call and praying with them over the phone.
Day 5: Unconventional Gifts Part III – Legacy
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
In our last sermon of the Revelation series, Pastor Dave talked about passing on the hope of Jesus to others (you can watch that sermon HERE). As we discussed this sermon in our Home Group I remember being filled with so much gratitude for my parents and the faith legacy that they had passed down to me. I am so thankful to God that through my parents I came to know and love Jesus and have a love for the Word of God, His church, and His mission. My parents gave me lots of beautiful gifts throughout the years, lots of beautiful opportunities, and instilled in me many good and healthy habits. But the greatest thing gift they ever gave was the time they took to teach me how to follow after Jesus. In fact, it isn’t even just my parents I can thank for this – faith was also passed down to me from my church, pastors, mentors, friends and random books! But it was those closest to me who played the most important role in my faith development.
The greatest gift we could ever give to someone isn’t something money can buy. It isn’t a nice gesture or word of encouragement (though as we’ve talked about, those things are wonderful and important!). The greatest gift we can give is the gift of faith in Jesus. It’s the gift of “teaching them to obey everything [Jesus has commanded us.” (Matthew 28:20). This is the most lasting gift we will leave! We can leave a legacy of faith.
- God wants you to invest more in your relationship with Him. I don’t have to ask Him if that’s true. I KNOW it is. What needs to change in your life so that you can give more of yourself (your time, energy, heart, etc.) to Jesus and grow deeper in faith?
- Do you really believe that deep faith is the greatest gift you could ever give to others? How can you be more intentional about passing on the legacy of faith to those around you (friends, family, coworkers)?
- The next generation needs adult mentors and friends to invest in them. Pray about whether or not God might be asking you to invest in our kids or youth ministries for a season. Contact Pastor Melissa (kids) or Pastor Kait (youth and young adults) for more details on how you could be involved.
- If you’re a parent: how are you being intentional about discipling your kids in the way of Jesus? Are you leaving them with a strong faith legacy?
- Parents, Pastor Kait wants to help you with this! Give her a call 🙂