A few weeks ago we visited my hometown for its annual charity cook-off (yes . . . I did in fact eat over 40 sample-size cups and it was amazing). In the midst of the white, sweet, and spicy chilis, my mom asked me a simple question that many of your moms have probably asked you recently: what do you want for Christmas? The date: October 21.
My mom does this almost every year (as do my grandparents, my wife, my in-laws, and others that I’m probably forgetting). In preparation for all these asks about stuff that I want to receive, I’ve created a note on my phone that I regularly update so I can spend time all year long thinking about things I might want. It’s great! And it’s dangerous for me.
Gratitude and Greed
Thanksgiving and Black Friday couldn’t be more different. Of course, we use Black Friday as a time to buy some gifts in preparation for Christmas, but, if you’re anything like me, you also use Black Friday (and now Cyber Monday, just in case we didn’t already buy enough stuff!) as a time to get even more of what you want because the prices are lower. Why is it that our annual holiday for giving thanks is constantly overshadowed by the day we buy a bunch of stuff? What does it say about us as a society that we can’t even spend an entire day just pausing to give thanks before we spend the evening starting to buy stuff as Black Friday sales officially begin before we even finish one day of being thankful?
Why is it so much easier for me to instantly create a list of things I want rather than be content with the abundance that I already possess?
As we stare down the arrival of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I wonder what it would look like for us to cultivate excitement about what we can give rather than expectation of what we’ll receive. Make no mistake friends, we have wired ourselves to receive in this coming season, and it will take intentionality on our parts to get excited about giving. Here are three questions I’m asking myself that I hope will cultivate excitement toward giving in my spirit this Christmas season.
Question #1: How aligned am I with God’s generous attitude?
In Leviticus 19:9-10, God tells his people, “Do not reap to the very edges of your field.” He then tells them to only harvest once in the vineyards and to leave behind what has already fallen to the ground. We see this principle lived out by Boaz in the book of Ruth when he tells his harvesters to leave extra stalks behind for Ruth to pick up as she gathers among these unharvested edges. Why would God ask his people to sacrifice their own profits and prosperity by doing such “wasteful” things like being lazy harvesters?
We see the answer back in Leviticus 19:10: “Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.” God seems to be revealing two things about himself in this passage: (1) that he desires to provide for “the poor and the foreigner” through the existing resources of his people and (2) that he is a leader who will provide everything his people need—both for themselves and for the needy in their midst.
Where am I being generous like God? How am I living out of a scarcity mentality, trying to protect what I have or accumulate more so I can be more comfortable and “satisfied”?
Question #2: What might it look like to give my time to those in need?
In Generous Justice, Tim Keller reminds us that “Jesus, in his incarnation, ‘moved in’ with the poor. He lived with, ate with, and associated with the socially ostracized.” John 1:14 says the same thing this way: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Bottom line: Jesus had immediate proximity to people in need.
I’ve noticed that theoretical needs don’t often motivate me to take action. Conversely, the needs that are right in front of me or present in the lives of people I regularly spend time with prompt me to action. My desire to pray for, write to, and financially invest in our family’s Compassion International child increases dramatically when I read her letters, look at her picture, and reread her story.
What if we did more than filling shoeboxes and writing checks this Christmas season and we actually gave our time to people in need who are right where we are? Who are the relationally deprived people in your neighborhood that might enjoy drinking a cup of coffee with you? What yards need one final raking or mowing? How might your time be spent seeing the needs around you with your own eyes and working to meet them with your own hands and feet?
Question #3: What do I currently possess that I can simply give away?
Our oldest son is approaching four years old, and he has a budding problem: he always wants a new toy! Here are a few of the questions we hear most weeks: “If I eat my breakfast, can I have a new truck?” “After I finish quiet time, can I get a surprise?” or “If I listen to Mommy, can I have another toy?” It’s challenging and frustrating to get this little guy to be grateful and content rather than always looking for the next thing.
And then my wife, Steph, and I realize that we are exactly the same. We anxiously await payday so we can have a new round of eating out. We have full closets and bookshelves yet thrift shops, book sales, and Amazon beckon with wish lists full of new items we “need.” Our society inundates us with a compulsive desire for more rather than a contentment for what we’ve already got.
But my lovely wife often has the best ideas for us to implement in our family. She has challenged us as a family to have a giving box from December 1 through Christmas Day. Each day in December, Steph, Josiah, and I will all donate one item we own to the giving box. On December 26, we’ll donate—not sell—the entire box. A fundamental difference exists between “garage-saling” our stuff away and simply giving out of our abundance. What might happen if we entered Christmas Day having prepared ourselves to receive by intentionally giving out of our stuff for 25 straight days?
Our God is a generous God who has modeled sacrificial generosity by sending his Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for your sin and mine. What if we spent the next few weeks not preparing to receive but giving of our time, treasure, and talent as God has done for us?