From an Advent devotion this week, a convicting word: “We prefer to think of ourselves as givers- powerful, competent, self-sufficient capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the Biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are… (the Christmas story) calls us to see ourselves as we are- empty-handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby.”*
My holiday striving- including the giving- often comes from a place of pride, whereas the Christmas story, rightly understood, is humbling in the extreme. Just take a look at the astounding details of that one evening. The supernatural is everywhere evident: a virgin birth, choirs of angels, a guiding star, and dozens of ancient prophecies fulfilled in a single evening – awesome, in the literal sense of the word. In my wildest dreams I could never even imagine, much less orchestrate, a night that like that. I am usually scrambling on Christmas Eve, desperately trying to execute a reverent/ meaningful /beautiful /memorable /fun night for my family, full of friends and really good food. What is behind all the hard work of Christmas, that leaves me drained and resentful rather than full of peace and goodwill toward men?
When I shop for a needy family, why am I doing it? What really is the point of dropping dollar bills in the red kettle? The planning, the decorating, the baking, the devotions and the music- is it all just custom, what I am “supposed to do” at Christmas? Am I demonstrating, loud and clear for all to see, that I understand the “true meaning of Christmas?” Might there be a touch of the Pharisee in my Christmas celebrations…? What if all my scrambling self-effort is a misguided attempt to prove to God, to others, and to myself, that I REALLY DO LOVE HIM? Or is it possible that I am trying to give what I have not fully received…?
He knows my heart, He knows my motives, and He knows what I do out of love for Him and what I do out of duty, obligation, or even self-deception: “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
All my Christmas giving will not prove I am a woman who loves God; rather, it is my Christmas receiving that teaches me to love Him. Receiving relieves me of the need to prove anything; the gift of Jesus was undeserved in the first place. Receiving gives me a sincere hunger to please God, for no other reason than I love Him. And we know that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) If I have truly received the gift of Jesus, if I love Him and want to please Him, I will first seek Him. Then He will direct my giving, and that giving will glorify Him, not me.
Missionary Amy Carmichael said, “You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.” May all our doing and all our giving this holiday season glorify the One Who gave His only Son for us:
Father, I know Your Word fills me with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and sincere faith. I pray that I will not begrudge whatever I give. I don’t want to give out of necessity, but rather may I share what You have given me generously and joyfully, for You love a cheerful giver. After all, You make all grace abound towards me, that I will always have an abundance for every good work. 1 Timothy 1:5 NLT, 2 Corinthians 9:7-8
Father, I pray that You will give me the gift of helping others, and that I will help with all the strength and energy You supply. Then everything I do will bring glory to You through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:11 NLT
Lord I pray that when I happen upon someone who’s in trouble or needs help… I will not turn away pretending I don’t see him. I pray I will not keep a tight grip on my purse, but rather that I will open my purse and lend him what he needs, without counting the cost…. I pray I will never leave my needy neighbors in the lurch, refusing to help, but rather that I will give freely and spontaneously, without a stingy heart…. I pray I will always be generous, giving to my neighbors who are in trouble. Deuteronomy 15:7-11 MSG
Father, I pray that I will not trust in uncertain riches but in You, who gives us all things richly to enjoy. Every good and perfect gift I have is from You, anyway! Let me do good, that I may be rich in good works, ready to give and willing to share. 1 Timothy 6:17-18, James 1:17
Lord, this is the fast that You have chosen for me
(Give me the strength and the desire to choose it too):
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free…
You want me to share my bread with the hungry,
To bring to my house the poor who are cast out,
To cover the naked,
And not hide myself from others in need.
Then my light shall break forth like the morning,
My healing shall spring forth speedily,
And my righteousness shall go before me;
Your glory shall be my guard.
Then I will call, and You will answer;
I will cry, and You will say, “Here I am.” Isaiah 58: 6-9
Father, teach me to clothe myself in humility, for You resist the proud but give grace to the humble. Therefore show me how to humble myself under Your mighty hand, that You may exalt me in due time. By Your grace, show me not to think more highly of myself than I ought, but rather to think of myself with sober judgment. 1 Peter 5:6, Romans 12:3
Lord, I pray that I will come to such a trust in You through Christ. Not that I am sufficient in myself to think of anything as being from myself, but my sufficiency come from You, because You supply all my need according to Your riches in glory through Christ Jesus. 2 Corinthians 3:5, Philippians 4:19
* from Strange Gifts in the Season of Receiving, at mbird.com