Have you noticed? Shopping mall parking lots are a bit more full these days. While some of us feel a bit jaded by the way commercialism and consumerism cast their ego-centric shadows over the meaning of Christmas, I think we can still appreciate the baseline motivation behind the shopping and bargain-hunting. If so much attention is on gifts, it's because we want to give. If you're like me, even if you want to give, it's still somewhat anxiety producing to give around this time of year. Maybe it's the pressure to give, maybe it's the variety of ways we're expected to give -- not just gifts, but our calendars to be here and go there, our efforts to do this and participate in that. Is there a way to give this season and enjoy it? How can we experience the joy of giving...of ourselves, our treasures, our time, our talents?
I think there's something to be said about being prepared to give that makes it easier to be joyful in our giving. I've written about giving on purpose in a previous post, and I think the principle bears repeating. Giving when we're ready allows us to give on purpose, intentionally, voluntarily. It guards us from giving that's obligatory. The apostle Paul understood this in his letter to the Corinthians. Before showing up with the expectation that they give of their financial resources, he sent messengers ahead of time to allow for personal preparation.
But I am sending the brothersin order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given. 2 Corinthians 9:3-5, NIV.
For generosity to be joyful, we need ample opportunity to plan and prepare.
So what are some practical ways to cultivate readiness in giving? Some of these suggestions may be a little late, but I hope they're applicable beyond the Christmas season too.
- clear a runway — If considering a gift of money to a charity or church, or planning your gift list for loved ones, we're likely to find more joy when we've had time to save/budget for it. If it’s a gift of time to be here or there with this group or that, pace yourself the week prior to and even build in some margin time just before or after your visit so you don't feel rushed on the bookends of that particular appointment. If preparing a gift of your talents to be involved in a program or a gift of your energy to help someone out, practice frequently for your role or pray for an increased measure of strength/skill. The point is that the whirlwind of everyday life drains our resources/calendars/energy so we have nothing to give or have little to act on our plan to give. Being intentional to clear a runway allows us to give from a full tank joyfully rather than an empty one grudgingly.
- write down your plan to give — If giving money, create the line item in your budget. When giving time, put it on your calendar (even give yourself frequent alerts leading up to the appointment). For the gift of talents or effort, make your intentions known to someone else (not for the sake of drawing attention to yourself but generating accountability for yourself.)
Again, taking our cues from 2 Corinthians 9, personal decisiveness is a key factor to our level of joy in giving. Paul encourages believers to individually decide how much they'll individually give.
You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 2 Corinthians 9:7, NLT.
The reality is that joyful giving begins at the heart level, and that is a very personal, individual experience.
Giving can’t be decided or prescribed for us by someone else if it's to be a cheerful gift. It must come from the inside out. If it’s the "thought that counts," than it must be my thought that counts in my gift, not someone else’s thought. Giving from reluctance or giving from compulsion results when it’s not my thought behind the gift. So have we given ourselves the mental space to reflect and form our decisions to give this season? All too often I've been swept into the Christmas season, reacting to every expectation to give of myself in every which way. I invite you to join me in personally preparing and individually deciding to give of myself, my resources, my time and energy this season. May the Lord grant us grace sufficient to give liberally, generously, joyfully.
And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 2 Corinthians 9:8, NLT.