Thoughts From Beneath the Tree

I was sitting beneath my beautiful Christmas tree last night, looking at all of the pictures of my kids and little ornaments that represent all kinds of holidays, years, milestones in our lives. And all of a sudden I was struck by the abundance of Christmas and how it flies in the face of the current trend of “frugality”. Everywhere I look and read people are scaling back, cutting back, and trying to figure out how to give less. And though I absolutely applaud being purposeful with your money, there is something so empty in this approach to Christmas. They call it refocusing the season on Jesus, but in the process many have lost the spirit of the giver.

And as I sat there looking at my tree I was struck again by the nature of my wonderful God who extravagantly gave His only Son to us, so that we might know Him. He held nothing back. He didn’t scrimp on His gift. He gave freely, with love and abandoned generosity. We give in celebration of His gift. We give because He gave.

No, it’s not about the price of a gift, or the size of the gift. Rather I am talking about the spirit of the giver. This season is all about Jesus, but that shouldn’t mean that we don’t give gifts to our family and tell them we are focusing on Jesus. It means we embrace who God wants us to be in our family’s lives. Be His hands and His ambassadors to your parents, aunts, and grandparents. Instead of asking, what is the cheapest gift I can give to my brother or niece, ask the Holy Spirit how you can bless your brother. I guarantee you that God knows your budget, but it is something in your heart that changes when you give from His heart rather than your lack. I think the problem is that we are embarrassed when our gifts are small, rather than just celebrating that we get to give. You may be giving coupons to baby-sit for your sister’s children so that she can have a break with her husband, but that may be exactly what will bless her the most even though it doesn’t have a monetary tag.

People get so “religious” at Christmas and want to criticize the consumerism and excess and call for spending less and just “focusing on Jesus”. But while I agree with them on some things, I just think they have missed the whole point. People get into excess when they aren’t giving from their hearts and are instead giving because of expectations, obligation, or fear of offending someone. But you can be just as bound by being miserly. The fear of not having enough for yourself, stinginess, judgments that they have too much already, and religious self-justification all trap your heart inside a prison of fear and hoarding. Remember Scrooge? It’s not really that he had or didn’t have, because though he had lots of money, his heart was impoverished because he didn’t know how to be a giver. It’s not really the giving in excess or the hoarding, it is the spirit of the giver that is at issue

I have actually wanted to write this blog for some time now about the absence of “frugality” in the nature of God. Instead, everywhere you look you see His liberality. Why did He make so many kinds of fish in the sea, and then make completely different fish for the rivers? Why the amazing variety of colors in flowers? Why did we need so many different kinds of ants, or spiders, or butterflies? Have you ever stood on a mountain and watched a sunset, or happened on a field of wild flowers? God said that He is revealed in creation, and everywhere you look you see His glory and His extravagance.

Or look at Jesus. Yes, he lived simply, but He never lacked. In fact, when there was lack He multiplied what He had and fed 5,000 people. Such amazing compassion and generosity. Everywhere He went, He healed, He touched, He gave. His focus wasn’t on what He didn’t have to give, but instead He gave everything.

It just reminds me of how many people read the Christmas story and focus on the scarcity of the manger, instead of the extravagance of the gift inside. The wise men saw it and brought Him everything. The shepherds saw it and worshipped. The truth is that the manger doesn’t matter when your eyes are on your Savior. And in our lives, it isn’t our circumstances that define who we are, it is the gift that has been given to us that defines us. We love because He first loved us. We give because He gave.

This Christmas is one of the tightest financially for us and for so many others, but I have never been so excited to give. Yes, I still want the best deals on what I am giving, but my heart is to be an extension of the heart of God. There are some gifts that I am giving that cost so little, but I know it is what the Lord put in my heart to give. So I’m not adding to it. I’m just giving exactly what He prompts me to give. There are other gifts that cost a little more and Matt and I have prayed through those too. But when you know in your heart that you are giving from His heart, there is so much joy in the giving.

Your budget for Christmas may just be a plate of cookies for everyone on your list, but if that is what the Lord puts in your heart to give, give with joy and with liberality. Rejoice that you get to be a blessing to those in your life. Right a meaningful note of thanks to accompany the cookies and give with joy. If you give with the spirit of frugality and lack you will miss the joy of giving whatever gift you give. You will constantly be apologizing for your gift and your circumstances. Rather, set your budget and then instead of focusing on what you don’t have to give, set your heart on the joy of getting to give.

Generosity does not mean more, or bigger, it means giving with freedom. No matter what your financial situation, you are free to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and to be led by the prompting of the Spirit of God. And where He leads, He also provides. And that is the amazing thing about giving in the Spirit of our generous God. He loves a cheerful giver and just seems to pour His blessing all over it.

I am reminded of the story of George Muller. He ran an orphanage in England and saw miracles on a daily basis. He literally poured out His life giving to those children and God was continually surprising Him and proving His goodness. He tells the story of having nothing to eat for breakfast and setting the table anyway. They all sat down at the table and He prayed and thanked God for His provision. At that moment, the doorbell rang and a milk truck had broken down outside the orphanage and the milkman asked if they could use his milk because it was going to spoil, then someone stopped by with groceries, and the butcher showed up to give them meat. Literally daily miracles.

There is an old saying that you can’t out-give God… I dare you to try it this Christmas. Don’t give what you don’t have (I am NOT advocating putting Christmas on the credit card!), but give with liberality from what He has given to you (and I am not just talking about money, toys, and presents), and you will be amazed at what will happen in your own heart. Christmas is truly a birthday party celebrating the most extravagant gift that has ever been given. Whether you live in shack or castle, God gave His only Son so that you might be reconciled to God and have relationship with Him. Chew on that. Think about God’s liberality toward you, and ask Him to give you His heart this Christmas season: a heart for the sick and the poor, a heart for the lonely and broken, a heart for your family, a heart of compassion and generosity, a heart of a giver.