In college I read a challenging, life-changing book about world missions. I read about a Chinese pastor of a large underground church who wrote a letter to another pastor and friend of his in the United States. He wrote to his friend something paraphrased like this, “We’re praying for the American church and for our brothers and sisters in Christ there. It seems that we’re handling our persecution here better than you are handling your prosperity.” I have seen this personally played out in my own life. It seems that I grow desperately closer to the Lord during trials and problems, but it’s easier to coast through life independent of God when things are going well.
When I read the title of this week’s challenge during the Advent Conspiracy, Give More, my mind drifted to what that really meant to me in light of the lesson I learned from that Chinese pastor. How do I handle prosperity? How do I handle consumerism during a season where we’re supposed to “stop and look at Christ” like my friend Sarabeth prayed this morning in church? If God owns everything in my life, how do I give of Himself to others through what He has entrusted me with (all year long, really)? Note to self: whether you have $1000 or $10, the responsibility to manage well what God has given us and for His glory is the same.
To simplify the thought in my mind I came up with this: Give More = Give Differently. The challenge is not to stop giving, right? God is a Giver. But how and what to give? Below I will share 2 ways of giving that I challenge myself with. Perhaps it’ll change how you give the rest of the year.
My 2 year old toddler has the same love language as me: Quality Time. If you want to make him (or me) happy, just sit on the couch with him watching Dora the Explorer or Elmo, or sit next to him while he plays cars. I recently read a blog about an NBA player who is a single dad of two boys. He travels a lot and said the bottom line with his boys is that they need “attention and affection.” That struck a chord in my heart. Even when I think I’m giving my time away, I’m doing so hurriedly, half-heartedly, distracted, with a mental list of what more productive things I could be doing during this time of just “being” with another person. So how about giving your full attention, full affection to those you are spending time with? Wherever you are, be all there!
Give homemade gift certificates to family members and/or friends to have lunch, coffee or some other activity together. My younger sisters love our tradition of “sister time.” Sometimes they ask me, “can we have some sister time this week?” I know it’s time to just spend one-on-one & away from the rest of the family so they can be known and be heard without interruptions. Do you have children? I only have one, but in the course of writing this blog I have been “interrupted” five times because he knows I’m not paying attention to him. He says to me “Mommy, sit here with me, Mommy!” And I stop. And I do sit & look at his eyes when he speaks. And I give him my full attention and all my affection. Laundry can wait. Life can’t.
I have a pet peeve that I may have alluded to earlier. If you didn’t catch it it’s this: I absolutely hate “seasonal giving” and then being stingy with our money the rest of the year. Thankfully, I have been a part of churches that encourage both: to live a surrendered financial life to God during Christmas, as well as every other time of the year.
I have another pet peeve. I prefer gifts that keep on giving. This is partly because I grew up 18 years of my life in a third world country, and being practical is engrained in me. Or maybe it’s also that thing about “don’t give a man a fish…teach him to fish.” I come from a large family being the eldest of seven children. One year I was overwhelmed with the “consumerism” of trying to buy gifts for all of them (and also overwhelmed with a three month old newborn). I realized I wanted to give something different. I didn’t want them to come to expect things-things-things all the time. So they each got $20 and a Heifer Gift Catalog where they could choose to buy chickens or a goat for a family in a developing country. I gave them the gift of having the ability to give. Maybe when they make their first $20, they’ll do the same.
I realize there are a gazillion ways to get involved in our communities locally & abroad. The following life-giving, long-term sustainable avenues are dear to me simply because I have been personally involved in them & they’ve captured my heart.
Living Water International (www.water.cc/advent)
I grew up in Nicaragua and know first hand how we had to boil our drinking water to kill germs, bacteria and/or parasites so we wouldn’t get sick. In other countries worse off than my own, women & children walk for hours & miles a day to go fetch water, and dirty at that. Clean water is life-giving, life-changing, improves quality & longevity of life. It costs an average of $1 for 1 person to have clean water for 1 year. Got any change in your pocket?
Gardens in the Desert – (notforgotteninternational.org/nfi-programs.html)
In 2008 I spent 10 days in a Saharawi refugee camp in the middle of the Sahara Desert in Algeria. In the desert, there isn’t even water underground for wells to be dug. Water is brought in by trucks via the United Nations. I didn’t see anything that grew in the sand. But with $50 you can provide a bag of specially-engineered soil that needs low-water & seeds to help a Saharawi family grow food in the desert (desert that gets to be as hot as 130 degrees Fahrenheit)!
God promises that not even a glass of water given out in His name will come without reward & He challenges us to build treasures in heaven not on earth. So this Christmas (and the rest of the year…), may it be on earth as it is in heaven.