What message do you want a Christmas gift to send? Do you feel your message is limited by the amount of money you spend on the gift? Are frustration, guilt and sorrow feelings that should be associated with Christmas giving?
Most people would agree that Christmas is a spiritual time. But is it possible most people don’t equate the act of Christmas gift-giving as a spiritual act? For example, you may know someone who loves the Christmas celebration and sees gift-giving as a part of that celebration. They believe it is a must-do tradition, without any deeper consideration. Or worse, they may experience it with the dread of fulfilling a social expectation, which in turn causes resentment. Few likely view gift-giving as a spiritual act or an act of worship.
The thought of making—or realizing—gift-giving as a spiritual act might, at first blush, add even more stress and guilt on top of the already burdensome responsibilities of Christmas shopping. Pressures such as not having enough time or money -- or for many, spending too much -- can weigh down the spirits of many at Christmas. Along with all these anxieties, adding the weight of pleasing God with each gift we give is just too much.
But what if, by viewing gift-giving this season as a spiritual act and a physical expression of your faith, it removes the pressure and guilt and instead puts us in a place of joy and peace, even as we are doing last-minute shopping? How could that be? Consider the following.
Giving, whether at Christmas or anytime, if done from the spiritual or godly perspective, is what we call good works—works that can glorify God, works that provide and bless others, works that express love. Giving, with a desire to honor God with every gift, not only blesses us with the joy of giving but now becomes an act of worship as well. How wonderful is that? The joy of blessing others now blesses God and, in doing so, blesses each of us. Can it get any better than that?
The frustration comes when we take God's will for giving and try to improve on it. In effect, when we step outside of God's will in our life by trying to buy something we can’t afford, we spend something God has not provided to us.
Imagine you work for a company, and your boss gives you the task of buying uniforms for the staff. He then gives you the money to spend on these uniforms, which he knows is the exact cost needed to purchase these uniforms. You then go out and buy uniforms for everyone. But instead of buying what the boss told you to buy, you find uniforms you like better and that cost more. You also buy uniforms for people that weren’t on the list because you didn’t want them to feel left out, or possibly, you wanted to impress them with the power given to you.
As you go on, you spend money you didn’t have, causing you—and your company—to go into debt, which causes anxiety, fear, and a loss of joy in executing the task.
It is when we take on responsibilities not given to us by God that we experience frustration, loss of peace, and loss of joy. This is because we were not equipped and not given the tools or resources to do a job that we were never given permission to do.
The problem is not the lack of resources or time, but that we don’t trust God enough to work within these perfect allocations from God! Consider the Bible verse, Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
If you are scrambling over the final days before Christmas to impress others or give yourself empty peace, here is a process for Christmas gift giving that just might help you realize the fullness of joy and peace during the celebration of the birth of our Savior:
- Make a list with three columns.
- At the top of the page, write the amount you have available to spend for Christmas. Don’t be discouraged with the amount. Remember, it is not the amount spent. The gift is no more than a caring agent for the message you are sending; the gift is not the message but the messenger.
- In the first column, make a list of things you could do for someone that do not cost money but are more giving of your time and of yourself.
- Write a letter to express love, say thank you, catch up, or share joys.
- Invite someone to a dinner that you prepare.
- Invite someone to a one-on-one outing, such as hiking, picnicking, eagle watching or anything else they like to do.
- Make a project, paint a picture, write a song or a poem, or knit something.
- Offer to babysit or clean a car, home or yard.
- In the second column, list everyone to whom you wish to give a gift. What type of present would express your love for them the most?
- In the third column, write either the amount you will spend on that person (within the total amount you listed above) or what you will do or create for them.
- Pray over this list, thanking God for clarifying His desire for your giving, providing the resources to make it so, and allowing you to participate in His great works.
- Prepare for next Christmas by deciding on the amount you desire to have available for next year’s gift-giving. Divide that amount by 12. Each month, put aside that amount into a savings account. When the season comes to begin your Christmas shopping, you have the peace of knowing you are financially prepared to do so.
My prayer for you is that, starting with this Christmas and growing continuously, you will realize the fullness of God's joy with each gift you give. Merry Christmas, and may God bless you.
(Mark Minnella is president and co-founder of the National Association of Christian Financial Consultants. He designed the first faith-based professional designation program, Christian Financial Consultant and Advisor, in the industry. He has extensive background as a leader in the faith-based investment movement, is the founder of Integrity Investors, LLC, and the author of “The Wall Street Awakening.”)