A card arrived in my letterbox today. Filled with words that overflowed from a generous heart, it touched me deeply. I felt seen. I felt known. I felt appreciated and I knew that I held in my hands a precious gift...
These are the words God impressed upon my heart when I asked Him recently what it looked like for me to live in light of His everlasting and indestructible Kingdom. And they've continued to reverberate in my heart on a daily basis ever since.
I am, by both nature and nurture, a generous person. Growing up with parents who despite their own lack, continually had open hands and open hearts, I learned from a young age the beauty of cultivating a generous spirit. Yet, it's an attribute that I have struggled to give full expression to at various points in my journey.
We have never been materially wealthy. A combination of some unwise decisions in our youth, coupled with our obedience to pursue a call to ministry, has meant that the budget has seldom balanced, and we have had to daily trust God for what we need. For whatever reason, God has also chosen to position us in some of the more affluent parts of our city, and consequently, I have found myself continually confronted by what others have the ability to do and to give. In the face of their apparent abundance, I have often allowed lack and my perfectionist tendencies to close my hands and my heart, believing the lie that I have nothing of value to give.
Christmas - the time of giving and receiving - can amplify these lies and the accompanying anxiety that I do not have enough to offer.
But here's the thing that God keeps graciously and repeatedly reminding me of: radical generosity, kingdom generosity, is not based on what we do or don't have, but on what He has. It lives rooted in the truth of His abundance and His goodness.
Every single one of us faces poverty in some area of our lives. Whether external or internal, we all experience the frustration of our own limitations. But radical generosity is not hindered by such lack. It takes what we do have and sees it as a seed to sow - a seed that when we release in partnership with Him, will be multiplied beyond our wildest dreams.
He multiplies the seed as you sow it, so that the harvest of your generosity will grow.
Fear would try to tell us that if we release the little we do have, we will not have enough. It tries to scare us into clutching at our time and possessions, into closing off our hearts. But God's Kingdom doesn't work that way - it knows nothing of lack. When we release what He has given us, he simply expands and multiplies it.
I've discovered that we don't have to wait until we feel like we have accumulated or accomplished enough to be generous. We can start right where we are, trusting in the goodness of the One who always has enough.
Scripture is full of acts of generosity. Some of them carried extravagant price tags like the perfume that Mary poured out upon the feet of Jesus or the thousand burnt offerings that Solomon sacrificed to God, while others could have easily been overlooked and seen as insignificant - like the few coins that the widow popped in the offering box or the young boy's lunch of bread and fish. What they all have in common is that God commended the heart with which they gave to Him.
You can't attach a price tag to true acts of generosity. Their worth has nothing to do with their monetary value. They are defined by the heart of the giver to minister to and bless the recipient.
In writing this, I have found myself reflecting on the generosity that I myself have been a recipient of recently. Generosity that has sprung up in spite of lack and limitation in the giver's own life.
Like the friend who gave me money to buy something to wear to an event I was running when I knew she needed new clothes herself.
Or the friend who often texts me about what she has been praying for for my children when I know that she is currently knee-deep in a crazy mothering season.
Or the friend who faithfully sows $5 out of every paycheck into this ministry when I know she is still waiting for her own financial breakthrough.
Or the woman who became a friend after reaching out to me when she heard I was writing a book and she didn't want me to feel alone in the process like she had.
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
Each of these gifts have given me an even greater gift - the gift of presence. Their acts of generosity towards me have been a statement that they see me and desire to identify with my need, with my season, with my heart.
Presence is the gift Christ offers you and I each and every day. It's the gift that we remember as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. The gift of Him dwelling among us and within us. The gift of Emmanuel, God with us.
And it's the gift that we also get to give if we will choose to push past the lies and limitations of our circumstances and simply open our hands and hearts to those around us.
Radical generosity is a spirit. It is the fruit of living according to the reality of heaven and not the reality of our circumstances. It is a pouring out of ourselves knowing that He will pour back into us all that we need because He never runs out. He never runs out of resources and He never runs out on us.
This Christmas, let's give the gift of presence. It costs nothing and yet everything.
What does radical generosity look like for you today?
I am not the greatest gift giver. I struggle to choose the ‘right’ gift for people.
When my husband and I started dating, he would buy me over the top gifts that I always felt like I could never live up to. One such gift was a custom-made surfboard. I’d watched the movie Blue Crush, a surfer girl movie and had subsequently decided that I wanted to learn to surf, so he thought he'd encourage my aspirations. Let’s just say I’m not a pro surfer now!
I always felt like I could never repay the outrageous gifts he gave me. I wish I had realised back then that his gifts were simply an expression of his love for me and that he didn’t expect anything like it in return.
I was reminded recently of a Christmas song I love, The Little Drummer Boy. A young boy has been invited to come and bring a gift to the king, a gift to Jesus, and his response is, “I have no gift to bring….that’s fit to give the king.”
Have you ever found yourself in the same shoes? I think the reason I love this song so much, is because it resonates with how I have felt at times, just like that little boy with no gift that is fit for Jesus.
But the song doesn’t end there - the little boy looks down and sees what he had overlooked, what was right in front of him all along and asks, “Shall I play for you, on my drum?”
Picture this young boy standing before Mary and Joseph, standing in the presence of the newborn king, Jesus. He’s been invited in to give his gift and I’m sure he is feeling inadequate, unprepared, and under-qualified to even be in the presence of this king. Maybe he doubted whether his gift would be enough, but his longing to offer something, anything, compelled him to offer what he had.
Mary nodded her approval, and the boy continues,"I played my drum for him, I played my best for him”.
The little drummer boy’s confidence rose a little and a smile appeared on his face as Mary nodded to him that they would love to hear him play. You mean I get to play my drum for the king?
My daughter Evelyn, who is 4 1/2 (and the sunshine of my life), recently sang to me one of the lines from a Christmas song her class is preparing for their end of year concert. The words were so precious, “The best gift I can give Jesus is me”.
What if, that really is the truth, that in all my exhausting, striving efforts to bring my best to Jesus, all he really wants is ME?
What if the whole point of this song, is that the gift that the little boy brought for Jesus, was just him? Him on his drum, singing to the king?
I don’t know where this Christmas finds you, or what circumstances you are walking through, but I do know that whatever your life looks like, God still wants you. You are the gift that He desperately wants to receive this Christmas.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
As I present to Him myself, the gift He offers me in return is more than I could imagine.
He not only reminds me who I am, He offers me His love, grace and peace. That day, the little drummer boy left having encountered Jesus, and that changed everything.
Jesus invites me to come as I am - to let Him receive me into His family. But the beautiful truth is that in the coming, in the giving of myself, I am forever changed by the gift He then offers me. Himself.
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum.
It had been one of those mornings. From the moment he opened his eyes I had known it would be. After a night of broken sleep, Mr. 2 was on a rampage. Nothing and no one was safe in his overtired, illogical state.
Toys and tantrums were thrown, food was refused, plates overturned and the cover of our advent book torn in two. While I was busy cleaning up one mess he was off creating another one. Not even a turn on the neighbours' new swing could placate him.
Miss 12 got frustrated as he dismantled her picture perfect Christmas tree for the umpteenth time - the baubles were now his 'footballs' and he was delighted to find that some of them had confetti stars inside! His sisters, on the other hand, were not so delighted to have to pick up the said stars to return them to their rightful place.
We all breathed a sigh of relief when he went back to bed at 10am.
Cuppas were made, Christmas cookies popped on a plate and we grabbed our advent book - its torn cover now repaired by Miss 9. As I looked at this book and thought about our morning, God spoke to my heart. Amongst all the chaos of the morning there had been moments of beauty - and this torn book with words filled with the truth of Christmas was another pause, another moment of respite in our day.
This is the heart of Christmas - that into all our mess, from two-year old tantrums to when life feels torn at the seams - Jesus brings His beauty.
That first Christmas was far from picture perfect.
Israel was occupied
Elizabeth was barren
Mary was unwed
The journey to Bethlehem, long and uncomfortable - on a donkey no less
There was no room at the inn
Nor in men's hearts
Because Jesus did not come in the way they expected. They were looking for a warrior; for a resplendent King, not a baby. They did not anticipate Him coming so softly, so gently - so vulnerably. And so they missed Him - rejected and despised Him even.
I wonder how many times I've missed Him with me because life hasn't looked the way that I've wanted it to or thought it should? How many times I've rejected or even despised His work in my life?
Yet just as He did for Israel, He keeps drawing near. Keeps seeking me out. Keeps offering to exchange the ashes and messes of my life for His beauty.
For my chains, He offers freedom
For my shame, He bestows honour
From my barreness, He brings new life
When the journey is long, He lends me His strength
When I feel alone, He stays with me. Never leaving, never forsaking.
My life - this Christmas - does not need to be picture perfect for Him to be present and neither does yours. Jesus is the One who stands at the doors of our hearts and knocks, waiting for us to hear His voice; to open up our hearts and make room for Him to be with us so that we can feast on all that He is..
This invitation was not given to a people who had it all together; whose life and faith was picture perfect. It was spoken to a Church who had lost their passion and had become self-satisfied and self-sufficient. Jesus saw them as they really were: wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked and He offered them what they could not supply for themselves. In His love for them He spoke correction and reminded them that He was still there; still wanting relationship with them; still wanting them to experience and taste His goodness.
And this is what He desires for us this Christmas. That we would not rely on our own strength and resources; that we would not measure our lives against a store catalogue or social media highlight reel, but that we we would open the doors of our hearts and make room for Him to be with us, mess and all. That we would make Him our source and the object of our affections. That we would dine on His abundance and enjoy His riches.
You don't need a picture perfect Christmas because you have the most perfect gift that there is, Jesus. Hear Him knocking - not just at Christmas - but each and every day and open the door wide for Him to be Emmanuel, God with us, God with you.
As the Christmas season fast approaches, my thoughts have not been on the miracle of Jesus’ birth and the visitation of the 3 wise men. No, I’m feeling Charles’ Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” and the 3 spirits who represented the past, present and future - in particular, I am identifying with the spirit of Christmas past.
I’ve been dragging the chains of Jacob Marley’s Ghost around with me for more years than I care to say, my heart filled with negativity about Christmas.
As the merchandise and Christmas baubles appear in the shops from as early as late September, my heart begins to sink. Commercialism and the forced happy family ‘vibe’ start to fill my mind. The spirit of Christmas past visits me in the form of unhappy Christmas memories lodged in my heart and thoughts.
But, this year as I walked through a local Department store, cringing at the Christmas music which is played year after relentless year, God spoke to me in a new way about Christmas and the ghosts that have lingered on in my life. “It’s time to let go of the past” He said (He’s used this sentence to me before on a number of topics). “It is time to see the real spirit of Christmas, not what the Devil has blinded you into believing”
It was then I realised I have been parked in “Christmas past” way, way, way too long and have only believed lies, giving them more power year after year. By wearing the black tinted glasses of self-pity and gloom, my eyes have not been open to what is true, what is noble, what is right, pure, lovely, praiseworthy and so on.
The Spirit of Christmas Past took Ebenezer Scrooge back to his childhood where he revisited all the miserable times he endured as a boy - and we know that Scrooge became a hardened bitter man over the course of time as he allowed those childhood wounds to poison his heart.
The Holy Spirit took me back to my past, not to indulge me in my sorry memories, but to make peace and move on to the present. I noticed a few days later as I walked around the Mall and saw the Christmas Tree in the main square and gifts galore in the shops, that for the first time ever I did not feel like Scrooge, emitting groans of “Baa Humbug” here, there and everywhere.
No, I was smiling, feeling more than able to celebrate, understanding at last the truth of the first Christmas there ever was. A Christmas that wasn’t all glory and a 5-star hotel, with England’s Royal Portland Hospital birthing rooms and a family welcome later.
It was far removed from this. Never mind the 3 spirits mentioned in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, the Christmas story that should touch our hearts, has much to thank to the 3 angels of the Lord.
We pick up the story with Joseph who is engaged to a godly woman named Mary. The unthinkable happens (this is how the world would see it) – an angel of the Lord visits her, foretelling that she will have a baby. In due course she becomes pregnant and it isn’t Joseph’s child - how culturally unacceptable, how shaming. Is this the glorious start for Jesus’s arrival into our world?
Joseph considers ending the engagement, but does not want to expose Mary to public disgrace (even though he considers a divorce). A 2nd angel visits and speaks to Joseph in a dream, telling him not to divorce her, for this is God’s work. So, Joseph marries Mary, who I’m sure had no end of trouble explaining away this pregnancy. This was not the way to usher in the birth of a King.
But trouble isn’t over yet. Jesus is born in Bethlehem and King Herod upon hearing of his birth wants to see him. Enter the 3rd angel of the Lord who appears in a dream, warning Joseph, instructing him to flee to Egypt as Herod has plans to kill the baby Jesus.
I felt God say to me through this “Don’t read the Christmas story one more time – read it for the first time”. I discovered a lesson as well through Dickens' writing, for when Scrooge saw what was ahead with the spirit of Christmas future, he dealt with his own Christmas past and embraced the present and the truth.
By looking to God and giving him my Christmas past, by seeing the true story of Jesus’ humble birth and God risking his beloved son– I saw that the true spirit of Christmas is love. True love. A love that brings healing to my past and hope to my present and future days.
Let me leave you with a question. How are your viewing Christmas this year? Through the eyes of Scrooge and the spirit of the past? With eyes that have heard the story so many times it’s just become a routine festive occasion? Or are you allowing God to speak to your heart and show you the truth, of the love that came down at Christmas?
One of my favourite pass-times as a kid was writing. I used to make my own books and write poetry on our old type-writer. Thankfully both my writing and technology have come a long way!
It is my prayer that these posts from the blogging team encourage you to embrace the season that you are in and to live it with purpose for God's glory.
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