Some years ago I went on a trip to Asia. Ten days before leaving a lady in my church quietly slipped me an envelope and whispered: “Go, enjoy yourself.” Inside was £100 spending money. It was incredibly kind and thoughtful, and totally unexpected.
I was reminded of this gesture today on Giving Tuesday, a day dedicated towards encouraging people to pause from spending and instead give — be it money, time, skills, possessions, fundraising, or whatever. Not an easy task at the best of times, all the more so since it falls at the beginning of the festive frenzy and hot-on-the-heels of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But people jump on board; in the US alone, where the initiative began, over $1billion has been raised since 2012.
As I consider my own response, it’s the unexpected nature of my friend’s generosity that offers particular inspiration. There is something especially wonderful about an unexpected gift. At Christmas, the best presents are ones we never thought to include on our wish list. For those of us giving the gift, there is little that beats watching someone open (and hopefully enjoy!) our unexpected gift.
The Bible’s teaching on giving certainly has an unexpected ring to it. Jesus said: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:41-42).
He also said: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret” (Matthew 6:3). According to the book of Acts, the early Church “sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (2:45), and in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:6-7).
To paraphrase: lend to the people we don’t like, or don’t like us, but do so with little hope of return. If someone needs help carrying their shopping to the bus stop, how about go on the bus with them and help them off the bus and back to their home. Give anonymously. Sell your house and possessions, and give away all proceeds to the poor. When a friend calls out of the blue for some short-term help until payday, say yes. And when you give, be generous, do so freely, and with joy.
Doing Advent differently
To our modern-day sensibilities, the Biblical teaching on giving is so unexpected in places that it could be deemed preposterous. Consequently, there is a temptation to point out the caveats and exceptions. Some may indeed apply, but are we jumping to them too quickly as an excuse to stay safe and do nothing? When we diligently practise what’s taught in the Bible, people will inevitably sit-up and take notice because much of it sharply contrasts with a world in which little is free and materialism is rife.
The frenetic festive season offers a wonderful chance to model a different way of doing things. There will be dinners to arrange, presents to buy, homes to decorate, duties to fulfil and wish-lists to write. But as Christians we must intentionally carve out time for unexpected acts of generosity which can shed light on the expected but unexpected arrival of Jesus Christ.
To the longing first-century Jew, Jesus was expected. But the way Jesus came — and the scope, nature and full significance of his mission — was wondrously unexpected. A gift that lives on to this day.
What unexpected gift can you give someone today? Use this day to do something out of the ordinary. Why wait until Christmas day to eagerly watch as someone receives your unexpected gift? And as Advent gets into full swing and the New Year begins, let’s make a habit of surprising people.
Here are some suggestions…
- Give someone a financial gift, perhaps anonymously. Is there someone in your church who is going through a difficult time, or someone you want to bless?
- Does someone owe you money? Do you need to consider a different mindset to getting the money back or indeed a reprieve?
- How can you do good to a colleague you don’t get along with?
- Get a Christmas present for someone you’ve never given one to before.
- Give away one of your possessions — perhaps something that you would like to keep for yourself.
- Give to a charity you haven’t supported before.
- Surprise a local community project, or a neighbour, friend or colleague, with an offer to share your skills.
- Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to practically help others (e.g. gardening, putting out rubbish, lifting, shopping). Go beyond the expected — go the extra mile!
- Pop around to someone you know who lives alone — with some homemade baked goods!
- Share stories of generosity on social media to inspire others using the tag #GivingTuesdayPledge and #MyGivingStory