Gifting “Outside the Box”

This year has been a difficult one for my family financially. With Christmas coming, there is no money for expensive (or inexpensive) gifts– barely any money for bills. We always like to say that it’s not about the gift, and that “it’s the thought that counts,” but we don’t enjoy putting those words to the test. Like it or not, we have a tendency to equate Christmas with shiny decorations and festive packages– especially for the kids and grandkids.

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Even the first Christmas featured gifts from the Wise Men of the East– Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. But what gifts did the shepherds bring? The Angel hosts? Jesus’s own parents? What they brought– love, worship, Good News of Great Joy– was priceless and just as precious as the physical gifts of the Wise Men.

This Christmas, whatever gifts you choose to give; whatever gestures or actions you perform–let them be done with joy and with a full heart. After all, the REAL gift of Christmas wasn’t wrapped in a box. It was wrapped in flesh and blood, sacrifice and suffering. “For God so Loved the world, that He gave His only Begotten Son…” (John 3:16)

Our gifts matter– small gifts, fancy gifts, hugs, smiles, time spent listening, words of encouragement, even just sitting in silence with someone who is in pain.

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One of the greatest gifts we can give this season and in the coming year is the gift of prayer. Try this challenge for 2020. Choose a person (not necessarily someone in your family or close circle of friends) and pray for them every day for one month–if you know them well enough, ask them for specific ways that you can pray for them. Write their name and/or their requests somewhere (a calendar or datebook, index card..) where you will see it. At the end of the month, send the person a card or note or text message, or give them a call– let them know you’ve been thinking of them every day and praying for them.

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A few warnings:

  • DO NOT use this activity as a form of intimidation, “virtue-signaling”, or with any selfish motive. Be careful not to make this about the other person’s “neediness”– their inability or unwillingness to talk to God on their own; your superior righteousness or religiosity. Pray for their health, their well-being, and any needs that THEY express. Remember, this is a gift, not an intervention. If you are not praying that way, don’t pretend you are actually giving a gift.
  • Be ready to commit. You may even want to begin with one week, instead of a month. But don’t begin until you are ready to finish well. That doesn’t mean if you miss one day you’ve failed. But it does mean that you need to have an intention and a plan.
  • Follow through! It’s one kind of gift to offer to pray– but it’s kind of like giving a child a gift that requires batteries, and not providing the batteries…
  • Beware–gifts like this tend to come with surprises and unexpected obstacles:
    • Your offer of a gift will not always be accepted. Even if it is offered in the best of spirits, some people will find it offensive. You can still pray for them, but don’t expect gratitude or cooperation.
    • Your commitment will be tested– you may find yourself “extra” busy, or suddenly find it difficult to focus and remember your commitment; you may even find yourself tempted to give up for no reason or you may question the value of your gift.
    • Your prayer life may get challenged in unexpected ways– as you pray for someone new, you may be convicted of your own needs, your own unworthiness, your own lack…
    • You may be surprised by the realization that in giving, you also receive. As you pray for someone you don’t know well, you will find yourself developing a heart for them and wanting to know them better. You may find yourself blessed with a new and growing friendship, or a better understanding of needs and experiences you never knew before.
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Iron Sharpens Iron

Proverbs 27:17 New Living Translation (NLT)

17 As iron sharpens iron,
so a friend sharpens a friend.

I’m not really sure why this single verse, this single idea, has been rattling around in my mind lately, but I’ve taken a week off from doing the blog, trying to regroup and refocus, and yet this is the phrase that keeps coming back.  So here’s what I’ve been thinking:

Iron –God uses a lot of imagery, analogy, parable, and metaphor throughout the Bible.  What does this image suggest?  Iron is hard.  Iron is used for tools and (in Bible times) weapons.  Iron is strong.  Iron is forged in the fire.  Iron being sharpened can bring out sparks.  Iron crafted by a master blacksmith can be forged, shaped, smoothed, hardened, and, yes, sharpened.

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God calls us to be useful– light, salt, vessels, iron, hands–we have purpose; we have work to do during our time on earth.  Sometimes, that work calls for us to be steadfast, immovable– like iron.  But iron that is not being used can become brittle, or rusty, and lose its edge.

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“Iron sharpens iron“– We don’t always use iron to sharpen iron– sometimes we use honing stones or grinding wheels or even strops.   But we don’t use cheese to sharpen iron– it won’t work.  We don’t sharpen it with paper or “positive energy” or a block of wood.  How are we staying “sharp”?  Do I make an effort to sharpen my skills, my knowledge, my service, my body, mind, and spirit?  Am I using the right method and materials to stay sharp?

Who or what do I turn to when I want sharpening?  Do I have friends who keep me accountable (and vice versa)?  Do I even WANT to stay sharpened and ready for service?  Or do I serve without guarding my edge until it becomes dull and useless?

Iron sharpens iron– but not always.  Sometimes iron blunts iron.  Sometimes it cuts away at it.  Sharpening is not accomplished by just banging pieces of iron together randomly.  There are circumstances, habits, people, or activities that try to chip away at my surface, that try to crush or bend or destroy.  There are others that are not made of iron; they cannot help me stay strong and sharp.  I need to be deliberate and careful about what and who I include in the sharpening process.  I also need to be as deliberate and as careful about who I “sharpen”.  We are here to live, and work, and build relationships together.  But I need to learn when and how to “sharpen” others in my life.  Otherwise, I can cause great damage to others and to my own soul.

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What can I do to keep sharpened and help others stay sharp?

  • Pray.  I don’t have answers, I don’t have the power to stay sharp on my own.  But God is the one who can give us wisdom, power, and send us all we need (2 Peter 1:3)  Also, seek out a prayer partner or prayer group.
  • Get involved in Bible Study– seek out a Bible Study group or an on-line resource where you can ask questions, have meaningful discussions, and share insights.

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  • Seek out “iron” friends– friends who will hold you accountable, who will offer support, but also share their own struggles.  We all have friends who fill one or the other of these roles, but seek out friends who are not merely takers or givers, but true brothers and sisters in the faith.

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  • Don’t run away from challenges, “tough” questions, and earnest discussions–that doesn’t mean that we need to get pulled into senseless arguments, either; but we are disciples— that’s the same root word as discipline!  We need to come out of our comfortable corners and exercise our faith.

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As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend— such a short verse, but it’s packed with wisdom and promise.

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