My first year of college, I was stressed. I didn’t know how I was going to afford tuition, I didn’t have a job lined up, and I didn’t have any clue how I would have time to get it all done. I went grocery shopping with a few people I had met recently, and the whole time I was filled with worry about how I was going to get a job and how much of my savings I had already spent. I got to the checkout, and my friend, whom I had known maybe three weeks, simply said, “I got it.” This moment was small, but I was reminded that in everything God is my provider. He said, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25, ESV) God used someone’s simple gesture as a powerful way of communicating truth when I needed it most. The great part is that God wants to use all of us to encourage other people using what he has given us!
Providing for people financially is one way of sharing God’s love, but many ways don’t involve money: giving a note of encouragement, baking cookies, cleaning a kitchen, or spending time with someone. People can be affected by the simplest gestures, and this comes from the fact that we were created for community and for mutual love and service for one another. (Gal. 5:13) As we approach the holiday season and remember things we are grateful for, let’s also celebrate the gift of community by showing one another love and gratitude in gestures like these.
People can be affected by the simplest gestures, and this comes from the fact that we were created for community and for mutual love and service for one another.
Maybe part of the battle is that you want to bless people in your community, but you don’t know what to give. I start by asking myself what I have. Do I have a free Saturday I could use to spend time with that person? Do I have some extra money I could use to buy a friend a latte? Or do I have a moment to send a text? Any of these gestures could make someone feel appreciated. Next I like to think about what that person would most like. What can I offer that this person would appreciate? For someone who has a lot on their plate, offering to help with an errand may be better than inviting them to take off a whole afternoon to play Ultimate Frisbee with you. Thinking of ways to meet their needs might be the most meaningful gift.
People may notice the little acts of service, the small offerings made in everyday encounters, or the quiet sacrifices amidst the mundane struggle of the present. An act of service can be momentous, but it can also easily be forgotten. There may not be accolades or even notice. We act in service of God and expect no reward except his pleasure.
When Jesus ministered around Judah, there were people who wanted religious recognition. They prayed loudly on street corners and performed religious rites before crowds, not for mutual edification or to encourage others in faith but for selfish promotion. Jesus condemned this pretension. He instructed his followers to pray without seeking attention: “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:5, ESV). This applies to all our actions too. Jesus calls us to a life of humility, a desire for God’s glory rather than our own. In the next verse, Jesus goes on to say, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6, ESV).
We are to act quietly, seeking only the approval of God, our Father, not the approval of others. Validation from others is only an added blessing that must not rule us or distract us from our true motivation. God is our ultimate judge, our ultimate blessing, and our ultimate source of identity. This holiday season, the motivation to give can be the fact that we have been given so much. God, who supplies all of our needs and gives his love abundantly, came to earth in the form of a man; he suffered and died, bearing the weight of our sins, so that we could have eternal life with him. The Father calls us to himself knowing that we will never have anything to offer that compares with the greatness of his love. The Lord gave to us without expecting anything in return because everything we have is already his. It is with this same attitude that we give to those around us. We cannot expect anything in return because our gift is motivated by love and not personal gain. God has given us everything we need, and validation from others isn’t necessary to satisfy our desire for love. We give because we have received, and this not of our own power but of Christ in us.