"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:8).
Once upon a time (in the mid-1990s), my wife, Joy, and I received a request to sing a few songs, perform a comedy routine and then lead in a serious time of reflection about the meaning of Christmas for a group of senior citizens. That year we were especially short on both time and money. (What's new?)
We decided to accept the invitation, partly because we loved seniors, and partly because we viewed the opportunity as God's invitation to "abound in every good work," since he had provided all we had needed. We wanted to share some laughter, warmth, memories, and the timeless Christmas story from Luke 2 with many people who probably missed their families.
Our children were young enough to write out a Christmas wish list and we began to wonder if they would receive much of anything from their lists. Over the years we had tried to instill in our kids the awareness that Christmas was not about materialism, but you can imagine the looks on their faces when we said, "You may only get a couple of small gifts this year."
When we accepted the invitation to perform, we hadn't expected anything in return. After the program someone handed us an envelope. It contained a fifty-dollar love gift. We were thrilled. To us it was an unexpected bonus.
Only a couple of days later we learned, through our church, that a family had just spent every last dollar moving into a new apartment, and that their circumstances had left them with nothing for Christmas. And I mean nothing.
Joy and I both felt that tug in our hearts. You know the kind. It's the one that lets you know God is asking you to do something. We knew we were being called upon to give generously to this family in need.
With the holiday quickly approaching, Joy went shopping for that family. She spent all fifty dollars we had been given after the seniors' program and quite a bit more than that out of our regular budget. When Joy showed up with all the wrapped gifts, she almost got knocked over from the kids' hugs. The mom in that family stood there looking at all the packages, crying tears of thanksgiving. Joy beamed when she returned from her delivery. Through her giving, God had poured out even more joy to Joy.
As we turned in for the night it hit us: What are we going to do for our own kids for Christmas this year? I will candidly admit that I silently struggled for a short time with some not-so-nice feelings about spending our money on another family, when our own kids would have very little for Christmas.
I also admit that for the first time in a long time I thought (only for a split second) about withholding our tithe (a tenth of our income) for that two-week period, using it instead to buy things for our kids. But tithing had been our joyful habit, for years, and that selfish thought became quickly replaced by the thought that God had always provided us with everything we had needed. Joy and I made a willful decision to give happily to God what belonged to him. As I wrote out our tithe check the next day, I was grateful for the peace that flooded my soul. I was quite sure that God's grace would continue to abound in our lives, with or without a bunch of toys at Christmas.
Then, on December 22, we checked our mail. There, in the midst of a stack of Christmas cards, sat an envelope with no return address. We were curious and opened that card first.
Inside the envelope was another typical Christmas card, but when Joy opened it, money, the green kind, fluttered to the ground, landing at her feet. She picked up the bills. On each corner you could read the number 100. She counted, "One, two … oh my goodness … three," and then she squealed again. Shaking four crisp bills, she screamed, "Four hundred dollars!" We both literally jumped up and down. Then we stood there for a moment, mouths open, shaking our heads. The card said simply, "You two are a blessing. God bless you this Christmas." Nobody had signed the card.
To this day we have no idea who sent that card, or why. We wondered if it might have come from one of the senior citizens who saw us perform, but we really didn't have a clue. Maybe we'll get to thank the anonymous donor in heaven some day. I'm pretty sure that they had no idea just how timely or important that gift was to us and our kids.
What we do know is that God provided, abundantly. In our kids' minds, God's gift to us that year was a miracle. Our kids learned, by listening to us marvel at God's goodness, that God makes his grace abound in his children, and that his ways really are not our ways. And we learned that God's cure for greed is giving. We learned that God releases the greedy grip materialism has on our hearts as we loosen our grip on money.
I am reminded of that Christmas miracle every time I read the following words from Paul the Apostle:
"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
God expanded our joy in giving that year. He taught us (again) that when we give out of the abundant grace he provides (not out of compulsion or reluctantly), that he pours out blessings in ways we simply cannot comprehend. We sang Christmas praises that year to our grace-giving God—a God who surprised the world with his amazing provision at Christmas. His gift of Jesus magnified his glory to all who will see it. And he continues to give, abundantly, most often when we least expect it. And every time that happens, his glory is magnified again.
Clark Cothern pastors Living Water Community Church, Ypsilanti, Michigan.