BY MARTIN E. WILLOUGHBY, JR.
‘Tis the season for some Christmas shopping. A whole lot of Christmas shopping. The National Retail Federation is projecting sales to increase to $630.5 billion this Christmas season. The average American will spend nearly $800 on Christmas gifts this year, and 30% will spend more than $1,000, according to recent Gallup research. For many, this means racking up some serious credit card debt. In December 2011, 14.1 million Americans reported that they were still paying off debts from the previous Christmas. In the midst of this spending frenzy, I share four gift ideas that are completely free. Not only that—these gifts are great to share any time of the year!
GIFT OF PRESENCE
Think of the trying times in your life. Who was the first one on the scene to lend a hand or offer comforting words? Who picked up the phone and gave you a call to show you support? As followers of Christ, we have the ability to bring light into darkness by simply showing up. In a time bankrupt world, giving people our undivided attention is truly a rare gift! We don’t need to always “fix” people who are having problems. Often just being present and showing support is what truly matters.
GIFT OF ENCOURAGEMENT
In Acts 4:36, we are introduced to Joseph, who was given the name Barnabas by the apostles which meant the “son of encouragement.” I have found that some people freely give the gift of encouragement while others are quite stingy. In seminars, I like to ask people, “Who is the most encouraging person you ever encountered, and how did they make you feel?” We all have the ability to encourage others. This can be a phone call or text. It can be a praise in front of co-workers or family. A simple handwritten note can become a treasure for the recipient. You have the ability to be the most encouraging person in someone’s life. Will you take that opportunity?
GIFT OF DISIPLESHIP
There is not much ambiguity that we as followers of Jesus are supposed to make disciples. However, actually doing that takes time and intentionality. Pouring yourself into someone’s life to help them mature in their faith can be messy. It is easy to forget that we are just the messengers—not the message. Our expectations of other people’s growth and development can get in the way. There are not many things in life that will actually have eternal impact. However, choosing to give the gift of discipleship and investing yourself in the life of another person is one of those things that will survive our brief time here on earth.
GIFT OF PRAYER
It is easy to hear of a prayer need and say, “I’ll pray for you.” However, how often do we actually intercede with those prayer requests with passion and persistence? Does our prayer list look like a laundry list of our own wants or of other people’s deepest needs? If you are struggling with unforgiveness or bitterness, try praying for that person for thirty days and watch the result. The gift of prayer can change someone’s life forever, and maybe change your own in the process.
Giving these and similar gifts don’t come naturally. In the flesh, we are not inclined to necessarily have a heart for encouraging people or investing the time to disciple and pray for others. However, when we reflect on the incredible mind blowing fact that our Creator became a man and walked among us, our perspective can change. When we truly experience the love that God has for us, then our heart softens and we want to share that love with others.
May you have a blessed Christmas, and I pray that you will abundantly give and receive these gifts and more this year!