“I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35)
When it comes to the holidays in general, and Christmas in particular, it seems like they create more and more frustration for most people with each passing year. We don’t seem to enjoy the Christmas cheer the way we used to in America. I love Christmas. Much of that, no doubt, is due to the nostalgic feelings that are associated with it in my heart and mind: the songs, the lights, the feelings of hearth and home, families coming together, and kindnesses shown that are all too rare at other times of the year.
It’s a time of giving and receiving. Jesus had something to say about those two things. He said one was more blessed than the other. I think we have this reversed much of the time. After all, who doesn’t like receiving? But, needless to say, the Lord of glory knows some things we don’t. He said it is “more blessed to give than to receive.” These words, quoted in this passage by Paul, are not found in the gospels, and thus, were most likely preserved and passed down by the apostles and others who spent much time with the Master. I’m glad these words of His in particular were preserved, because I believe they hold the key to real fulfillment in this life.
In reality, ministry and service to God is all about giving away what God has given us. The apostle Paul tells us, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). A steward is one who has been entrusted with the goods of another, and every one of us who are believers in Christ Jesus have been entrusted with some measure of God’s goods to minister to others. In fact, Paul tells us elsewhere, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4:7). In this context, “grace” is referring to the special abilities God has entrusted to each member of His body by which we are to minister to others. We all have something to impart, and God has called us to steward well the abilities He’s entrusted to us, as the apostle Peter reminded us when he said, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10).
There is nothing more fulfilling that using what God has given us to strengthen and encourage others. I have been on both the giving and receiving side of life, and what I have discovered is that it is only as we mature that we really understand the blessedness of giving. When we are young, be it chronologically or spiritually, we are more interested in receiving. Certainly, on some level this is necessary, since we can only give to others what we ourselves have received. We need to be good receivers, hungry for everything God has for us, so we can learn, mature, and develop in our ability to bless others. Too often, however, we underestimate our ability to give, thinking that we have to be gifted like someone else in order to truly be a blessing, when really the key is simply to give what you have.
Recently, as I was returning home from work, I had a very unusual experience. As I was praying quietly regarding our church service that night and what I was to minister, the Lord spoke to me. The words came quite unbidden to my mind, “Shattered dreams.” I had hardly a moment to ponder the words before they came again to my mind, “Shattered dreams.” After those words, the Lord began to speak to me further about this. The last words that came to me were, “I will restore your dreams.” That phrase was repeated to my heart three times.
I have had God speak to me any number of times regarding life and ministry, but this somehow seemed significant. I wondered if the words referred to someone I would minister to in the service that night, or if somehow they pertained to me. When I got home, I wrote the words down in my journal, and told the Lord, “You know, Lord, I may not have everything I want in life where my dreams are concerned, but I have a blessed life.” I didn’t really think too much more about it as I had to get ready for the service.
That night, just as I was beginning my message, a homeless man walked into our church. This is nothing new. Due to where we are located, they do so periodically, and we are always glad to have them come in out of the cold (or heat, depending on the time of year). My wife is always quick to give them a cup of coffee, even if they are just passing by outside our doors. This man quietly dozed through most of the message, not disturbing anyone, and he was still sleeping when we were about ready to lock up. One of our men spoke to him, and I offered him a cup of coffee to go. He also took a bottled water, and when I stepped outside later, he was still there. He asked me if perhaps I had a jacket he could have. I didn’t have one, but my wife had a blanket in her car which she gave him.
Judging by his appearance, it seemed that his homeless status was relatively new; just a man who had fallen on hard times and was trying to negotiate his situation and, as he put it, stay out of trouble. Like many, he was struggling with some issues that had very likely brought him to this place in life.
Our church is very interested in helping the disadvantaged, and our people are very generous in reaching out to the needy, both locally and in other parts of the world. This has been a particular emphasis of late, and so before we even got home, my wife and I had decided to put a care package together to give to our new friend. We found an old backpack in a cupboard, put some food and a thermos of coffee in it, and I found one of my old jackets that I knew would serve him well. My only concern was whether I would be able to find him again. He had told us he was staying in an alcove between two nearby stores.
It wasn’t until I was in the car heading back to find my friend that God reminded me of the words He has spoken to me earlier in the day. I believe those words were for this man. God is the restorer of our shattered dreams. Whether one lives in a Penthouse on Park Avenue or in the alcove between two stores, we all need the God who can heal our hurts, restore our broken dreams, and give us hope again. I have had the privilege of serving God in different ways over the years, but nothing I’ve ever done was more important than when, finding my friend wrapped in my wife’s blanket, I got down on one knee and presented him with that backpack and my old jacket. I told him it had been a favorite of mine that had kept me warm once on a ministry trip to India. It was true. Somehow I wanted him to know that it wasn’t just any old jacket, but a special jacket, and that I was giving it to him because he is special. That’s how we give, by simply adding value to those who may feel less than valuable in the world’s eyes.
If you don’t know what else to do for someone this holiday season, just let then know, however you can, that their worth is not determined by their station in life or their circumstances, but by the price that God was willing to pay to redeem them back unto Himself. As you see their hearts lifted and hope rekindled, you will truly know that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.