When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
I saw this meme making the rounds the other day, and it’s a good one. It seemed a little out of place on Giving Tuesday, however.
My response to one friend who posted that verse:
In other words, do in January what you do in December.
We Americans love to be generous around the holidays. We give thanks on Thanksgiving. For Christmas, we buy presents our relatives don’t need or probably even want, often with money we don’t have, just because that’s what the holiday is all about.
On Giving Tuesday – one day a year – we are reminded that there are other people in the world besides us. So, we are encouraged to throw money at them.
Can you tell that December is not my favorite time of the year?
It’s great that we give alms to the poor around the holidays. But what’s our motive? Is it to salve our conscience? Is it to keep up with the Joneses in a giving kind of way?
Or, is it that we’re doing something that we know deep in our hearts that we should do more often than once a year?
Many people have needs this time of year, certainly. The food pantry where I volunteer saw its busiest week of the year right before Thanksgiving. A couple of people asked if we were giving away turkeys (we weren’t, but we did give away extra meat, thanks to the generosity of our director.)
Many of us are lonely this time of year. We’ve lost loved ones, and we miss them during family times over the holidays. For them, some of the gifts we offer this month should be spiritual or even physical – our presence, I mean, even more than a present.
Everyone in my immediate family, including my parents, is still among us, so I have yet to experience this up close. But many of you understand this deeply.
Many agencies and companies are collecting toys and gifts for the needy for Christmas. That’s a good thing. I don’t want to downplay that.
I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon, that’s all. If the rest of you are donating to a cause, the cause doesn’t need my gifts too.
Like I said, I’m jaded.
In the dark
I just might wait until January, when most of you have put all this generosity behind you.
January is cold and dark. Winter has arrived in full force. Sub-freezing temperatures are the norm. There are no major holidays to look forward to. It’s back to the daily grind. Vacations are over.
And the needy are forgotten.
Hunger is not a once-a-year phenomenon. Neither is loneliness. Memories of our loved ones don’t fade after the calendar turns and we view December through the rear-view mirror.
Indeed, my mother-in-law’s birthday was in January. She passed away quite a few years ago. We don’t talk about that at home, but maybe we should. My in-laws’ photo still hangs on the dining room wall with other family photos, and it will remain there forever.
When Jesus talked about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, I think this is what He meant. When the bright lights of publicity are gone and no one is looking, will we continue to serve the needy in our communities then?
When January comes
The quote from Jesus at the beginning of this blog is an action statement from Jesus. In the same breath, He talks about motive.
Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
What is their reward? Praise by others. That’s all they get.
Praise by others lasts a day or two, and then we move on to another issue. That’s the way life on this Earth rolls.
… so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
This is why we give in January, as well as in December. It’s dark. We’ve moved on. No one is watching anymore.
But the living God sees. He knows what we’re up to. We can’t hide from Him. He knows the motive in our hearts.
Even in December, God knows what motivates us. Are we real, or are we just doing what we’re supposed to be doing?
I can’t answer that, because I can’t see your heart.
I volunteer occasionally with the American Red Cross. We don’t have to follow God to serve there. Motives vary among volunteers, I’m sure. The Red Cross is just glad when volunteers care enough to assist.
Where does our reward come from, though? Is it from the Red Cross, or is it from the living God?
Our motive provides that answer.
Jesus said elsewhere in the Bible to store up treasures in heaven, and not on Earth. God is holding those rewards for us in heaven, even the secret rewards, and He will give them to us when we get there.
But we don’t have to wait for heaven to receive rewards from the living God. When I give in secret, God gives me a blessing right here, right now. Many of you understand this.
We give gifts because the living God gave us the best gift of all – Jesus, born on Christmas Day. It’s our feeble response to the gift of life and meaning that we have received.
That’s what Christmas is all about. Or supposed to be all about.
Where is your heart today?
Even more important, where will your heart be in January, when all the Christmas decorations have been put away for another year?
Does the Christmas spirit live on in you, year-round?
Just a thought.