Shortly after Christmas, I heard that 20 per cent of all gift cards aren’t used. Apparently, all we wanted for Christmas was … nothing.
My first thought, perhaps somewhat uncharitably given the current climate was, ‘What a bonus for retailers.’ They are prepaid for a gift that is never collected, basically given money for nothing. No wonder retailers want to get into the gift card market.
My second thought was more reflective. ‘I have been given gift cards I’ve never used or perhaps not used all the money on them.’
This hasn’t happened often but there have been times when life has become busy or we have gone on holidays and I have simply forgotten about the card. Sometimes we have used gift cards on basic necessities such as groceries or petrol, with the thought we will buy something for ourselves later. Since buying essentials was hardly what the gift-giver had in mind. However, later never came.
My third thought and the most provocative was, ‘Twenty per cent of gift-card recipients are so prosperous they can’t think of a single thing they want to buy.’
We are blessed way more than we acknowledge. Some would respond, ‘well, the things I want to buy cost a lot more than a gift card would provide.’ Perhaps they’re thinking of a holiday, the latest phone, the smartest TV.
Recently I heard about some retired folk who were having trouble filling their day during covid because there was no point checking out the latest cruises, finding the best deals for accommodation and researching exotic places to visit. Their comment was, ‘There’s nothing to look forward to since so few cruise lines are operating.’
Nothing to look forward to?
I couldn’t help but think if our only intention is to spend the rest of our lives entertaining ourselves, then there really is nothing to look forward to. To go from endless activities or events with the sole purpose of amusing ourselves seemed to be at variance from what God intended when he created us.
I was reminded of Jesus’ words, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions’ (Luke chapter 12 verse 15 NIV). Life also doesn’t consist of an abundance of cruises.
Jesus goes on to tell the story of a rich farmer who says to himself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.’ (Luke chapter 12 verses 19 to 21).
While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the fruit of our labours, living a hedonistic life is quite meaningless and not the abundant life God promises (John chapter 10 verse 10).
Rich toward God
The alternative is to be ‘rich toward God’ but what does this look like?
Being rich towards God is having the type of relationship with God where we are confident of being with God forever. However, this life isn’t one of trying hard to appease a difficult taskmaster but knowing we are loved and accepted by a good God who wants us to have a life of abundance, not necessarily in material possessions, but in purpose and meaning.
God doesn’t want us spending our lives on the symbols of physical success, like material possessions and extensive holidays but investing ourselves in things that will last for eternity. Things which will build up the body of Christ, such as building relationships, helping those in difficulties and encouraging the faith of those who are younger than us. Doing these things takes our focus off ourselves and helps us think about how to be a blessing to another.
We may even be able to spend our unused gift cards by encouraging another with our generosity.
Susan Barnes has been involved in pastoral ministry for over twenty years with her husband, Ross. They are now semi-retired and enjoy supporting a number of churches in north-east Victoria. You can find more of Susan’s articles at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/susan-barnes.html