In a world where Thanksgiving and Christmas are over-commercialized, it is all too easy to forget the true meaning of the season. Even in the church, believers can end up doing so many special meals and programs “about” Christ. There is little time to actually talk to Him.

Too often, we give personal time, attention and gifts to everyone but Jesus. Yet, with just a little focus, Thanksgiving and Christmas can again be about Jesus, not just food and programs. Believers can make a commitment to draw near to the Lord in extra prayer and service to others.

In a former pastorate, one of our most powerful services was an annual Sunday dedicated to the “Christmas gift to Jesus.” It was most effective when we actually starting the emphasis at Thanksgiving. To show true thanks to God, each member and family was urged to pray about what gift they would give to Jesus. After all, Thanksgiving is to God, and Christmas is Christ’s birthday.

A sacrificial gift to missions was one of the most popular ideas. Consequently, the Sunday before Christmas always represented the biggest offering of the year. The amounts people gave were truly miraculous and sacrificial! When believers seriously pray about the kind of gift Jesus deserves, it is hard not to be generous and sacrificial.

Another part of the annual Christmas gift related to prayer. The gift involved individuals and families setting aside extra time to talk to Jesus. For many believers, unhurried prayer time is our most important gift. Even more than mere outward gifts, Jesus wants our hearts. In preparing for personal and family prayer time, three ideas have blessed many.

Three practical ideas for gifts of prayer, missions and service

1. Spend special time thanking God for the priceless gift of Christ’s coming. In this approach, we set aside extra time to thank God for Christ’s birth and mission. Some obvious points for thanksgiving are: eternal life, peace, joy, provision, God’s presence, His unfailing love, families, friends, soldiers guarding our freedom, etc.

Such times are great for teaching children that Thanksgiving and Christmas are about the Lord, not just food and packages under a tree. The holiday season is a great time for special devotions and family prayer time.

2. Set aside individual and family time to ask Jesus what we should give Him for Christmas. A great option is to consider a sacrificial gift to missions and ministry. After all, Christmas is all about God’s mission to reach the world. Parents should encourage children to pray about a gift to spread Christ’s message. In addition to monetary gifts, acts of service and praying for missions are powerful.

3. Pray about people who need special help or a word of encouragement. Examples are those who are alone, sick, shut-in or in challenging mission service for the Lord. Encourage children to think of people to call, visit or serve. Some of the best ideas may well come from them! Believers, what better way could we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas than to spend extra time in prayer and service to others?

Think about it. Can Jesus be pleased with extravagant (unneeded) gifts to ourselves while millions are lost and starving? In all our Thanksgiving meals and Christmas giving, let’s make Jesus, missions and serving others first on our list.