Saturday, July 12, 2014

Body, Soul, and Spirit (Generosity)

When I started working on this list, I intended to title this section giving. The more I thought about the problem, the more I thought this was OK as far as it went, but giving does not go to the heart of the matter. Giving is just an act. An act that can find its source in all sorts motivations, some good some bad. Giving can come from a fear in a bitter resentful heart, a malicious attempt to manipulate another in blatant quid pro quo, or even an attempt to heal our own guilty conscience. I believe that Jesus is always more interested in the state of our heart than he is in our actions.

I have a friend who once needed to take a second, part time job waiting tables at a local restaurant. He told me he hated to see people pray before they ate. It inevitably meant that he would receive a lousy tip. In fact on one occasion a Christian customer left him a soul winning Bible tract instead of any tip at all. Then as now, I find this act so inexcusably despicable that as a Christian, it is hard to put my feelings into words. Given what I know about religion in the Bible Belt where he lived, it would not surprise me a bit to discover the customer who left my friend a Bible tract was a faithful church member and I bet he tithed. I expect he took great pride in tithing and frequently reminded God of his faithfulness. A bit ashamed of himself, my friend confessed his favorite customers were drunks. They left good tips. Fortunately, he was a lot better at forgiveness than most people in the food service industry.

There is a better way. We are told the queen of Sheba gave King Solomon an hundred and twenty talents of gold, of spices very great store, and precious stones. The narrator goes on to observe that there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. The king, by the way, returned the favor. This is what kings and queens do, even in this day. They give out of a sense of abundance, knowing that there will be plenty more where that came from. After all, basically they own an entire country.

Once again though, the condition of your heart does not depend on the material world. The famous Jewish psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl, observed, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” They had a sense of abundance that could not be overcome by even the most horrifying depravation imaginable.

I believe I have it all wrong. So often I act out of a sense of scarcity not a sense of abundance. After all, we are sons and daughters of the King. Jesus told his disciples, “freely you have received, freely give.” Try to be a blessing. Once again, it isn’t necessary to perform some great feat to become a blessing. Start small. Once I was walking down a street on my way to a meeting with some unpleasant sponsors. I noticed one of the parking meters was within a minute or two of expiring. Only a few cars behind me a meter maid was working her way up the street. On an impulse I fished into my pocket, pulled out a quarter, and dropped it into the meter. I gave a small blessing to someone I never met and probably never will meet. It felt good.

In Lawrence of Arabia, Anthony Quinn portrays Auda Abu Tayi, a corrupt, self important old tribal chieftain and war lord. A one point he informs everyone within earshot, “I am a river of blessing to my people.” In fact he was greedy but lovable thieving scoundrel, but what an idea! Could I be a river of blessings to the people I meet? What a way to live, to continually look for an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

Of course just as there are many bad motivations for bad giving, there are many good motivations for giving. I contend that while it is possible to give without a heart full of gratitude. That it is impossible not to give if your heart is overflowing with love and gratitude to the Lord of the universe. Consider a grandfather. He is very likely to spoil his grandchild, just because he is so happy and grateful to see the child of his daughter alive in this world. Keep practicing generosity. The time will come when you will be in a position to make a difference in some wonderful life and as you reach out your hand, friendship and blessings will keep flowing forward forever, even into eternity. You will be ready for the truly important moments that can change the history of a life if you practice giving as you receive.

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