We still have a lot of Halloween candy around here, despite my single-handed attempts to obliterate the stash. I noticed the other day, though, that Rowan’s bucket is significantly fuller than Noah’s. And I know why.
You see, Noah freely distributes his candy to whoever expresses a hankering for it. Not only does he share his candy, he offers up the best pieces: the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfingers and Milky Ways. It’s not that Noah doesn’t like candy as much as Rowan – he does – it’s that he delights in sharing it with others as much as he enjoys eating it himself.
I was reminded of Noah’s generosity this morning when we read these verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, about the Macedonians’ joyful generosity:
“They are filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).
Here are the points I noticed about this passage:
1. The Macedonians’ abundant joy resulted in rich generosity.
2. They gave even more than they could afford.
3. They gave of their own free will.
4. They viewed their giving as a privilege.
5. And they gave themselves first to God.
Compare that with what is often my approach to giving:
1. I give out of habit.
2. I give less than I can afford.
3. I give because I feel obligated.
4. I view my giving as a burden.
5. I forget who I am honoring in the act of giving.
Quite a disparity, isn’t it?
I’m not saying this is always my approach to giving. Sometimes, like when I read a story like this, or see pictures like this, I am moved by love and a true desire to give, rather than by obligation or habit. Sometimes I do view giving as a privilege, an honor, rather than burden. But I admit, more often than not I mindlessly write the check, seal the envelope and drop it into the mailbox or the offertory basket.
It’s easy for me to get complacent in my giving because I’m not often faced with the real recipients of my gifts. I haven’t met the children we sponsor in Tanzania and Bolivia. I’ve never visited the People’s City Mission or Friendship Home in downtown Lincoln. I don’t see the need with my own eyes, so it’s easy for me to distance myself from it.
That’s why it’s critical that I get out of the comfort and security of my own house and into the neighborhoods and communities that are suffering and face-to-face with the people who have so much less than I do.
I’ll be brutally honest: I don’t love to hand out loaves of bread and plastic containers of day-old muffins at the Center for People in Need here in Lincoln. I don’t look forward to serving plates of mashed potatoes and chicken at the local soup kitchen. It’s awkward. I have trouble making eye-contact. I don’t always don’t know what to say. I act overly cheerful because I am nervous.
But it’s important and necessary that I serve in this way because it shifts my skewed perspective. I am accustomed to looking with envy at the people who have more than I do. Serving reminds me that the majority of people here in Lincoln and around the world have a great deal less. And that helps to remind me that giving is a privilege, not simply an obligation.
What about you? What helps you get perspective? How do you give from the heart, with joy?
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