Giving Like Jesus Gave (Part 3): The Power To Make Progress

What makes giving work?  The answer isn't always obvious.

What makes giving work? The answer isn’t always obvious. 

We’ve been looking at what it means to give like Jesus gave, how to become the sort of generous, others-centered people that Jesus was (is).  In our last two posts, we’ve taken a look at two obstacles to, and seven characteristics of, what it means to give Jesus-style from 2 Corinthians 8.

But that’s not the whole story.  It’s entirely possible to know the problem – and solution – but not have the power to do what we want to do… in this case, be generous and focused on others.

This is not just a theory.  Take a moment and think about your last week.  How many times did you do intentionally do something for someone else?  Don’t let yourself off the hook here – be specific!  If you’re anything like me, the number is pretty small.  Most of us are not all that giving, so we really need help in this area.

But what kind of help?  That’s what this post is about.

The first clue comes from verses 1-2: We want you to know, brothers,about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  Did you catch that?  The Macedonians didn’t just become generous on their own – beneath their kindness was ‘the grace of God’.  They were connected to Christ and he gave them the ability to do what they would never do on their own: be generous toward others at a time they were hurting themselves.

Still, you might be thinking, ‘OK, great, but what does that really mean?  How does knowing Jesus make you generous?’

Verse 9 starts to show us how:

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

There’s that word ‘grace’ again.  It means favor or blessing you don’t deserve.  Let’s open up the box and unpack that for a minute.

‘though he was rich…’ – the Apostle Paul is talking about what it was like for Jesus before he became a man.  He was with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  He was the third person in a perfect community.  He didn’t need anything or anyone.

‘yet… he became poor’ – this refers to Jesus’ incarnation, the shocking fact that God became a human being.  The Creator became the creature.  He was thirsty.  He grew tired.  And he was unfairly crucified by the people he came to rescue.  (See Philippians 2:6-7).

‘so that you by his poverty might become rich’ – He did it for us.  The only thing he didn’t have in heaven was us.  We had become poor, broken, because we turned away from him.  So he voluntarily gave it all up so that we could be with him again.

There’s really no way to even begin to do justice to this in a blog post.  And in all honesty, it will take our entire lives to even begin understanding how much he loves us.

But we’ve got to keep fighting for that.  The Macedonians had started to get it and that’s what made them incredibly generous.  They saw that what Jesus had done for them – they saw that he became nothing so that they could receive everything.

Some of you may still be (I hope you are, actually) thinking, ‘Fine, Jesus is the answer, just like he always is.  But how do I see what Jesus has done for me?  I already know all this stuff, but it doesn’t seem to mean that much.  I want it to, but it doesn’t.’

Glad you asked.  That’s the subject of my next post, which will come out next Wednesday.  (I promise – it’s already done).

Advertisements

Giving Like Jesus Gave (Part 2): The Anatomy of Giving, Jesus Style

A closer look at giving.  Photo by Philippe Ramakers.

A closer look at giving. Photo by Philippe Ramakers.

First, a reassurance: I’m not going to reference Psy or Gangnam Style in this post.  (Extra credit if you don’t know who/what that is).

With that out of the way, in my last post we talked about two lies we believe that keep us from being the other-centered, giving people we want to be.  This time, we’ll continue dissecting 2 Corinthians 8 and look at seven basic principles of what it means to give, Jesus style.

Before we begin, can I make a suggestion?  Don’t get overwhelmed!  Ask God to show you 1 or 2 things he wants you to focus on.

Here we go.  Christ-like giving…

  • involves all of life / who we are.  The passage talks about money, but giving involves all of who we are – the Macedonians gave ‘themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us’ (verse 5).  In many ways, giving of our finances is the easy part.  Our time and full attention are often harder.
  • should happen all the time.  It’s not dependent on our circumstances, or, contingent on it being a ‘good time’.   The Macedonians gave generously during a ‘test of severe affliction’ and ‘extreme poverty’ (2).
  • is based on what we have, not what we don’t have.  God isn’t trying to constantly overextend or drain us.  ‘For they gave according to their means…’ (3).   If you’re wondering how you can give, start by seeing what you already have – it might be a spare hour on a Wednesday afternoon, $20 a month, or something you’re good at.
  • is willing to beyond what you think you can do.  I know – this seems to contradict what I just said.  It would be foolish to make a habit of committing to things we don’t seem to have the resources for.  At the same time, God can do ‘more than all we ask or imagine’ (Ephesians 3:20), and the Macedonians gave not only what they had, but ‘beyond their means’ (3).  Sometimes he’ll push us beyond ourselves to grow our faith and bless others.  Are you open to that?
  • proactive.  Aren’t you impressed when somebody sees your needs and comes to you in an attempt to meet them?  The Macedonians didn’t do the normal thing – wait for Paul to ask them to give – ‘on their own accord, [they begged] us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints’ (4).
  • willing.  When our heart is in something, it makes all the difference to the people we’re helping.  (Parks & Recreation fans: think April versus Chris!)  The Macedonians had that quality (‘readiness, verse 12) it showed.  Is there a place in your life where you’re doing something just because you have to?  Chances are doing the same thing, but willingly, would make all the difference.
  • follows through on good intentions.  We’re far enough from New Year’s to know that resolutions (willpower) only get you so far.  Paul kept urging the Corinthians to follow through on their heart to help other Christians in Jerusalem because he knew how hard follow through is (see verses 6, 11).  So many times, doing that last step or two to bring something to completion costs us the most and shows us where our heart really is.

So there you go.  After two posts, here’s where we are: in contrast to the lies we tend to believe, we can give even during hard times, and, we have enough resources to give what God is asking us to (first post).  And, he’s shown us clear, practical principles on how to do it (this post).  Again, what one step might he be asking you to take in the next few days?

As this post wraps up, I admit to hoping you feel encouraged and overwhelmed at the same time.  On the one hand, the seven steps above should feel ‘doable’ and help us get practical about becoming givers.  On the other hand, if we’re honest, we know how hard it is to do any of them for any length of time.  We’ve all seen ‘tips’ in magazines and TV shows, thought ‘isn’t that great’ and then never gotten around to trying them out.  Or, closer to home for some of us, felt convicted by God to make a change and then…

The third and final post in this series is the most important because it will address where we can find the power to become more giving.  (Hint: it’s not merely knowing what to do).

See you again next Wednesday!

Giving Like Jesus Gave (Part 1): Two Lies We Believe

Bankrupt

(Photo credit: ralph and jenny)

‘Medical school is a really selfish time.’

It was just an offhand comment by our physician-speaker at one of our citywide gatherings, but it was right on the mark.  He could have just as easily been talking about any stage of healthcare training.  When we’re really busy, it’s so easy to say we love God and others, but in reality let our lives become all about us.

If you’re in healthcare, you probably got into it because you wanted to help people.  If you’re a Christian in healthcare, you also had hopes of serving God by serving others.  Of giving like Jesus gave.  But along the way, it’s easy to get tired, lost and jaded.

So, how do we guard ourselves against that and make progress?

In this three-part series, I want to take a look at how we can recapture what it means to ‘give like Jesus gave’.  We’ll start by exploring why we’re not more giving, then talk about what giving looks like before finishing with discussing how we can actually get there.  Believing that the bible is powerful and practical, I’ll use 2 Corinthians 8 as our guide.

To make sense of this passage, though, first some quick background.  In a nutshell, Paul is using the example of other Christians’ (the Macedonians: think modern-day Greece) generosity to encourage the Corinthians to give generously, too.  They had started to get a gift together for their destitute brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, but hadn’t followed through.  (I can identify).

So, what can we learn about why we struggle so much with giving?  With being less selfish?

Let’s take a look at two lies we believe, two ways we subtly justify our self-focus.

The first lie is ‘I’m going through a hard time’, the implication being that we can’t really be expected to think much about the people around us.

To be fair, healthcare training (and beyond) is legitimately a ‘hard time’!  Exams, rotations, residencies and fellowships are extremely demanding.  And God himself wants us to work hard: after all, we’re ultimately working for him and preparing for the life work he’s called us to.

We’re not sure about the details, but the Macedonians were going through a hard time, a ‘severe test of affliction’, too (see verse 2).  I’ll write more about this in later posts, but for now notice they responded with ‘abundance of joy’ and a ‘wealth of generosity’ and even begged Paul for the ‘favor’ of giving more than they were able to (verse 5).  So, even when life is tough, there’s hope – we don’t have to be navel gazers.

The second lie is that ‘I don’t have enough resources’ to be giving.  That may be financial, but more often we mean that don’t have enough inner resources, or time, to be concerned about others.

Again, there are days and even seasons where it will be harder to give others our time, attention and money.  God understands that.  Studying for 10 hours a day, working a twelve-hour shift, or getting ready for re-certification exams while staying acquainted with your family can leave you drained.

If you could hang out with the Macedonians, they would say, ‘We hear you.  Life can be brutal.  We don’t have two dimes to rub together.’  Again, without knowing all the details, they were in ‘extreme poverty’ (verse 2).  The basics of food, shelter and clothing were not a given for them.

Sometimes, even though it may not be literal, we feel like we’re in ‘extreme poverty’.  The ‘hard time’ we’re facing may make it seem like we don’t even have close to enough resources to meet our own, let alone others’, needs.

The other day I accidentally made a left-hand turn from the center lane.  (Hey, it was a tricky situation).  The police were right there and pulled me over.  To make matters worse, I had mistakenly renewed our other car’s registration, but not my own.  In Philly, driving without a current registration results in a ‘live stop’ – your car gets impounded and you sponsor the city’s budget for a day.  After the officer sped away, I stood out in the cold, watching the distance between my tail lights and I rapidly increase.  I’ll stop there.

For the rest of the day, I was the picture of ‘extreme poverty’.  I didn’t want to do anything for anybody.  Other people’s needs were the furthest thing from my mind.  It was understandable, but later that night I had to offer a bunch of mea culpas and regretted my refusal to be the giving person I really want to be.

My ‘hard time’ and ‘extreme poverty’ didn’t result in the joy and generosity the Macedonians modeled in much harder circumstances.  With God’s help, I want it to be different next time, because life is made up of moments like these.

Let’s make this personal.  Are you going through a ‘severe test of affliction / hard time’ right now?  Do you feel like you’re in ‘extreme poverty’ and find that it’s hard to care about others?  Where do you need to seek God’s, or others’, forgiveness?

We haven’t solved any problems yet, but at least we’ve made the diagnosis: we’re pretty self-centered and need more help than we think we do.  Next time, we’ll take a closer look at what it means to give like Christ.  It can only get better from here!