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Being giving is a natural and necessary mark of spiritual growth.
"But as you abound in everything--in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us--see that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others." (v 7-8)
If we are seeking spiritual growth in spiritual disciplines but find ourselves hard, reluctant, or grudging when it comes to giving--why should I give, if they've never given me anything? why should I be the one when no one else has? but do they really deserve it? what right do they have to my own money/time/effort?--we may need to reconsider whether we are neglecting this important aspect of spiritual growth.
"And in this I give advice: it is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have."
It is easy to talk about love, but the Bible calls us to "love not in word and speech but in deed and truth." (1 John 3:18)
Lest we become complacent, excusing ourselves that "God only looks at the heart anyway, and it's not like I don't want to, soooo I'm good I guess?" Paul calls us to remember that the desire ought to naturally be completed by the action.
"For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack--that there may be an equality." (v 13-14)
If true giving stems from the understanding that our possessions are from God, and the giving of them is both an expression of the unity in Christ and a means of spiritual growth in Christ, then a flip-side (which is often overlooked!) is that we need to receive as well as we give.
We need to give willingly, with humility. We also need to receive willingly, with humility.
Too often in our desire to give, to show love, we end up having (what I call) the Mom-friend syndrome--being that friend who is always stable, always strong; always there to provide a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on, a helping hand. But in our own times of need, we feel awkward and unsure, even guilty; we don't know how to ask for help, how to respond or accept when others offer their help. Perhaps it's even unconsciously become something we pride ourselves on, and we can't bear to destroy the facade we've created. I had to realize this about myself.
But this, heroic as it may seem to us, is downright unhealthy and definitely unBiblical. Not only are we depriving others of their opportunity to learn how to be giving, we encourage the wrong understanding of giving as a one-way thing, for ourselves and for them.
It takes humility to accept help, to acknowledge your neediness; and vulnerability to accept others when they try to help. Courage, to risk being hurt or not understood, having clumsy but well-meant attempts possibly cause us more pain or hurt our pride.
For some of us, we need to learn to be more giving. Some of us need to learn to receive. Some of us need to learn how to do both, better.
Being giving is something every Christian must learn in their journey of spiritual growth, yet something they cannot learn in isolation--something which once again reinforces our need for community in the Christian life.
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Being a giver--of our time, abilities, and other possessions--is an essential aspects of the Christian life and of our spiritual growth.
I've been studying 2 Corinthians for my Search the Scriptures devotions recently, and Paul has written extensively on serving/giving in chapter 8. He gives guidelines, unpacks the motivations and significance, and finally, urges the Corinthians to see this as something both precious and vitally important, for them even more than for the recipients.
"For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich." (v 9)
In the first place, we need to have the right perspective.
We need to be giving out of an existing awareness of the grace we have received in Christ; of how much Christ has already given to us.
Our giving is the natural consequence of God's grace towards us through Christ. That we are willing, and able, is also the evidence of God's grace towards us.
"For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have." (v 12)
Being giving has nothing to do with our situation--the situation of the recipient--how much we have, how much we give. It is an attitude of the heart. A willingness, humility, and love in action. God values that. Like the widow's mites (I just realize how unfortunate this sounds.) We should not be held back by fears that we can't give enough (will it even make a difference? is it even worth the bother) or we can't give something costly (I can volunteer, but I'm not that good at it.)
That is not what God sees.
"...that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their great joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality." (v 2)
Being giving (I'm going to use this term, instead of the more results/action-oriented "giving") produces abundant joy. Again, it is not about the amount, the act itself, the item we give, but about our hearts and attitudes. When we are tempted to feel that we've got not enough for ourselves, that we are most entitled to be selfish, that we have excuses not to be giving, those are actually the times when we most need the joy and assurance of God's grace, awareness of God's grace and providence, that comes with being giving.
(to be clear, for those who may misunderstand, this is not about blindly and irresponsibly meeting every request or need that we encounter, or failing to consider Biblical priorities in caring for ourselves and our responsibilities/those depending on us.)
When we give, we remember God's goodness to us, and are comforted and strengthened. When we give, we declare our faith in God's ability to provide for us, just as He is using us to provide for others; and His ability to bless us abundantly in the process.
"And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God."
Again, being giving is about our attitude and perspective--this time, how we view our possessions and our role as stewards. When we give ourselves to God, we also give our possessions and our abilities and resources (though admittedly we tend to conveniently forget that!) Being giving is not out of a sense of obligation or guilt-tripping, but a willingness to share what you were given, entrusting God will use you and your gift within the wider scope of His providence.
(continued in part 2)
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"...faith that moves mountains."
If only, we think, we had such faith.
Jesus was very gentle with His disciples when they humbly and simply acknowledged their lack of faith in Luke 17:5: "Increase our faith." Jesus' response was encouraging--"If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
Cryptic as this sounds, it is the same response that Jesus gave to the father of the demon-possessed son in Mark 9:14-29. This father was at his wit's end; exhausted from the emotional rollercoaster the disciples had put him on--getting his hopes up yet again, the bitterness of disappointment, the hopelessness of failure, the pain of seeing his son suffering still. He was hurting. He was confused, broken, and needy. "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us."
He wasn't even asking for healing, now. He did not know how much he could expect--or how much more disappointment he could take.
Like that father, many of us struggle with disillusionment, disappointment, bitterness, pain. Perhaps we feel betrayed by the church or let down by its people. Perhaps it seems foolish to cling to the belief that God is good, and will continue to be good, when our lives seem dark and hopeless. Perhaps we have been hurt deeply. Perhaps we feel like we have to sacrifice our desires and dreams to follow Christ. Perhaps we feel like God has not provided for us, has not blessed us, has ignored our most heartfelt prayers.
The answer is not looking for an explanation in reason, in theology even. Feeling guilty for struggling to trust, for struggling to have faith, yet being unable to emotionally and mentally reconcile what we feel and what we claim to believe. Becoming cynical and bitter, and telling ourselves we were naive to expect anything else. Or shrugging it off in despair as "something only reallyyy spiritually mature people will be able to have."
Jesus challenged the father directly on the root of the problem. Not assuring him He could heal his son, not explaining why His disciples couldn't, or demanding why he couldn't trust more, but probing him to examine his heart. "If you believe, all things are possible for those who believe."
At times like this, there is no shame in coming to Jesus exactly as we are. Confessing our doubts, our wounds, our lack of faith--but most importantly, our desire not to stay this way.
"I believe; help my unbelief!"
And with that--more of a plea for help, a confession, than a declaration of faith as we might expect--Jesus answered him. He healed the boy, with one sentence.
At first, the healing was not obvious. A terrific struggle. A brief moment of stunned tension.
"Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, 'He is dead.'"
Is my son dead? Has God, after all, shown that He cannot be trusted? Has God, after all, struck me with the blow I cannot bear, shown a merciless hand to me at my most vulnerable point?
"But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose."
The dramatic effect of this line reminds me forcefully of that other (famous) verse in the Bible: "Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes with the morning." (Psalm 30:5)
It is not "how much" faith we have, as we tend to think. In both cases Jesus' reply subverted what we would expect by reinforcing that it was not how much, but more of are you willing. It was not an equation, a recipe, where x amount of faith was required to produce a reaction; but an attitude of the heart.
Even if it is only as much as a mustard seed. Even if there is a good dose of unbelief struggling mightily with it. Are we willing to bring it all humbly before Him, to show it to Him, to ask Him for his help to supply not just our need but the faith we lack?
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It is no secret that one of my besetting sins throughout my life has been impatience.
I grew up listening to my mom constantly telling me that my personality traits of being independent, organized, and task-oriented also fed my weakness of impatience. When my mind is fixed on finishing a task, clearing my to-do list or squeezing in one last item before I wrap up, everything else takes a back seat, and anything which threatens to get in the way becomes Public Enemy Number One. I get short-tempered and snap easily at those who are too slow for my pace, since I work (and talk--and read--and move, apparently) at a rapid pace.
With a sigh, I wrote patience down on my prayer journal as one of my goals for 2018--and 2019--and here I am, seemingly without any obvious improvement, still working at cultivating this elusive virtue. Why is it I wasn't getting anywhere? I would think I was fine for a stint, then something would happen--some situation would catch me off guard, or some person would just be "too much!!"--and it would happen.
As when dealing with any other habitual sin, it's not a straightforward master-this-level-and-move-on-without-having-to-deal-with-it-again matter, handy as that would be. You think you've overcome this besetting sin, broken this habit; then a few weeks--days--hours--later when you least expect, it hits you. And we get discouraged, when our self-control and discipline eventually prove insufficient.
This was where Walter Henegar's advice from his little booklet on procrastination came in handy.
All along, I had been focusing on the actions themselves--the isolated incidents of impatience. I lost my temper just now; I spoke sharply and dismissed someone who I felt was taking too long; and so on. However, this meant reinforcing a pattern of guilt, of examining myself when it was already too late.
Henegar describes how he too used this approach at first when dealing with his own habitual sin--procrastination. Like me, he quickly got discouraged, tempted to blame external situations for his regular lapses, and struggling with guilt yet without any real sense of hope in breaking out of this cycle. Eventually he realized that the right approach was to examine the sinful attitudes in his heart which were the root of the problem, rather than fire-fighting the manifestations.
Though our respective habitual sins seem polar opposite, I came to the same conclusion as Henegar when I tried examining the root issues at heart of my impatience: pride. Pride in prioritizing my own agenda before people, before opportunities God had put before me. Pride in assuming my methods were better and others inferior if they took up more time. Pride in relying on that sense of achievement and success as my fulfilment and self-identity, rather than what I had in Christ. Pride in being unwilling to accept and trust in God's plan and God's timing for my life, and instead steamrollering my own plan and own timings.
Realizing this transformed the way I prayed about my struggle to be patient. Instead of the well-intentioned but vague Lord help me to be more patient today (which I often forgot by the time I finished praying, and which definitely did not come to mind in time when needed later on in the day!), I found myself praying about the attitudes and priorities in my heart. Lord, help me to love others more than I love the adrenaline rush and sense of gratification I get from clearing my to-do list. Help me not to be blinded by my agenda to Your hand directing me to Your work. Help me to seek Your purpose and Your timing today, rather than mine. Help me to change the sinful attitudes I accept so unthinkingly, and to be transformed heart, soul, mind--and to-do-list!
Instead of a guilt-driven pattern of sin spiraling into despair, this enables a grace-driven, humbled, yet hopeful understanding of our hearts, empowered for true change as we work at overcoming our habitual sins, and more deeply than ever aware of the grace and power of God, and where we stand before Him.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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