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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.
image by Priscilla Du Preez from Unsplash
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)
Recently I came back from a trip to China, where we visited a children's home my church has been involved with for the past few years. Almost every year we visit them and spend a day there; bring some food, winter clothing, etc...run some games and workshops for them, just get to know them and give them a good time. It's a small children's home, called The Father's House; basically just Brother Long and his wife opening up their home and family to needy children from the village they came from, so that it feels like a big family. In fact, initially I didn't even realize two of the children among the group were actually Brother Long's own children. There are a handful of children, whatever the house and their means can hold comfortably, around 10+ each time we visit. Some of these children are orphans, others are unwanted or abandoned, some just from very poor families. Being able to come here means getting to go to school--most of them finish highschool there--being cared for, getting the opportunity to learn about God, and most of all, having a safe place and a loving community to grow up in. I remember peeking into the girls' room and being struck by how, despite the multiple bunk beds, it had that undeniable touch of individual little girl personalities; scraps of pink tulle made into pretty canopies and curtains over the beds, random ribbons, colourful stationery scattered over the desk, stuff toys in different stages of wear/belovedness, dozens of prized drawings and paintings the proud artists had stuck up on the walls.
During the many visits I've made, I've slowly found out more about the different types of problems and needs that these children's presence there reflects. There was a brother and sister whose father was killed in a construction accident at work, whose mother ran off and left them to live with their grandma until she died--at which time they were only around six and ten, roughly. There was a boy with a crippled hand, from a severe burn. There was a little girl who had been abandoned by her mother and visibly crushed by the trauma of it. She had large, intense wide-set eyes, a small stern unsmiling mouth, and watched you dully, if warily, from under her brows, with a strangely passive and detached look for such a young child. We asked her what was her favourite colour and finally got to hear her voice when she whispered, "gray." This year I was startled to recognize her, to see how much she had recovered. She held her head up, turned her head easily to look at things that interested her, and I even saw her laugh. One photo caught her laughing and every time I look at it I realize how wonderfully it changes her.
This trip, I ran a drawstring bag printing workshop, using fabric paints and stencils we cut from the plasticated paper used to wrap printing paper, ironed on (thanks Pinterest.) They were so excited it was worth the painstaking packing of those glass bottles of fabric paint--inside a plastic box, wadded recklessly with tissue, sealed with tape, inside a ziplock bag, and then another plastic bag. Over the top, but I had visions of them smashing during transit and dyeing all my clothes irrevocably.
A friend had also lent us a bag of hand puppets to play with there, and that really brought out the smiles as you can see from the photo I took with some of the girls--the chipmunk especially was a hit (my own favourite as well! It was a close toss up with the porcupine though.)
Upon finishing high school most of these children move out and find work in the city, support themselves. There are so many other needy, younger ones to take their place, after all. However, coming from my first-world background, I can barely imagine having to support yourself on your own at such a young age. It's intimidating enough as an young adult privileged enough to have a university degree, a skill set, and of course the safety net of loving parents whom you can always rely on for food and board (shoutout to parents who cheerfully support poor-student-children, especially Lit graduates!) I've felt so burdened thinking about their predicament--yet I can't think of a way in which I could help provide any alternative or long-term help, and the sense of helplessness is crippling. It was a time to remember that, as with myself and my own fears, I had to learn to trust God's providence and loving nature, even as I did my best to do something about it.
I know I've never posted anything like this before, mainly because I wasn't sure how helpful it would be, also because I don't pretend to understand or know the extent of the problems or situation over there. But every time I go, I am humbled. Challenged. And at the same time, I still feel so helpless when it comes to working real, long-term change, contributing to a real solution. As with any social problem or need. However this trip I was encouraged by the amazing people I met to do what I can and not belittle it too much; to have faith that God works in every loving heart, whether manifested in thousands of dollars, or a hug, or perhaps even just a happy afternoon and a special meal for those children.
One of their main supporters put up this website to encourage and help the ministry that's going on there, and raise awareness for the social needs and problems that it addresses. Here, even if you have no other way to help, you can give a School Bag, which will help a needy child from the village. I've been to some of these villages and seen the schools, firsthand, and heard from the locals what it means for a child to attend school--daily hikes to and fro that take several hours, sometimes across whole mountains; living in school and only coming back on the weekends, because the distance is too far, and that's the only school in your vicinity. For someone like me, growing in tiny Singapore with its state-of-the-arts (well, most of the time) public transport system, I can't fathom travelling so far every day for an education. Come on, I was homeschooled--I virtually lived in my school, after all. An hour long commute on the train is nothing compared to the hike up and down the steep mountain valleys and hills our guide carelessly beckoned at--"you see that small building down there? That's the school. Yes, I went there when I was small. Hiked from the village back there and down here and up that to get there. Took a couple of hours." Me, still panting from the climb up that one hill--"Oh, well, really!"
So do take a look, and at the least, add something to your prayer list.
When my brother and I went busking we had the opportunity to see many different types of people in the hours we spent playing music at the shopping mall, and specifically, different types of givers. Some were young parents who gave their toddlers coins to drop into our box; others tried to take photos of us; some lively teenagers cheered for us; and some
I remember mainly two types of people: those who gave on the spur of the moment, fumbling in their pockets and flipping a coin or two; and those who actually stopped to listen for a while first. The second category made those hours worthwhile. They would clap, give a thumbs-up, or tell us they enjoyed the music; at the least, a warm smile--and usually they would give a bill. Not simply clearing their loose change.
It was a good reminder to me, as I realized that when I give to buskers I tend to be the first category of people-- smileless, probably a harassed expression, one eye on the watch, almost dutiful; you couldn't tell whether they actually enjoyed the music or not. My head full of my destination and my to-do list. Giving this was just an impromptu, by-the-way idea that I went with because it wouldn't cost me too much, and was a nice thing to do...
The last chapter of 1st Corinthians gives detailed instructions on giving. Paul's directions about how the donations were to be collected seem at best unimportant admin instructions which, like the reminders to Timothy to bring his cloak and books at the end of 2 Timothy, I usually dismiss as little personal details without much theological significance. Search the Scriptures, however, challenged me to reread those directions on giving with the intent to learn what the Bible had to say about Christian giving.
I thought back on my own experiences of giving, and realized that true enough, Paul's reason for asking that the collections be prepared beforehand weren't just for efficiency's sake. How many times had I been caught at a Christian concert, or visiting a church, where the collection was suddenly handed round and I absolutely panicked. Heavens, did I bring enough cash? I'm broke, but I'm too embarrassed not to put anything in--can I just give a five dollar bill? Wait is that a fifty dollar bill the woman next to me is putting in--I've got to give at least a ten then--do I have a ten--I'm so flustered let's just stick a hand in and pretend I gave something--but then it's for a crisis relief--it's not like I don't CARE about all those little kids--well, if I'd known sooner--
Alright, you can laugh. Spontaneous giving can be one of the nicest feelings in the world. Sometimes.
At other times, it can be really bad for us.
That is why Paul insisted on encouraging intentional giving, rather than spur-of-the-moment giving.
The giving which the Bible depicts is a two-way thing, which emphasizes the effect of the exchange on the two parties involved rather than the object itself. The same old theme: the heart first, always. 2 Corinthians 8:12 reinforces that.
Paul reinforced the need for thoughtful and orderly giving, knowing that purposeful, intentional giving ensures:
the act of giving doesn't become a flashy display that encourages comparison and pride. Instead, it becomes a humbling act which, at a calculated, conscious cost to self, encourages a genuine love for the person you give to.
the act of giving, in being orderly, remains sincere and intentional. Just like impulse buys, it's easy to give or promise someone something in the spur of the moment, and only later, when you actually think through what that costs you, regret the decision.
As a high-functioning introvert this is always my problem. At that moment I'm predominantly eager to please the person, airily convinced that I can handle this on top of my other commitments, and happy to do it. Once I come home, the party's over, and I'm recuperating in bed, reality kicks in and I start to realize it's actually the last thing I want to do, it's a busy week already, I'd much rather catch up on sleep after all, and why did I say yes anyway? Impromptu giving is fun, but often neglects to consider the costs of giving, so that we may end up with regret and even resentment.
True giving, like the gift we received on the cross, comes without regret or resentment, because it is intentional and purposeful--it has counted all the costs, and accepts them joyfully and willingly. Without pride, only love; thought through, and prepared in advance; in this case, before the dawn of time.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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