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.
In my living room, there is a beautiful piece of art. (Which doesn't say much, as there are many beautiful artworks by my sister all over the house. I am proud to say that without being an art connoisseur, I have enjoyed all her artwork so far with only one exception, which was a particularly obnoxious object called Worm Baby. Not a horror movie person; that Thing was. I think the name is graphic enough to suffice without description.)
This particular one, however, is 1 Corinthians 13 in Chinese calligraphy, framed in white, and without a backing so it looks like it's floating against the wall. It was done by a friend's father, given to my dad as a present, and one of my favourite things about it is that every time the word 'love' appears, it's written in a different way. I knew there was 'old' and 'new' Chinese script, but it's fascinating to see how many different legit ways the same word can be written, and still read as such.
To me, that reinforces how love is in essence so simple and universal, and yet in application so myriad.
All those Facebook quizzes on What is Your Love Language, and Asian Parents humour videos; and #growingupwithsiblings, for example.
Search the Scriptures challenged me to read 1 Corinthians 13 as 15 ways of describing love, and then summarize and apply it. 15 ways to love. Boiled down to what is most directly, personally applicable to your life. Which is not easy, if you take a look at those verses.
Love suffers long and is kind;
love does not envy;
love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
The first three times I read them through I felt hopeless: "okay, I need them all, every single one of them--I'm just adding a growing number of ticks at the end of each line! How to pick the most important one, or summarize all of this??" But that's precisely why--it breaks down an otherwise overwhelming or abstract list into specific, personal, and most of all, applicable articles.
I finally decided the best approach was to describe it as two general categories:
1. longsuffering /patience /fortitude
All these terms, at least for me, translate to having a higher threshold of forbearance when things don't go your way, by cultivating humility and sincere love and concern for others. This is really difficult for someone who thinks there's a specific format even for hanging up the laundry. I mean, obviously my way is the best, right? Usually, I close my eyes as much as possible whenever someone helps me, (I'm tempted to write, 'attempts to help'!) but that's where the second part comes in. Not merely for the sake of avoiding a petty quarrel over socks and underwear, but out of greater humility; ok, maybe my way isn't flawless after all, you do have a point about bedsheets--
--and love for others; I appreciate you wanting to help me, and I want to remember this could be a fun and pleasant opportunity for us to work together IF ONLY I CAN STOP NOTICING HOW YOU'RE DROPPING CLEAN LAUNDRY ON THE FLOOR AND NOT PUTTING THE PEGS INTO THE BASKET but yeah, those don't really matter in the big picture, do they? *sweats*
In how you interact with and care for others. To be interested in them--not how they reflect upon or affect you or compare to you (which may sound immature and and at the level of teenage friendship problems, but which extends even to parent-child relationships--both ways, at that.) To be less self-conscious; which, as has been so rightly pointed out, is true humility--not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. So your love for others is more genuine. Again, this is challenging in a culture where we are constantly aware of how we look, how others see us, how others reflect upon us; where we zoom in on group pics to see ourselves first, where there are people it's uncool to be friends with, where we squirm when certain people comment on our Facebook page or spoil our feed.
I feel disappointed with myself when I think about how flimsy my love for others is, how it hovers so precariously upon my threshold of forbearance, and how much selfishness is mixed up in it. I remember one quote from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov which really struck me: "The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular."
It's easy to feel a benevolent, if vague and undemanding, compassion and love for others; you feel soulfully convinced that you, too, have a heart to end world hunger or smooth fevered brows and generally be the next Mother Teresa;
but when it comes down to everyday life, to individuals, to toothpaste tubes not rolled neatly, to hairs on the floor you just swept, to unmade beds and apologies and grumpiness and yes, the right way to hang out laundry--we need the Spirit to teach us how to love.
We need Him Who loved us first, and enabled us to love in turn...
Listening is a gift which we take for granted.
Growing up, my best friend was my cousin, who was the same age as I, and who came over almost every weekend to spend the day at my place. Sometimes she got to stay the night, and then we celebrated like there was no tomorrow with late night games which required us to pretend our (increasingly) noisy antics were all stealth-mode operations which the rest of the house was somehow immune to hearing. Usually resulting in panda eyes and bruises the next morning (from blind man's bluff in a house full of furniture.) Looking back on our friendship--swimming lessons, yellow noodles, drawing countless stories which were supposed to be joint productions but which I inevitably ended up monopolizing--I feel so chagrined that I was such a domineering, talkative, and generally insufferable child. I practically reduced my long-suffering cousin to a permanent listener, though with characteristic graciousness she insists she enjoyed listening to me.
Looking back, I am grateful for her listening ear. For so many children that I've met and worked with, that's so often all they want from adults. As parents or teachers, we're so conscious of our role as adults; there's so much to say, to teach, to guide. But for children brimming with excitement and wonder, they just want to talk. And it does so much to them when someone--and especially an adult at that!--listens seriously, sincerely, and with interest to what they have to say. Even if it's froth--like what I subjected my long-suffering cousin to all those years.
I am sometimes tempted to think that David had it good when it came to prayer.
After all, whereas we sometimes struggle to sense God's presence, when it seems we're talking to ourselves, David had first-hand, tangible, incredibly effective experience of God's realness, that God heard and answered his prayers. Wouldn't it be much easier for us to pray if God gave little encouraging 'mhmms' every now and then, affirming His presence and His listening ear? If we felt that He was there, the way David did?
It was a good reminder to read Psalm 116. David bursts into such confident adoration it's as if God has just taken him by the hand, he's brimming with the certainty of God's presence and favour. Ah, if I could feel that too tomorrow at seven in the morning, when I sit at my desk with a Bible in front of me while trying not to look at an open schedule, squinching my eyes shut tightly to try and force away the visions of dirty laundry, unswept floors, half written essays, and unread messages.
I am sometimes tempted to think that I too would be able to love God so fervently and passionately, be a woman after God's own heart, if He spoke to me the way He did to David.
What I found interesting when I read Psalm 116, then, was that David's joy stemmed from the simple fact that God 'inclined His ear' to him. David found comfort and strength in that knowledge even before God answered him. I realized I take prayer so much for granted, that I hardly think about the privilege of being heard by God. I forget that I end 'in Jesus's name' because Jesus was the One who made this relationship possible, enabled me to pray so easily, so directly, with all the struggles on my side--being distracted, finding time, learning how to pray. For David, in the Old Testament before Christ came, being heard by God was something much more--just last Sunday I covered the (very challenging) chapter 28 in 1 Samuel where "the Lord did not answer" Saul's desperate prayers. My Sunday Schoolers looked rather disturbed and asked, didn't God say He would always hear our prayers?
I was reminded again of the immense privilege we have as New Covenant Christians, with Christ, and the full significance of His death, the magnitude of what it accomplished for us. Because of Him, we pray 'in Jesus's name;' we pray with the assurance that He hears us; we pray with the confidence that our words--no matter how disordered or distracted or even insincere--are listened to.
"I love the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplication..."
a quiet voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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