I've been leading a study on the spiritual discipline of 'giving' with the high school youth group I work with at my church. Each year, we focus on 7 Checkpoints (see the book by the same name on my side-bar for more info on that), the second of which is Spiritual Disciplines. Giving has been an interesting topic for us to focus on under this heading, because it truly is a discipline. I would even argue that it is perhaps more of a discipline than prayer or reading your Bible, because we are not specifically programmed against these things.

Almost everything about the human experience, however, programs us to be in a "get" mode. We're all out to get ours. Get rich or die trying, as 50 cent would say. Getting is such a pervasive mind-set, especially in modern day America, that even the earnest Christian has his particular rationalizations (as if he is so much better than a rap star). We want to provide for our family, give security to our loved ones, be successful in our careers and pursuits. All well and good things, but also all too often used to mask the cultural drive to get, get, get.

Harpers.org recently noted that "Three quarters of Americans believe the Bible teaches that 'God helps those who help themselves.'" The truth is, as Harpers went on to point out, exactly the opposite. God is concerned with those who go against the natural tendency to grasp, and instead discipline themselves to give:
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' -- Matthew 25

I was discussing this topic I've been leading at the youth group with some friends this evening, and one of them raised the question as to whether we had laid out any kind of plan for giving or practical methods to encourage the kids we work with to be more giving. Fact of the matter is, we didn't. And I'm OK with that.

While we do organize volunteer work weekends helping clean up local parks, or the Young Life camp upstate, and babysitting fundraisers to give money to the church's vision campaign, and other opportunities for the kids to practice giving, encouraging new behaviors isn't the place to start when you are talking about a discipline. We can discipline ourselves to do almost anything, but I firmly believe that any true, permanent life change must be first initiated by a change of the heart, rather than a change in behavior. A change in behavior is just that - a change in behavior. Generally speaking, it won't motivate you to keep that behavior in its changed state, it won't encourage you in the desire to maintain that change. A changed heart is what accomplishes that.

How can our hearts be changed to truly know deep down that "it is more blessed to give than to receive..."? By seeing the ultimate gift that God gave us in His Son. With Christmas around the corner, this is an easy topic to picture in one's head, but it has to be a topic that we more constantly allow to permeate our hearts. To become more like Christ with a heart that continually looks to give away, rather than to take, requires that we see His work on the cross, His ultimate gift of life to us, at the ultimate cost to Himself, and simply respond joyfully to that gift, by giving what we can to those around us. Not giving what we can spare. But giving what we can. And if Christ considered his life something not too precious to keep to himself...what in this world can we hold back on giving away?

I'll never forget, my sophomore year in college, a cool upper-classman dude named Andrew Telup who not only was one of the only other skaters on my campus, but also gave me the time of day. One day I was over in his room, and I had been complaining about how my old backpack broke and I didn't have money for a new one. Heck, I didn't even have a way to get out to the Outlet Mall and get one, even if I had the money. Andrew rummaged around in his closet for a minute and produced a backpack. Not just any backpack, a cool skater backpack (it was a Shorty's pack, and if you ever skated, you know just how cool it was). He handed it to me, and I looked at it and told him I didn't have anything I could give him for it. He just smiled, and said, "Freely I have received...".

Only a changed heart can drive us to truly, "freely give." Freely giving means giving without stopping - not placing limits on that which you give. We bring nothing into this world, and we certainly can't take anything with us. We need to stop being so concerned with what we can hold on to in our brief lives, and start finding out how much blessing God has in store for those who can give without holding back.
Charity - giving to the poor - is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns...

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them...

For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear - fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a temptation. -- C.S. Lewis

1 comment:

Scott Holtzman said...


I just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading your post, some insightful commentary.