The old saying is “give till it hurts.” But that isn’t actually the best way to give.
For many years I have been reading and studying the power of philanthropy. I’ve even been blessed to attend the School of Philanthropy in Indianapolis, IN for some specific courses on how to help fund non-profit organizations. And study after study shows that when a person develops a habit of generosity it actually creates the sensation of happiness in that person.
So, what’s behind this? Why does stinginess create such smallness and bitterness, and why does generosity seem to create happiness and freedom on a person’s life?
You are probably well ahead of me here, but indulge me.
Let’s begin with God, as we always should. First, God created us, not out of necessity. After all, it wasn’t like He was lonely. He knows Himself as Persons in communion – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And He didn’t create us because He “needed” someone to tell Him how wonderful He was. God is humility Himself. No, God created us out of His generosity. He loved us before He formed us and out of His love for us He made the universe. God was the first to give!
Next, we fast forward to the life of Jesus, and our Lord declares in the most famous verse in all of the New Testament – “For God so loved the world, He gave…” (John 3:16). Again, there was no necessity involved here. God didn’t “have to” do this. He gave us His Son to destroy the power of death and sin and Satan because He loved us. God gave, He gave until the task was completed, and now we are free from the slavery of sin and death.
This is the foundation of why St. Paul can write what he writes today in our Epistle Lesson. He tells the Corinthians “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.”
2 Corinthians 9:6-11
You’ve heard it before “You reap what you sow.” I guess that old saying made more sense to a society that was use to farming metaphors than much of our society today, but you get the idea.
Our spirit of generosity is tied forever tot he depth that we appreciate the generosity of God toward us. A small understanding and appreciation of God’s generosity produces small generosity in our own lives, and a deep and comprehensive appreciation of God’s generosity toward us produces a powerful and fulfilling generosity in us. That’s why my old preacher friend could tell me “Show me a man’s checkbook and I’ll tell you what he loves!”
But giving, dear one, isn’t the point here. It is the symptom of the real point. And that is the depth of our own spiritual maturity in grasping the love and generosity of God. If we really “get” this, then giving money is not even what we focus on, but how do we properly live out and incarnate the generosity of God toward us. I have found that folks who focus on always giving money are like the men Jesus condemned in the scriptures when He declared that the widow who gave just one coin gave more than all the wealthy gave that day in the offering. She gave more because she gave all she had. That widow understood God’s generosity and how we are to mimic His generosity to our world.
The truth is I will never escape the gravitational pull of my own self-centeredness without really developing a generous spirit. Generosity isn’t something I do as much it is who I am. And that, my precious one, is the difference between a Purposeful Orthodoxy and mere religious habit.
Today, are you generous? If your first thought is the amount on your last check to a church or charity, you’ve missed the point. God could care less about how much you give. The real test is how much you keep.
Our faith teaches us that our life must become like God’s life. Understanding His generosity is absolutely necessary to becoming a generous person myself. And as we approach the Winter Lent when we purposefully prepare ourselves to deeply celebrate the Nativity of God coming to us in the flesh, we are given another opportunity to experience the generosity of God and allow His generosity to create a generous spirit within us as well. He will teach us how to “give till it makes you happy!”
Today, the only way to become a “cheerful giver” is to become like the God Who made you. Do that. Today.