The Cheerfulness of Obedient, Smart Giving

basketWe have an abundance of “smart” electronics these days, don’t we?  Smart phones.  Smart cars.  They weren’t designed to keep us from having to actually be smart, though!  I’m talking today about giving, and how we can give intelligently by giving OBEDIENTLY.

There’s really a difference, you know.  The difference is the fruit that is borne from the seed we sow. Generosity is a noble and wonderful trait (the Bible says for us to be givers!) when it works in tandem with obedience to God.  We should indeed be cheerful and liberal givers; but it’s doubly important that we listen for God’s instructions, because foolish generosity is, well, FOOLISH. The whole of that text says this (I love the Voice Translation of 2 Cor. 9:7): Giving grows out of the heart—otherwise, you’ve reluctantly grumbled “yes” because you felt you had to or because you couldn’t say “no,” but this isn’t the way God wants it. For we know that “God loves a cheerful giver.” When our giving is God-directed, it is smart giving; obedient giving which isn’t given for ulterior motives, or given out of guilt or compulsion or a need to just feel good!

A generous parent, for instance, can harm his or her child through excessive giving not tempered by wisdom.  Would you give your child candy for breakfast just because he or she wants it?  Of course not!  But would you breed a materialistic appetite in your child by enabling him or her to get every single thing the child wants, just for the asking?  Do you operate in fear of not being your child’s friend, when in reality, your child needs you to set boundaries, to say no once in a while?  Following God’s direction will keep perfect balance instead of making the child entitled, spoiled, selfish, wasteful.  You can actually TEACH your child by anointed example as you give wisely.  This applies in every area of our lives, not just parenting!  Sometimes we have to say no to ourselves!  I know I sure do!  Read on.

Remember the song, “What a Friend We Have In Jesus?”  Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer…

That familiar verse perfectly sums up our lives when we don’t listen for His voice!  Yes, it’s true.  We’ve gotten used to just asking for things…perhaps we need to return to asking for Him to reveal His will in decisions we are facing.  It even applies to our giving of our time, talent, and treasure. I know all too well what it’s like to give just because it feels good.  The importance however goes beyond my flesh feeling good, and therefore, my motivation must have a higher purpose than gratifying my flesh!

How can one be a selfish giver, you might ask…sounds like an oxymoron!  It’s taken and is still taking time and experience, and also a deeper knowledge of my Lord through intimate relationship, to know that responsibility accompanies our ability to say yes.  My ability to say NO has in times past gotten me into trouble.  Hey Lisa, can you join this club?  Can you go here and do that and can you be available at all hours for anything anyone asks?  Oh yeah…I’ve been so bogged down with to-do’s which I agreed to in order to be a people pleaser.  Then, exhausted, I would find myself bitter at having no downtime, or nothing at all left.  Often, I’ve had not one piece of fruit to show for it, because I didn’t have the courage to say, “I’ll get back to you…I really need to talk to God before I commit to this!”

Well, go back to the passage in the Bible where Saul took the spoils of war after God had specifically told him not to…and then he tried to appease God by sacrificing some of the livestock on altars to justify his disobedience of a direct order!  Talk about insulting God’s omniscience!  The Scriptures tell us that obedience is better than sacrifice.  Saul’s disobedience would eventually cost him his kingdom…even his descendants would suffer consequences because of his foolishness.  We ourselves can undo all the good of our generosity whenever we sidestep what God has already instructed.  Why would we not take the counsel of the One Who actually KNOWS the outcome?  When we have His voice, we already have the inside track to what is going to be a blessing, be blessed, and bear fruit!

Bear in mind, He will sometimes direct us to give when it DOESN’T have that euphoric, how-wonderful-it-feels effect!  Can we respond when there’s a need in our own life?  Can we be as the widow who cooks her last meal for the prophet before there’s evidence we will have enough for ourselves? Don’t stop being generous, for heaven’s sake…but lay your heart and your feelings on the altar and allow Him to direct you to good ground.  Even good ground can’t produce its best yield if you cram the seeds too closely together!  Give your acts of kindness the best chance for a harvest by being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.  Instead of it just being said that you’d give someone the shirt off your back, let it be said that you heard from God and responded with the right thing at the right time!

“In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.”  Proverbs 3:6 (AMP)

A Grateful Giver

helping handsMy children, our love should not be just words and talk; it must be true love, which shows itself in action.  (1 John 3:18 GNT)

Cats are peculiar critters.  As I was unloading and packing groceries from my car this morning, I nearly stepped on a dead, disemboweled mouse right in my walking path.  It was a “gift” from one of the cats we feed and care for who live on our property.

Those of you who own cats know that this is a pretty typical thing!  I’m regularly encountering little presents like this.  Some are good presents; getting rid of rodents and creepy crawlers is always a welcome offering.  Others, not so much!  Occasionally my kitties will nab a bird or a ground squirrel in their zealous guard duties, unfortunate casualties of the war on pest control.

We’re not so unlike these four-legged creatures, you know.   When we enter into a true, healthy relationship with our Master, we seek to do things which please Him.  Perhaps they are things we would have been doing anyway, like being generous, or using a talent, but our motivation changes to a godly one.  Even those times when we get it wrong, our Master’s grace envelops us as He sees the pureness in heart.  He may scold us over a wrong choice, but He will lovingly teach us how to conform to His image.

Cats are hunters by instinct; catching prey is their nature.  However, instead of just doing whatever they wish with their conquests, my cats choose to lay out their trophies for me.  They want ME to share in their accomplishments. They want to remind me that, although I haul those huge bags of cat food up the hill to keep their bellies full, they are grateful and wanting to reciprocate.

One aspect which sets Christianity apart from all others is that we are saved by grace.  Many feel that it ends there, and excludes any opportunities for works.  While it’s true that we cannot achieve salvation through our giving, that change of heart when we accept Jesus also motivates us to do good works.  Or, at the very least, to do what we may have already been doing, but with a higher purpose!  Our gratitude to our Lord spills over into wanting Him to be blessed as well.

You don’t have to perform great exploits today, or seek achievements beyond your reach.  Just do what seems second nature to you, but with a holy motivation!  Gatherer by instinct, giver by faithful love.  Find something in your day which you can deposit on the walking path of your Master!  He loves a cheerful giver!

Something Outta Nothing

cauldron1If you’ve never heard a variation of this old fable, I’m going to treat you to the “Lisa” version of it.

A stranger wandered into town one afternoon, tired, hungry, and needing to rest before he continued on his journey.  His inquiries about food and lodging were met with inhospitable responses from the townspeople.  “I have no food for you,” he heard over and over again.

“That’s ok, and thank you,” he replied.  “Since none of you have any food to share, I’m just going to make homemade soup.  Enough to feed us all…and all I need is (reaching into his pocket) this old nail!”

“Hogwash!” said someone; and to prove him wrong, the skeptic dragged a big kettle to the town square.  “Let’s see you do it!

The stranger quietly filled the pot with water from the community well, gathered some sticks, and built a fire.  A faint “klink” was heard as the nail came to rest in the bottom of the kettle.  As the water began to boil, he leaned in to sniff an imaginary aroma.  Curious onlookers began to move in closer, their inquisitiveness overriding their cynicism over the man’s outrageous claim.  He blew on a spoonful of the broth before tasting.  “It’s fine just like it is, but a little salt and pepper would be divine!”

“I have no food for you,” spoke a woman from the crowd, “but I do have some salt and pepper in my pantry.”  With that, she disappears from the crowd, reappearing with the seasonings.  The stranger thanks her, tosses some salt and pepper into the pot, and continues stirring.

“Last time I made this, I decided to experiment a little.  I threw in some onions and potatoes, and you know, it was actually pretty good,” he said calmly, almost as if he were talking to himself.

“I don’t have any food to give you,” a man spoke out, “but I may be able to wrangle up some old onions and potatoes in my cellar.”  And with that, he produced his contribution.  After stirring the onions and potatoes into the mix, suddenly an appetizing smell began to waft into the crowd.

“I wonder if carrots and celery would make it better?” said another lady.  “I might have some put back for a rainy day.”  Suddenly, it was a domino effect.  An ear of corn here, a handful of peas there. A cabbage.   And lo and behold, one ornery old cuss even brought a soup bone.  After all, they had to prove this crazy stranger wrong!

Before long, town square smelled heavenly; and folks disappeared long enough to return with bowls and spoons.  And they all shared a hearty feast together that evening…laughing and talking and singing the praises of the man who made this magnificent concoction “out of just one old nail!”

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In the spiritual sense, how many times have we come to God with our needs, only to have Him require something on our part first?  He isn’t trying to insult our intelligence; He’s trying to expand our understanding to a heavenly principle that defies our earthly paradigms.  We can look at Elijah’s audacious request to a widow who was preparing one final meal for her young son and herself, and say, “Man, you have absolutely lost your mind!  You foolish, selfish thing…leave that woman alone in her need, and go find your own food!”  However, desperate times often spark some pretty radical faith!  This woman was just ripe for a boom-or-bust miracle; and so, she responded to Elijah’s claim of continual provision if she were to make the first move.  Sure enough, God honored the prophet’s declaration, and the woman and her son never again had to fear hunger…even in the middle of a famine!

This outrageous God we serve has a track record for “something outta nothing.”  We’re not even going to rewind back to the times of Creation when entire galaxies were formed at His command.  We’re just going to go forward to a huge crowd of hungry people, too far out of town to grab a bite in the drive-thru.  Here they have followed Jesus, not paying attention to the time or the distance, or to their lack of preparation for a journey.  Surveying the problem, all the disciples are able to come up with is a little tike whose momma had thrown together a child’s portion bread-and-fish lunch.  Tuna fish and crackers for us, if you will, only the Happy Meal version.  They didn’t have to pry it out of his hands.  With a child’s faith, I’m guessing he probably thought, “If it’s Jesus I’m giving it to, it’ll be alright.”  We adults would probably be tempted to hide our little stash!  Or, we’d reason that our contribution was just a drop in the bucket; justifiable alibi for not revealing that we had it.  Survival of the fittest, you know.  Interesting.  That child’s drop in the bucket, blessed and broken by the Master, had 12 baskets of leftovers afterwards.

And if that weren’t enough to perplex our carnal minds, enter a man with what the Bible describes as a “withered hand.”  He could’ve crushed it while working in the field or managing his livestock.  He could’ve had a stroke.  He may have been born with a body part that failed to fully develop.  We don’t know that part, but we can reason that he was tired of walking around with a dead hand that didn’t work.  And how does Jesus respond to the man’s request for healing?  He asks the man to stretch that hand toward Him!  Nowadays, people would be threatening to sue for discrimination against the disabled. I wonder how many spectators in the crowd were whispering among themselves, “Jesus, get a clue!  If he could stretch it out, he wouldn’t be asking You to heal it!”  How we, in all our “intelligence,” miss the point!  The man didn’t miss the point, however.  I don’t know how much effort it took to get that hand aimed toward Jesus, but he had nothing to lose.  It may have been a little humiliating, even, putting the object of his shame right there in the open for everyone to gawk at.  Nevertheless, the man gives his best effort to reach the useless hand toward the Savior.  Only…by the time the hand reaches Jesus, the fingers are long and limber.  The grip is strong.  There is movement, flexibility, and feeling!  Something outta nothing, yes.  Faith trumps reason!  Always!

As you stand before God today with your own list of needs, don’t be surprised if He requires you to produce your nothingness as a gift to Him.  Don’t be insulted.  He already knows what you have and what you don’t have.  He will ask you to produce the very source of your pain, your shame, your deficiency.  Don’t hide it behind your back and pretend it doesn’t exist!  With the faith of that widow, that boy, and that man, present to Him what you have…even if it’s an empty bowl, a drained bank account, a ruined reputation, a used-up body.  We are all just empty containers.  We all are lacking in some area.  Give God your container—YOU—and He will fill you to overflowing with His goodness.  If you perceive yourself to be too old, wasted, uneducated, tainted, broken, or useless, know that He’s just looking for your willingness to give Him your pitiful little offering!  He’s not going to laugh at you and say, “WHAT?  You expect Me to make something good out of YOU???!”  No, He will work with what you give Him.  He may even toss your inadequacy into His kettle with other people’s inadequacies…and produce something of quality that blesses everyone around you, emitting a pleasing savor as it simmers to perfection.

Impossible, you say?  Nope.  It’s as easy as making soup with just one old nail.