Learning Generosity: Hearts and Heads All In!

Learning to make do with a  smaller bike!

Learning to make do with a smaller bike!

Twice now my heart’s desire has led me to larger bikes, a ’94 Triumph Sprint 900 and a ’02 Sprint 955. But also twice my head’s straight thinking has sent me back to a smaller bikes, and now I ride a Honda 125, which happens to have a smaller engine than a typical lawn mower! Often our decisions depend on what is going on in both our hearts and our heads, and decisions around generosity are no different.

Generosity is to be a character trait of every Christian, expressed in many more ways than just financial, and it is something the Spirit of God develops within us. However, we can tend to stifle, or “quench the Spirit” in many ways including through ungodly desires. These can take three forms:

  1. Coveting: we want what someone else has.
  2. Greed: we want more than what other people have.
  3. Indulgence, or plain desire for a lot: we want more than what we currently have, or we want to keep at least what we currently have.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that each of these will make it difficult for us to be generous people. When we want, want, want, we will not be inclined to give, give, give. So what should we do if generosity is to develop within us as a character trait?

In Our Hearts

Shall we just shut off the desire of our hearts? Have you ever met someone with no desire at all? They end up acting like zombies. Like the zombies from the movie World War Z who just sit around when there are no victims, people with no desire just sit around. God did not create us to just sit around! The solution, rather,  is found in 1st Timothy 6:6: “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (NRSV). Shutting desire down altogether is not the way forward, but rather trading in our ungodly desire for godly desire. Move away from our own desires which often revolve around stuff, appearance, or status, and instead let our hearts burn for that which the heart of God burns: a just society where people are at peace with themselves, one another, and with God. A society where everyone is taken care of. If “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 NRSV), then the love of God is the root of all kinds of good. Walking with God and letting the passion of His heart give passion to ours will certainly lead us to develop generous hearts.

In Our Heads

But while our hearts may be enflamed with the desire to do good our heads may yet rule with a nagging voice “don’t be silly, you cannot be generous, you do not have enough for yourself yet.” Let us remember 1st Timothy 6:6, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” Here is where the contentment part comes in. Where godly desire has to do with the work going on in our hearts, contentment has to do with what is going on in our heads. We think through: “do I really need all this, do I really need more?”

When looking to make motorcycling more affordable I came across so many opinions that I would never be satisfied with a small motorcycle, especially a 125cc. But my head got to thinking – that the vast majority of people in the world, and throughout history have never had the thrill or opportunity of riding any motorcycle, who am I to complain about a wee bike? So down went my engine size, down went my insurance, down went my maintenance costs, up went my gas mileage, and I must say, up went the fun factor. I made the decision to be content which then gave me permission to use my resources elsewhere. When we give contentment some serious thought in our heads, we give our hearts permission to give, and give away.

I love the last scene of Schindler’s List. Oskar Shindler is being thanked by a crowd of Jews for all those whom he had saved through his work program, about eleven hundred people. But instead of accepting their gratitude he is filled with remorse. He looks at his car: “ten more”- if he had sold his car he could have saved ten more. He looks at his pin “two more”- If he had sold his pin he could have saved two more. The movie ends with the hero recognizing his failure: “I wasted so much money.” The movie begins with Schindler looking to make lots of money. His heart strings are pulled by the injustice he sees and so his heart yearns to do good. But by his own admission, he learned contentment late. May we not stand before God at the end of time saying “I could have done so much more good if I had learned to be content with so much less!” Lord may it not be so. Fill our hearts now with godly desire, fill our minds now with wisdom in being content. Amen.

 

So That’s What It Looks Like! Generosity and Getting Past Ourselves.

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Last week we considered the work of God on our hearts, causing us to be a people who are marked by generous hearts. Generosity is to be a character trait of the Christian person and it should end up being reflected in all of life. However, just because such heart-work is Holy-Spirit-work does not mean that it will happen automatically and without some difficulty. The Bible teaches us to “not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19 NRSV), which means of course that we can quench or stifle the work of the Holy Spirit.

One of the quickest ways of quenching the Spirit’s work in our lives is through pride. Pride kills the generosity in our hearts before we even get started. We think to ourselves “I do generous things. I am generous. I have a generous heart. I am generous enough!” See what such thinking does? It cuts us off from growing further. We may well be generous, and may seem especially so when compared with others, but when pride hits, growth stops. Even the best givers among us have room for heart-growth in generosity.

So how do we keep ourselves from aiming a fire hose at the generosity-fire the Holy Spirit has lit in our hearts?

Let me begin with an example. One area in which pride can quickly grow in me is in my ability to play bass guitar. Having participated in numerous bands with a diversity of styles I have progressed in my abilities. Though signing far less autographs than the frontman or guitarist, I have received much affirmation as a bass player. However, when I see, hear, or am with a really good bass player, I want to never play bass again! Instead I want to leave it to the masters and go back to jamming alone in my basement. This is an experience of humility, a recognition that I have so much more to learn. So the trick to dealing with pride is to spend time with a master. And when it comes to generosity there is no master greater than the Master Himself. Consider that God the Father is:

  • generous in setting up a universe fit for human flourishing
  • generous in provision
  • generous in giving freedom
  • generous in giving us the Scriptures
  • generous in sending prophets
  • generous in establishing covenants
  • generous in making promises
  • generous in loyal love
  • generous in grace
  • generous in giving His Son
  • generous in giving His Holy Spirit

And now consider God the Son who is:

  • generous in his teaching
  • generous in his calling of disciples
  • generous in his healing
  • generous in his feeding
  • generous in his serving
  • generous in his death
  • generous in his resurrection
  • generous in His return
  • generous in His shepherding

And consider God the Holy Spirit who is:

  • generous in His presence
  • generous in His comfort
  • generous in His conviction
  • generous in His challenge

And we could think of so much more. Now that is what generosity looks like! You do not need to walk with our Lord too far before you realize the extent of His generosity and the humble generosity that is yours. The prophet Micah encourages us to “walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8 NRSV).” Is there any other way to walk with God? When you spend time with God you get over yourself. Pride is replaced with humility.

But humility is not the only thing that we experience. Upon hearing a master bass player I want to give up, yes, but I do pick up the bass again and aspire to do better. Pride gives way to humility plus aspiration. Spending time with our Lord will make us aspire to greater generosity as we seek to emulate the Master.

Do you have a generous heart?

If you immediately answer “yes” then the challenge is to walk with Jesus. You may well be generous and you may be an example to others. But be careful you are not stifling the Spirit’s work in your life, getting stuck where you are and no longer growing toward where Jesus is. Walk with the Master and let Him deal with your pride as you learn what a generous heart really looks like. Let pride turn to humility and aspiration and let your already generous heart grow under the Spirit’s guidance.

If you answered “no” then you have the opportunity for great growth. Walk with the Master and let Him show you what a generous heart looks like. Then aspire to have generosity fill your heart, emulating the Master.

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Generosity and the Acts 2 Church

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42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47 NRSV emphasis mine)

If you did not know that the above quotation was from the Bible, would you have assumed instead that it is a description of the typical church in Canada? I am guessing not. It is a picture of incredible devotion, togetherness, and generosity which we might lament we do not live up to. On the other hand we might be glad that this does not describe Christian churches in Canada; do we really want such crazy giving away of our stuff? We might be concerned that this passage is setting up an ideal for the Christian community that we neither want nor think we can attain. Is it, and are we falling short?

Whether the passage is reflecting an ideal or not, it is describing what was real. This is how the first Christians acted immediately following the calling and establishment of the Church at Pentecost. Let us note three things.

  1. There is great giving. The first Christians are enthusiastic enough to sacrifice their stuff for those in need.
  2. There is ongoing giving. The tense of the verb describing the selling of stuff indicates ongoing activity rather than a one-time thing.
  3. There is spontaneous giving. This is not a response to imposed law. While the Old Testament law makes provisions for the poor we do not get the picture here of the apostles imposing such and making demands on the people. They don’t need to, the generosity is spontaneous.

Why is there such great, ongoing, and spontaneous generous activity? There are a lot of verbs in this passage as there is a lot going on, but tucked in there also is a description of the hearts of the people: They have “glad and generous hearts” (v.46 NRSV). There is spontaneous generous activity because hearts are being changed. It is a heart thing!

Some of you may think of a different translation of that phrase “glad and generous” for the word generous in verse 46 can also be translated as singleness or simplicity of heart. We might want to ponder the fact that simplicity and generosity go together. When we are not feeling particularly generous toward someone we have a tendency of cluttering up our thoughts with rather complex rationalizations. For example, “you have need, I have plenty, but I cannot help you because . . . [enter rationalization here].” Or, “you need my forgiveness, I have the potential for being generous with grace, but I cannot forgive you because . . . [enter rationalization here].” Sometimes generosity is the simplest way forward. And it was the way forward for these first converts to Christianity.

So how did the first Christians come to have such glad and generous hearts? It is Pentecost and the Holy Spirit is changing hearts! As one Bible commentator notes, people are “fundamentally selfish,” but on the Day of Pentecost, with the outpouring and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, hearts are being changed.

The language people often use of people “getting religion” just does not work when people genuinely come to faith in Christ. You will sometimes hear it said that so-and-so “got religion.” The three thousand who came to faith in Jesus that day did not get religion, they already had religion, being Jews devout enough to be in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. What they “got” was Jesus, recognizing Him as Lord and Messiah. And with “getting Jesus” they also “got” the Holy Spirit. Indeed the New Atheists are onto something when they say that religion can be bad for you and for society. Religion will destroy you, the Holy Spirit will restore you. The three thousand on Pentecost got Jesus, they got the Holy Spirit, and their hearts were changed for the better.

So how do we develop glad and generous hearts today? While we do not want to take the application of this passage in a wrong direction and push for a commune-style of Church, we do want to long for our church today to be a people marked by glad and generous hearts. If we find we are falling short on this how do we proceed? Should we  institute a plan to become an Acts 2 kind of church, getting the leadership together with a vision and umpteen step plan of how we will get there? Or do we legislate it, writing into our constitutions that if you want to keep your membership you had better have a glad and generous heart? It seems to me that our typical churches do a lot of those kinds of things. Or is the solution much simpler: we long for it, we ask for it, we pray for it – “Lord, with you Holy Spirit in us, fill, refresh, convict, overwhelm, and remake us: give us glad and generous hearts!”

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