An Undeserved Gift
When my friend gave me a gift recently, I was surprised. I didn’t think I deserved such a nice present form her. She’d sent it after hearing about some work stress I was experiencing. Yet she was going through just as much stress, if not more, than I was, with an aging parent, challenging children, upheaval at work, and strain on her marriage. I couldn’t believe she had thought of me before herself, and her simple gift brought me to tears.
In truth, we’re all recipients of a gift which we could never deserve. Paul put it this way: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). The apostle had experienced a miraculous conversion from persecutor of Christians to a faithful believer in Jesus. Although he “was once a blasphemer and persecutor and a violent man, . . . the grace of our Lord was poured out on [him] abundantly” (vv. 13–14). He had a deep understanding of the free gift of grace and what it meant to be an undeserving recipient of that gift. As a result, Paul became a powerful instrument of God’s love and told many people about what God had done for him.
It’s only through God’s grace that we receive love instead of condemnation and mercy instead of judgment. Today, let’s celebrate the undeserved grace that God has given and be on the lookout for ways to demonstrate that grace to others.
The Pink Coat
Brenda was walking toward the mall exit when a flush of pink from a display window caught her eye. She turned and stood spellbound before a cotton-candy colored coat. Oh, how Holly would love it! Finances had been tight for her coworker friend who was a single mother, and while Brenda knew Holly needed a warm coat, she was also confident that her friend would never lay down cash on such a purchase for herself. After wavering ever so slightly, Brenda smiled, reached for her wallet, and arranged for the coat to be shipped to Holly’s home. She added an anonymous card, “You are so very loved.” Brenda practically danced to her car.
Joy is a byproduct of God-nudged giving. As Paul instructed the Corinthians in the art of generosity, he said, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). He also noted, “Whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (v. 6).
Sometimes we slip cash into the offering plate. At other times we donate online to a worthy ministry. And then there are moments when God leads us to respond to the need of a friend with a tangible expression of His love. We offer a bag of groceries, a tank of gas . . . or even the gift of a perfectly pink coat.
Envisioning a Different Future
The three hundred middle and high school students of the small town of Neodesha, Kansas filed into a surprise school assembly. They then sat in disbelief upon hearing that a married couple with ties to their town committed to pay college tuition for every Neodesha student for the next twenty-five years. The students were stunned, overjoyed, and tearful.
Neodesha had been hard hit economically, which meant many families worried about how to cover college expenses. The gift was a generational game-changer, and the donors hope it will immediately impact current families but also incentivize other families to move to Neodesha. They envision their generosity igniting new jobs, new vitality—an entirely different future for the town and its neighbors.
God desired His people to be generous by not only tending to their own acute needs but also by envisioning a new future for their overwhelmed, struggling neighbors. God’s directions were clear: “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them” (Leviticus 25:35). The generosity wasn’t only about meeting basic physical needs of food and shelter but also about considering what their future life together as a community would require. “Help them,” God said, “so they can continue to live among you” (v. 35).
The deepest forms of giving reimagine a different future. God’s immense, creative generosity encourages us toward that day when we all live together in wholeness and plenty.
Three-year-old Buddy and his mom went to church each week to help unload groceries from the food ministry truck. When Buddy overheard his mom telling his grandmother that the delivery truck broke down, he said, “Oh, no. How will they do food ministry?” His mom explained that the church would have to raise money to buy a new truck. Buddy smiled. “I have money,” he said, leaving the room. He returned with a plastic jar decorated with colorful stickers and filled with coins, which amounted to a little over $38. Though Buddy didn’t have much, God combined his sacrificial offering with gifts from others to provide a new refrigerated truck so the church could continue serving their community.
A small amount offered generously is always more than enough when placed in God’s hands. In 2 Kings 4, a poor widow asked the prophet Elisha for financial assistance. He told her to take inventory of her own resources, reach out to her neighbors for help, then follow his instructions (vv. 1–4). In a miraculous display of provision, God used the widow’s small amount of oil to fill all the jars she collected from her neighbors (vv. 5–6). Elisha told her, “Sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left” (v. 7).
When we focus on what we don’t have, we risk missing out on watching God do great things with what He’s given us.
Abundance Meets Need
School cafeterias, like large catering businesses, often prepare more food than is consumed simply because they can’t perfectly predict the need, and leftover food goes to waste. Yet there are many students who don’t have enough food to eat at home and who go hungry on weekends. One US school district partnered with a local non-profit to find a solution. They packaged leftovers to send home with students, and simultaneously addressed the problems of both food waste and hunger.
While most people wouldn’t look at an abundance of money as a problem the way we do with wasted food, the principle behind the school project is the same as what Paul suggests in his letter to the Corinthians. He knew the churches in Macedonia were experiencing hardship so he asked the church in Corinth to use their “plenty” to “supply what they need[ed]” (2 Corinthians 8:14). His objective was to bring equality among the churches so none had too much while others were suffering.
Paul didn’t want the Corinthian believers to be impoverished by their giving, but to empathize with and be generous to the Macedonians, recognizing that at some point in the future they too were likely to need similar help. When we see others in need, let’s evaluate whether we might have something to share. Our giving—however large or small—will never be a waste!
Investing in Others
When a corporation offered one thousand frequent flier miles for every ten purchases of one of their foods, one man realized their cheapest product was individual cups of chocolate pudding. He bought more than twelve thousand. For $3,000 (US), he received gold status and a lifetime supply of air miles for himself and his family. He also donated the pudding to charity, which netted him an $800 tax write-off. Genius!
Jesus told a controversial parable about a cunning manager who, as he was being fired, reduced what debtors owed his master. The man knew he could rely on their help later for the favor he was doing them now. Jesus wasn’t praising the manager’s unethical business practice, but He knew we could learn from his ingenuity. Jesus said we should shrewdly “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). As “the pudding guy” turned twenty-five cent desserts into flights, so we may use our “worldly wealth” to gain “true riches” (v. 11).
What are these riches? Jesus said, “give to the poor” and you will “provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.” Our investment doesn’t earn, but it does affirm our salvation, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (12:32–34).
Generosity and Joy
Researchers tell us there’s a link between generosity and joy: those who give their money and time to others are happier than those who don’t. This has led one psychologist to conclude, “Let’s stop thinking about giving as a moral obligation, and start thinking of it as a source of pleasure.”
While giving can make us happy, I question whether happiness should be the goal of our giving. If we’re only generous to people or causes that make us feel good, what about the more difficult or mundane needs requiring our support?
Scripture links generosity with joy too, but on a different basis. After giving his own wealth toward building the temple, King David invited the Israelites to also donate (1 Chronicles 29:1–5). The people responded generously, giving gold, silver and precious stones joyously (vv. 6–8). But notice what their joy was over: “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the
As missionaries know, it can be easier to raise funds for evangelism than for administration because Christians like the feeling of funding frontline work. Let’s be generous toward other needs as well. After all, Jesus freely gave Himself to meet our needs (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Giving Out of Love
Every day, Glen purchases his morning coffee at a nearby drive-through. And every day he also pays for the order of the person in the car behind him, asking the cashier to wish that person a good day. Glen has no connection to them. He’s not privy to their reaction, nor, it seems, is this his motivation: he simply believes this small gesture is “the least he can do.” On one occasion, however, he learned of the impact of his actions when he read an anonymous letter to the editor of his local newspaper. He discovered that the kindness of his gift on July 18, 2017, caused the person in the car behind him to reconsider their plans to take their own life later that day.
Glen gives daily to the people in the car behind him without receiving credit for it. Only on this single occasion did he get a glimpse of the impact of his small gift. When Jesus says we should “not let [our] left hand know what [our] right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3), He’s urging us to give—as Glen does—without need for recognition.
When we give out of our love for God, without concern for receiving the praise of others, we can trust that our gifts—large or small—will be used by Him to help meet the needs of those receiving them.
General Charles Gordon (1833–85) served Queen Victoria in China and elsewhere, but when living in England he’d give away 90 percent of his income. When he heard about a famine in Lancashire, he scratched off the inscription from a pure gold medal he’d received from a world leader and sent it up north, saying they should melt it down and use the money to buy bread for the poor. That day he wrote in his diary: “The last earthly thing I had in this world that I valued I have given to the Lord Jesus.”
General Gordon’s level of generosity might seem above and beyond what we’re able to extend, but God has always called His people to look out for those in need. In some of the laws He delivered through Moses, God instructed the people not to reap to the edges of their field nor to gather all of the crop. Instead, when harvesting a vineyard, He said to leave the grapes that had fallen “for the poor and the foreigner” (Leviticus 19:10). God wanted His people to be aware of and provide for the vulnerable in their midst.
However generous we may feel, we can ask God to increase our desire to give to others and to seek His wisdom for creative ways to do so. He loves to help us show His love to others.