When I first graduated from college, I found myself needing to adopt a strict grocery budget—twenty-five dollars a week, to be exact. One day, while entering the checkout line, I suspected the groceries I’d selected cost slightly more than my remaining money. “Just stop when we reach twenty dollars,” I told the cashier, and was able to purchase everything I’d selected but a bag of peppers.
As I was about to drive home, a man stopped by my car. “Here’s your peppers, ma’am,” he said, handing the bag to me. Before I had time to thank him, he was already walking away.
Remembering the simple goodness of this act of kindness still warms my heart and brings to mind Jesus’s words in Matthew 6. Criticizing those who made a show of giving to the needy (v. 2), Jesus taught His disciples a different way. Instead of making giving all about them and their generosity, He urged, giving should be done so secretly that it’s like their left hand isn’t even aware their right is giving (v. 3)!
As one person’s anonymous kindness reminded me, giving should never be about us. We give only because of what our generous God has so lavishly given us (2 Corinthians 9:6–11). As we give quietly and generously, we reflect who He is—and God receives the thanksgiving only He deserves (v. 11).
When my son Xavier was six years old, a friend brought her toddler to visit and Xavier wanted to give him a few toys. I delighted in our little giver’s generosity, until he offered a stuffed animal my husband had searched several stores in different cities to find. Recognizing the high-demand toy, my friend tried to politely decline. Still, Xavier placed his gift into her son’s hands and said, “My daddy gives me lots of toys to share.”
Though I’d like to say Xavier learned his confident giving from me, I’ve often withheld my resources from God and others. But when I remember that my heavenly Father gives me everything I have and need, it’s easier to share.
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to trust Him by giving a portion of all He had supplied to the Levite priests, who would in turn help others in need. When the people refused, the prophet Malachi said they were robbing the Lord (Malachi 3:8–9). But if they gave willingly, showing they trusted the Lord’s promised provision and protection (vv. 10–11), others would recognize them as God’s blessed people (v. 12).
Whether we’re managing our finances, our schedules, or the gifts God entrusted to us, giving can be an act of worship. Giving freely and fearlessly can show our confidence in the care of our loving Father—the ultimate generous Giver.
On the way home from church my daughter sat in the backseat enjoying Goldfish crackers as my other children implored her to share. Trying to redirect the conversation, I asked the hoarder of snacks, “What did you do in class today?” She said they made a basket of bread and fish because a child gave Jesus five loaves and two fish that Jesus used to feed more than 5,000 people (John 6:1–13).
“That was very kind of the little boy to share. Do you think maybe God is asking you to share your fish?” I asked. “No, Momma” she replied.
I tried to encourage her not to keep all the crackers to herself. She was unconvinced. “There is not enough for everyone!”
Sharing is hard. It is easier to hold onto what I see in front of me. Perhaps we do the calculation and reason there is simply not enough for everyone. And, the assumption is that if I give, I will be left wanting.
Paul reminds us that all we have comes from God, who wants to enrich us “in every way so that [we] can be generous” (2 Corinthians 9:10–11). The math of heaven isn’t a calculation of scarcity but of abundance. We can share joyfully because God promises to care for us even as we are generous to others.
Cheryl was in for a surprise as she pulled up to deliver her next pizza. Expecting to arrive at a home, she instead found herself outside a church. Cheryl confusedly carried the pepperoni pizza inside, where she was met by the pastor.
“Is it fair to say life hasn’t been easy for you?” the pastor asked her. Cheryl agreed it hadn’t. With that, he brought out two offering plates that church members had filled with money. The pastor then poured over $750 into Cheryl’s delivery bag as a tip! Unbeknown to Cheryl, the pastor had asked the pizza shop to send their most financially strapped driver over. Cheryl was stunned. She could now pay some bills.
When the first Christians in Jerusalem faced poverty, it was a church that rushed to their aid. Though in need themselves, the Macedonian Christians gave sacrificially, considering it a privilege to do so (2 Cor. 8:1–4). Paul cited their generosity as an example for the Corinthians, and us, to follow. When we use our plenty to supply another’s need, we reflect Jesus, who gave away His riches to meet our own spiritual poverty (8:9, 14).
Cheryl told all her customers about the church’s kindness that day, and, following its example, donated the rest of the day’s tips to others in need. An act of generosity multiplied. And Christ was glorified.
During the spring and summer, I admire the fruit growing in our neighbor’s yard. Their cultivated vines climb a shared fence to produce large bunches of grapes. Branches dotted with purple plums and plump oranges dangle just within our reach.
Although we don’t till the soil, plant the seeds, or water and weed the garden, the couple next door shares their bounty with us. They take responsibility for nurturing their crops and allow us to delight in a portion of their harvest.
The produce from the trees and vines on the other side of our fence reminds me of another harvest that benefits me and the people God places in my life. That harvest is the fruit of the Spirit.
Christ-followers are commissioned to claim the benefits of living by the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16–21). As God’s seeds of truth flourish in our hearts, the Spirit produces an increase in our ability to express “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (vv. 22–23).
Once we surrender our lives to Jesus, we no longer have to be controlled by our self-centered inclinations (v. 24). Over time, the Holy Spirit can change our thinking, our attitudes, and our actions. As we grow and mature in Christ, we can have the added joy of sharing with our neighbors the benefits of His generous harvest.
In late summer, we went for a walk in the New Forest in England and had fun picking the blackberries that grew in the wild while watching the horses frolicking nearby. As I enjoyed the bounty of the sweet fruit planted by others perhaps many years before, I thought of Jesus’s words to His disciples: “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for” (John 4:38).
I love the generosity of God’s kingdom reflected in those words. He lets us enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labors, such as when we share our love for Jesus with a friend whose family—unbeknown to us—has been praying for her for years. I also love the implied limits of Jesus’s words, for we may plant seeds that we will never harvest but someone else may. Therefore, we can rest in the tasks before us, not being hoodwinked into thinking that we are responsible for the outcomes. God’s work, after all, doesn’t depend solely on us. He has all of the resources for a bountiful harvest, and we are privileged to play a role in it.
I wonder what fields ready for harvest are before you? Before me? May we heed Jesus’s loving instruction: “Open your eyes and look at the fields!” (v. 35).
When I stopped by to visit my sister’s family, my nephews eagerly showed me their new chore system, a set of Choropoly boards. Each colorful electronic board keeps track of their chores. A job well done means the kids can hit a green button, which adds points to their “spending” account. A misdeed like leaving the back door open results in a fine being deducted from the total. Since a high-points total leads to exciting rewards such as computer time—and misdeeds deduct from that total—my nephews are now unusually motivated to do their work and to keep the door closed!
The ingenious system had me joking that I wished I had such an exciting motivational tool! But of course God has given us motivation. Rather than simply commanding obedience, Jesus has promised that a life of following Him, while costly, is also a life of abundance, “life . . . to the full” (John 10:10). Experiencing life in His kingdom is worth “one hundred times” the cost—now and eternally (Mark 10:29–30).
We can rejoice in the fact that we serve a generous God, One who does not reward and punish as we deserve. He generously accepts our weakest efforts—even welcoming and rewarding latecomers to His kingdom as generously as old-timers (see Matt. 20:1–16). In light of this reality, let us joyfully serve Him today.
The dinner where we hosted families from five nations remains a wonderful memory. Somehow the conversation didn’t splinter into twos, but we all contributed to a discussion of life in London from the viewpoints of different parts of the world. At the end of the evening, my husband and I reflected that we had received more than we gave, including the warm feelings we experienced in fostering new friendships and learning about different cultures.
The writer of the book of Hebrews concluded his thoughts with some exhortations for community life, including that his readers should continue to welcome strangers. For in doing so, “some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (13:2). He may have been referring to Abraham and Sarah, who as we see in Genesis 18:1–12 welcomed three strangers, reaching out to them with generosity and treating them to a feast, as was the custom in biblical times. They didn’t know that they were entertaining angels who brought them a message of blessing.
We don’t ask people into our homes in the hope of gaining from them, but often we receive more than we give. May the Lord spread His love through us as we reach out with His welcome.
In 1891, Biddy Mason was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Los Angeles. That wasn’t unusual for a woman born into slavery, but it was remarkable for someone as accomplished as Biddy. After winning her freedom in a court battle in 1856, she combined her nursing skills with wise business decisions to make a small fortune. As she observed the plight of immigrants and prisoners, she reached out to them, investing in charity so frequently that people began lining up at her house for help. In 1872, just sixteen years out of slavery, she and her son-in-law financed the founding of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles.
Biddy embodied the apostle Paul’s words: “I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). Paul came from privilege, not slavery, yet he chose a life that would lead to his imprisonment and martyrdom so that he could serve Christ and others.
In 1988, benefactors unveiled a tombstone for Biddy Mason. In attendance were the mayor of Los Angeles and nearly 3,000 members of the little church that had begun in her home over a century earlier. Biddy once said, “The open hand is blessed, for it gives an abundance even as it receives.” The hand that gave so generously received a rich legacy.