There’s a young girl beaming at me from a framed photo on my office wall. She’s about five years old, and her face is alight with joy as she licks porridge from her thumb. In her lap she holds a steel bowl of Unimix, a porridge of enriched maize and bean flour used to fight malnutrition in times of famine. This girl’s bright eyes and radiant smile lift my heart every time I see her face. Her image reminds me of the difference each of us can make when we share our blessings with other people.
The photograph was taken in the mid-1980s during a terrible famine in Ethiopia in which an estimated 1 million people died. World Concern responded to that famine with life-saving help. I was one of a multitude of donors that contributed to the relief effort, and I still rejoice that the little girl in the photo lived – as did many other people – thanks to the generosity of donors who pulled together to bless them with life and hope.
Donating money to help people in need did not always come easily to me. Giving time as a volunteer was no problem. I loved doing that! But there was something about giving money that rankled. When television commercials promoting child sponsorship aired, (as they did often in the 1970s) I felt manipulated and resentful. “How dare those people make me feel guilty about having enough? It’s not my responsibility that other people struggle!”
One day at church during my college years God began to change my heart about giving. During a church service, a worthy organization made an appeal. The same impatient, resentful feelings bubbled up, but somehow God got me to pry my purse open far enough to write a check for $10. That seemed like a lot of money to me! It’s fair to say I gave out of duty, not joy. And in subsequent months, as I signed up to sponsor children, it was more guilt than compassion motivating me to give. But it was the start of a journey, and deep in my heart, something was shifting.
Over the years, I experienced again and again God’s generous goodness. His kindness, mercy, help, companionship in suffering, deep consolations, gracious provision and unfailing love touched places in my soul where suspicion, dread, shame and doubt held lots of real estate. I came to see the world as deeply broken by the rift between God and humankind, and suffering as a consequence of this rift, not God’s will for his beloved creation. My trust in God and faith in his goodness grew. And so did my joy in sharing the many blessings he has given me. My heart felt no longer guilty, but free. My hands gave no longer under obligation, but from a heart convinced of the abundant goodness of God. Giving became about bearing witness to the mercy, compassion and lovingkindness of our God, so that others might experience these same gifts in Jesus’ name and come to trust in him.
The Apostle Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 9:7-12: Each of you must give as you have made up your 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 by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. As it is written, ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness* endures forever.’ He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.* You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. (NRSV)
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Discuss: Is giving something that comes naturally to you? Is it something you do as a family? This holiday season find ways that together you can financially support ministries or organizations that are close to your heart. See how God directs you and how your heart is changed!
Pray: O God of abundant goodness, enlarge our hearts to see and praise you for your great mercy and lovingkindness. Make us messengers of your love and compassion. Let us be your hands and feet in the world, blessing others with the blessings you shower upon us. Let our hearts rest content in your provision for our needs. Let us embrace the opportunities you give us to bear witness to your love and mercy with cheerful hearts. Bless us by making us blessings in this broken world. May our lives and the lives we touch overflow in thanksgiving to you.