This Christmas, I share my observations about giving, that the “free gift of God” so easily spoken of at this time of year is actually highly conditional, and how that understanding sets the scene for those of us seeking to help others. I differentiate between the giving of alms and the wisdom of business-type giving, using Christ’s example as a blueprint for our conduct. Enjoy.
This though, while true, is only a part of the picture, for when we examine the scriptures with the eye of viewing conditions as equal and alongside of this unmerited favour (aka ‘grace’) we can get a little wake-up call. The Lord God created and then gave Dominion of the created world to Adam and Eve. Cool! Thanks God! “But . . .” there is a but . . . “just trust me will you please?” He slips in the condition, “leave the fruit of that one tree!”
The resulting Fall brought reality home to our forefathers as they lost relationship with the Creator the same day that they sinned.
Then the Old Testament prophets and leaders spoke again, time after time about cause and effect. Do this and you’ll get the blessing. Do that and you’ll suffer curse. The whole Old Testament Law was divisive – the separation of good and evil relied on the people first hearing Him and then doing what He said. A lot of the Law was not to prevent actions because they were inherently bad, but was protection through separation. Doing good things was not so much to get a reward as the exercising of faith through obedience. This cause and effect and separation thing is highly conditional.
When Jesus commenced His ministry, He too taught cause and effect. This is simple logic – do what I say and things will go well with you. Ignore me and suffer. Analyse the interactions that Jesus had with those whom He healed and you can see a litany of conditions the Master set, before during and after healing.
“What do you want?” the Master asked (even though it was obvious) which required the man at the pool to actually speak his desire aloud. His question, “What can you see now?” required the blind man to report the physical eyesight healing publicly before Jesus healed the man’s brain’s capacity to interpret the newly received electrical signals. “Go and sin no more!” to another seemingly unworthy recipient seems to be a requirement for substantive behavioral change. You can imagine the reversion of healing should he continue to sin, can’t you?
Much of His teaching too was ‘either/or’ stuff, the same message as the Old Testament but personified. With Him or against Him. Good or bad. Right or Wrong and the big one at the end of time . . . whew. Heavy stuff!
It is my take that the free gift of eternal life is costly. Did Jesus ask us for only 10% or for total dedication of His followers? His gifting was given first before we responded (lit:while we were yet sinners), yet its acceptance requires faith on our part, and that faith requires action. Nine times out of ten faith seems to me to have to be outworked which requires a business-type mentality; like a trade. He does something, so we do something, and good results.
“Stand up and walk,” He said. Faith first – then the healing.
This is sometimes called a win-win scenario. A wise investment.
It doesn’t mean that we ignore those who cannot or do not return something to us, but giving without conditions is the act of giving alms – a different kind of giving.
As a businessman, I can identify with the Master as He sought to lift and help others. I watch in my own life as I give more to those who understand and exercise faith in response to my love, care and assistance. When somebody responds positively and ‘gets it’ I give more, just as ten lepers got healed, but the one that returned to thank the Master got a double blessing.
I’d also like to note that the teaching in real-time of what is happening as it [the giving] is happening is extraordinarily powerful. I call it “mirroring” where we repeat back to the one we are helping with what we see like a mirror can do but with educational value attached. It’s all very well to share wisdom with somebody . . . It’s all very well to help them act wisely . . . It’s even more valuable to give to them and to teach, explain and to demonstrate what you are doing as you are doing it . . . Then when the Master taught His disciples and sent them out two by two they gained deeper understanding . . . but the ultimate scenario is that when He sent the Holy Spirit it is now our role to enable His working directly in and through us.
Our giving, when undertaken in the power of the Holy Spirit brings the miraculous into daily living. We do not get surprised when (as I said recently to a friend) when there’s a knock on the door and the door opens to a ‘miraculous’ answer to our prayer. We literally expect this to occur.
Such events where we receive blessing, sometimes even before we become aware of our need, is simple conditions being outworked. We have been obedient and given what we have (wisdom, love, advice, goods, services or money) and as a natural result of that giving (the return on our trading investment, if you will) our needs are met. This is only to be expected from a living God, who can be trusted.
My time in Samoa in particular taught me that, even in a sea of Christian religiousness, apathy and gross social indifference to the reality of Jesus, when we as individuals Hear and Obey, He is always there and can be trusted. Oh sure, I lost everything I owned; was hated because of the colour of my skin; and declared a ‘Prohibited Immigrant’ because I named the PM’s mistress. What’s all that though in the whole scheme of things?
We are welcome to give alms, expecting nothing in return. Anyone can do that – the Red Cross, Salvation Army, beggars and buskers await. Wiser giving however puts our time, resources and focus into those people and circumstances where a transaction occurs. Like God, we give freely (an investment); we establish conditions upon continued giving (effectively seeking a Return on that Investment); and this provides on-going blessing (thus the Return).
Like God too though, we should retreat from attempting to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ somehow by force. The Holy Spirit, like a dove that lifts off and hovers above a scene of conflict, retreats in the face of trauma where He is not welcome, awaiting the authority to return afresh to do the needful.
There is a New Age thinking that uses the word ‘karma‘ the thinking that ‘what goes around, comes around’. The idea behind this is that when we help somebody else, eventually somebody else will help us. I find this concept delusional at best and totally contrary to God’s ways. I see that sh*t happens to good and bad people equally. There is nothing on this earth that I know of that changes human greed, or self-interest, aside from the work of the Holy Spirit. Good people who only eat organic rabbit-food can die young of cancer and crooks and smokers can live to 100.
What I do see however is that God holds those close to Him regardless of what life throws at them; that He is good, and true to His word. Casting our coins or cares to the wind trusting that they will be served by karma is fine for some. I’d prefer to trust Him, though.
Before I conclude, I’d just like to explain the consequences of giving unconditionally, using my Samoan experiences to show the dangers of unwise giving. The Samoan people are opportunists as a rule. When the White Man comes to their island they shower him with hospitality and the giving of food and other gifts, this really can catch us off guard. There is though a subtle expectation that when we marry their daughters, or receive a High Chief title, or settle in their land, that we are automatically owned by them. It is our job to pay for their better schooling, Palagi-style food, Palagi-style housing, travel to New Zealand (or Australia or the USA or wherever we came from) employment and even their right to emmigrate to our country as well. The predominant expectation is that money (if not other wants) should come from the foreigner because “he has it and we don’t”.
What happens though is that when that gifting does occur, it’s the start of a slippery slope, and this success breeds greater need from both the initial recipient (who desires more of the good thing) and then those around the recipient – family, extended family, local society or village and so on. When giving does not include an aspect of trade, with a win-win scenario (which has a natural and commensurate cost-cost component) it escalates out of control very quickly, and turns bad – for all.
The really sad part though is not so much the constant demands of a society of opportunists, it is that when the barrel runs dry (and it always does) the people turn against the giver as shame is then caused or perceived (and it always does happen – eventually).
Having both seen this and heard the gory details of this occurring so many times in Samoa, and having been a part of it all personally, I do NOT recommend giving without strict conditions attached. Trading, yes. Giving, no.
In a recent situation where I have been helping someone work through some pretty meaty stuff, I was asked what was in it for me. My reply was two fold – the first answer set the scene for my own personal motivation, the second answered the question specifically. I explained that the prime motivation I had for doing anything was to hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant!” I then explained that what I got out of it all was that I watched another human begin to Hear and Obey the Lord.
Can there be a greater Christmas gift than that?
Enjoy yours and give wisely . . . thanks for swinging by today, and Merry Christmas!