A lifestyle of generosity

I had my bags packed and was about to leave the hotel room. I glanced around to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. The order and cleanliness of the room reminded me how thorough the housekeeper had been that week—replacing the coffee and creamer each day I had used it; neatly arranging my toiletries in the bathroom; even hanging up my clothes that had fallen to the floor.

I remembered a recent conversation with a friend. I don’t remember how the topic came up, but he told me he typically left a tip for housekeeping service in a hotel. I was a little embarrassed that it was not something I had ever done. But now I remembered the conversation. I pulled out a bill and placed it on the dresser. I wrote a quick note on the hotel stationary, “Thanks for your good work!”

I’m standing in front of the gift card display at the grocery store. The party starts in about an hour. I’ve found a nice birthday card (it has to be funny or I won’t buy it) and now I’m going to get a gift card. Unfortunately, I’m not a very creative person when it comes to gift giving, so a gift card will have to do. I find the one I want and reach for the $25 card. My hand stops. Seems a bit miserly. I grab the $50 one instead. It’s only money.

We started supporting Jaimie a few years ago. She is with a youth organization that works with inner city youth. I was impressed with her energy and enthusiasm, so when she sent me a support request I talked it over with my wife. We were pretty stretched in our charitable giving, but decided to support her a little—$25 a month. Not much, but every little bit helps. About a year later she dropped me a quick e-mail. There had been a glitch in the bank autopay and our support had stopped. I went online to correct the error and get it started again. I was about to check the $25 box, when I thought, “Why not a bit more.” I marked $40 instead.

I mention each of these vignettes because as I’ve grown older I’ve learned something. As I look back over my life, I can remember a number times—with regret—that I was a bit too stingy or a bit too miserly. But I can’t remember ever regretting being too generous.

There is a strange economy that happens when we give. The more you give, the more you get. The more you bless, the more you are blessed. When you add an extra “0” to that check; when you say “yes,” to that worthy cause; when you buy five more Girl Scout cookie boxes than you intended, there always seems to be an added blessing that comes—never a deficit.

The apostle Paul was on a mission of mercy when he wrote the letter we know as Second Corinthians. The church in Jerusalem was suffering extreme hardship and poverty and Paul was gathering a collection for them from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia (northern & southern Greece). The churches in Macedonia—which themselves were notoriously poor and persecuted—had been particularly generous. Paul writes about them:

“In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” 2 Corinthians 8:2–5 (NIV).

Notice what Paul says. They gave during their own difficult times. Their own poverty “welled up in rich generosity.” They gave beyond their ability—out of their poverty. They begged for the opportunity to give. They gave to others because they had already given themselves to God.

The churches in Macedonia had learned a lesson that has taken me a lifetime to learn. We were created to be givers, not takers! When we take and exploit and greedily hold on, we are miserable and frustrated and unhappy. When we give and give and bless and bless, our own needs seem to be magically met and we experience joy and peace and contentment. This is because we were created by God to be givers, not takers.

And we can’t possibly give more than the God who created us, who gave us the ultimate gift of his Son to bring us into a right relationship with him. That’s a gift worth sharing with others.

Mark Strauss


— by Mark L. Strauss

Strauss is a Professor of New Testament at Bethel Seminary San Diego.

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