The Christian life has two basic shapes: cruciform and eucharistic. It is about giving and thanksgiving. It is about dying to self, and abounding in gratitude. Like Christ, we are called to live cruciform lives – arms stretched wide in giving and receiving. And through Christ, we are released to live eucharistic lives – arms stretched wide in thanking and rejoicing.
Here’s an irony: almost all deeply thankful people, at least that I know, have less of everything – less health, wealth, beauty, opportunity: everything – than entitled people. That’s because their thankfulness is not so much a response as it is a choice. It’s a resolve. It’s a conviction. They choose thanks over complaint, over coveting, over self-pity. In the eyes of the thankful, all life is eucharistic – literally, a good gift, a good grace (though sometimes well-disguised). They choose, therefore, over and over, to give thanks in all things and for all things, sometimes in spite of many things.
And they also choose the obvious outworking of thankfulness: generosity. Real gratitude always engenders rich generosity. Eucharistic living always flows into cruciform living, a life of giving yourself away. God lavishes his grace upon us, not that we would bottle it, but that we would channel it. He’s not looking for holding tanks. He’s looking for sluices. Grace abounds so that it might overflow.
This weekend is Canadian thanksgiving. It is a good gift – a eucharist – to yearly be reminded: be thankful, be generous. It’s an even better gift to daily live thus.
I once got egged in Africa.
It’s not what you’re thinking. Getting egged in Canada is supremely unpleasant – a raw egg, sometimes rotten, hurled at you with contempt. It stings. It humiliates.
That’s never happened to me, and I hope it never does.
Getting egged in Africa was very different. It was not humiliating, but humbling. It did sting, I’ll admit that, but in a deep-down healing way.
Let me explain. I was preaching in a church in rural Kenya. The people were mostly poor. During the collection, every man, woman, and child brought something to the front to offer to God – some were dressed in suits and dresses, some in rags. Some were obviously well-fed, some gaunt with hunger. Some brought bills, some coins, and some – the really poor – brought food: chickens, cabbages, potatoes. And eggs.
All laid on the altar. All offered to God.
At the end of the service, the pastor auctioned the food to the wealthier people in the church. And then an amazing thing happened: many of those people gave the food away. To a little boy who came to church alone. To a single mom with hungry children. To an old man too sick to work.
And that’s when I got egged: someone gave me a basket full of brown eggs, still warm. I’m not sure what need they spied in me, if any. Generosity is like that: it has a logic all its own.
I think of that moment often – whenever I need a fresh lesson in humility, and especially when I need a heart check on generosity. Most my life I’ve practiced a thin version of generosity, where my giving is only a disguised form of purchasing – I give expecting something back, some service, some privilege, some influence, some pat on the back.
And then I got egged, and I got it: real giving is giving away.
I’ve been a Christ-follower for over 30 years. Since then, God has had excavate me deeply and rearrange me extensively. One of the deepest excavations and most extensive rearrangements has been in the area of generosity. He’s had to turn a skinflint into a philanthropist, Scrooge into Santa. I’m not better than half-way there, but I’m moving in the right direction. I’m not yet what I will be, but I’m no longer what I once was.
Here are a few things God’s taught me about generosity along the way:
- Generosity is an adventure. I have more fun giving than spending. I always feel a residue of guilt and regret when I spend too much. I never feel that when I give, no matter how much.
- Generosity is catalytic. Few things have grown me faster and deeper spiritually than giving. Let me spell out what I just said: giving is not just a sign of spiritual growth; it’s a catalyst for it. Generosity isn’t something you do once you’re spiritually mature; it’s something you do in order to become spiritually mature.
- Generosity is generative. That’s the root meaning of the word – it generates, it creates. It brings something new into existence. Ironically, we get richer, not by accumulating, but by giving.
- Generosity mirrors Jesus. At his core, God is a giver. The whole mission of Jesus was to give until, literally, he bled. Let me put this bluntly: unless you’re becoming more and more generous, you are not becoming more and more like Jesus.
- Generosity is living large. Think of anyone you know whose life is infectious – who you love to be around, who you’d love to be more like. My guess is that they’re generous – with stuff, with money, with words, with time, with encouragement. Or ask it this way: Is there one stingy person you know who you actually want to be with and be like? I can’t think of one myself.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on generosity.