Gladness and generosity is a habit that takes us from the simple and everyday to the most profound matters of life and faith, from places of great joy to places of great pain. Sometimes being glad and generous is about chocolate biscuits and parties and thank yous and laughter and seeing the smile of a child.
Sometimes it is much, much deeper. It is the joy of seeing a bright blue sky after coming through an operation. It is someone donating a kidney for a loved one. It is a Rwandan woman forgiving the man who butchered her brother during the genocide.
Gladness and generosity are signs of the kingdom and essential attributes of God’s character. They are seen in the generosity of creation, with the accompanying sense of God’s gladness when God sees that all that has been made is good. Generosity is encountered again in a very different way in the words of the Lord Jesus from the cross, ‘Father, forgive them’ (Luke 23:34) and, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:43).
‘Gladness and generosity are signs of the kingdom and essential attributes of God’s character.’
It is not always easy to be glad and generous, but it is a habit, like all the other habits, to be practised and a way of life that our very divided world needs to rediscover. As Jo Swinney writes:
‘There is great wisdom in living generously. We live in a time and culture that encourages and even celebrates selfishness and greed. It may seem counter-intuitive, and it is certainly countercultural, but pouring out our resources on others is the way of wisdom. Generosity blesses the giver; it pleases God and it may well save lives along the way.’
But it can be hard to hold on to that wisdom in turbulent days. Fear and anxiety, as much as selfishness and greed, can distort our feelings about gladness and generosity.
In his reflections, David Gilmore explores how we can counter that fear, recover our trust in God, and focus on the needs of others.
The power of one
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.Acts 4:32–35
I am the product of a giving grandmother. I grew up witnessing a little lady, who did not possess much, make place for people in need. What made these acts of generosity even more amazing was the gladness with which my grandmother gave. She did not have much in the way of material resources, but she gave with her whole heart willingly and gladly to her church, her neighbours and her family.
What kind of community would we be part of if we tried the same thing? How many hungry mouths would be fed? How many homeless ‘saints’ would be sheltered? How many of our elderly and children would be spared lonely existences? I believe that in order to change a thing, we must become part of that thing. In order to share the love of Jesus, we must be willing to share those things our Lord Jesus has placed in our care.
We have what we have and are who we are because of the immeasurable grace of our Lord Jesus, who gave of himself with a glad heart and willing spirit, with no strings attached. We give because he gave. We give because Jesus showed us how to give. We give, with gladness and generosity. We give because this is an act of worship, an encounter with the divine.
‘In order to share the love of Jesus, we must be willing to share those things our Lord Jesus has placed in our care.’
‘We give, with gladness and generosity. We give because this is an act of worship, an encounter with the divine.’ Yes, all true. But even so, anxiety and a concern for self-preservation can still catch us out, as Dave Gilmore is all too aware…
Insurance or assurance?
As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.1 Timothy 6:17–19
My dictionary defines insurance as ‘coverage by contract whereby one party undertakes to indemnify or guarantee another against loss by a specified contingency or peril’. I have life insurance, medical insurance, dental insurance, automobile and tyre insurance because I want to ensure that I and my family are protected.
The same rationale could be applied to how we view money. We believe that if we just save enough money, we will be assured a relaxed, stress-free retirement. Of course, the uncertainty of the stock markets and the determination of some governments to reduce or remove the promise of social security have some of us wondering if we can rely on a promise of an assured tomorrow. This uncertainty may cause us to worry about our future so much that we lose sight of those who are marginalised and ostracised.
‘Uncertainty may cause us to worry about our future so much that we lose sight of those who are marginalised and ostracised.’
As I have grown older (and hopefully wiser), what is becoming clearer is that I cannot do anything to ensure my future happiness. In our scriptures, Paul offers the advice to become rich in what we do rather than what we possess. Becoming ‘rich in good works, generous, and ready to share’ is what guarantees our future with the ultimate insurer, God. It is when we shift the focus from ‘me’ to ‘we’ that we have the assurance of a future with ‘thee’! It is in this assurance that we can live a relaxed, assured life, knowing that the same God who provides for us today has ensured that we have an assured tomorrow, in a place where there is no stress, or contingency, or emergency, or hurt, or loneliness, or brokenness.
Scripture quotations are taken from The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Anglicised edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.