Cultivate a Life of Generosity
Isn’t it More Blessed to Give than to Receive?
November 22, 2010 - My earliest Christmas memories include the annual Sears catalog, that storehouse of treasures that tantalized young minds. No visions of sugar plums dancing in my head; no, mine were dreams of toy trains, cowboy and Indian sets, basketballs and footballs.
My experience was that the less I spent on myself and the more I gave away, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.—J. Hudson Taylor
by Robert J. Tamasy
Today, the Internet, direct mail and the unending parade of network and cable TV commercials have largely replaced catalogs. But the goal remains: converging our wants and needs into one.
The so-called “season of giving” is as much the season for getting; even in giving we agonize over responses our gifts might get from their recipients. It would be nice to believe attitudes of followers of Jesus differ dramatically from mainstream America, but studies indicate our devotion to materialism rivals that of ardent atheists.
So how do we respond? More than one president has used his “bully pulpit” to exhort Americans to “go shopping,” challenging our civic duty to keep the gears of commerce well-greased. That makes our desire for “stuff” almost patriotic, doesn’t it?
Maybe it’s time to ask: Isn’t it really more blessed to give than to receive, as Jesus declared in Acts 20:35?
Does the following sentence sound like some Grinch-like TV pastor, pooh-poohing the pleasures of exchanging gifts?
“I believe we are all in danger of accumulating … things which would be useful to others, while not needed by ourselves, and the retention of which entails loss of blessing … My experience was that the less I spent on myself and the more I gave away, the fuller of happiness and blessing did my soul become.”
Actually, J. Hudson Taylor, the revered missionary pioneer to China, made this statement nearly 150 years ago in his autobiography, recounting convictions he formed as a young man.
Approaching the height of another Christmas season, his words would seem shrill to a retailer’s ears. The Thanksgiving-to-Christmas span annually spells fiscal success or failure for virtually everyone in the retail world. But as Taylor wrote, we might find ourselves happier and more blessed by concentrating on giving rather than receiving.
In fact, the founder of a prominent inner-city ministry told me his greatest revelation in working with the poor was that “the greatest poverty is the inability to give.” If that’s true, those of us capable of giving abundantly can be the richest of all.
Proverbs 11:24-25 underscores this notion: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
So how do we shift the paradigm? How do we learn to emphasize the giving part of the season, without worrying about what we’ll get in return? Here are steps we can consider for cultivating a life of generosity.
Focus on “the least of these.” Jesus taught His followers, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). So what better way to celebrate Jesus’ birth than to give to Him by sharing with the disenfranchised and forgotten?
Years ago a friend of mine—a fairly new believer—having no pressing needs, asked his family to instead of buying him gifts for Christmas make donations to worthy causes and simply place cards under the tree indicating where the gifts were directed. Seeing how people were being helped gave him great joy.
Perhaps along with seasonal gifts, you or your family could consider regularly supporting a Christian cause you believe in. For years my family has given monthly to support children in Brazil; we support the inner-city ministry I referred to earlier, especially at Christmas; and donate regularly to a pro-life agency that finds loving homes for unwanted babies and young children.
Give of your time. We typically think of giving in terms of material resources, but one commodity we each have in equal supply is time. Along with offering financial support to causes we believe in, we can devote portions of our time in many ways. For instance, years ago I underwent open heart surgery; now I volunteer one evening a week visiting people who have just undergone similar procedures, offering my perspective as one who’s “been there, done that.” Patients are encouraged, and meaningful spiritual conversations about Jesus Christ often result.
Remembering how I floundered about in my early years as a believer, I also meet with several men in mentoring relationships, helping them learn how to understand the Scriptures and apply them to their lives and careers. It’s a tremendous blessing to become a spiritual parent: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
Invest your talents. What abilities or experiences do you have that could enhance the lives of others? If you are a handyman (unlike me), you could use your skills to make needed repairs to someone’s home or car. Do you enjoy driving? There are probably older or disabled people in your church that would appreciate being able to call you to transport them to the grocery, to a doctor’s visit or simply just to get out of the house.
Must we forsake receiving Christmas gifts? Of course not. That would deprive others of joy in giving to us. But as 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 tells us, “whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
Ultimately, it is more blessed to give than to receive because when we give, we also receive—the joy of benefiting others, sharing resources God has entrusted to us and taking part in His strategy for blessing and reaching people in our communities and around the world.
Robert J. Tamasy (bobtamasy.blogspot.com) is vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., a ministry to business and professional leaders based in Atlanta, Ga. He has written and co-authored more than a dozen books, including “The Heart of Mentoring” and “Business at its Best.”
Scripture quotations are taken by permission from The Holy Bible, New International Version.