'Tis Better to Give Than Receive
In my teen years, I have to admit to an affinity for the Precious Moments line of products. There was one image in particular which still stands out over twenty years later. It’s the image of a little girl with a wagon full of puppies going out and trying to find new homes for them. Growing up on a farm, I knew the power cute baby animals could have on a person. We had baby pigs, baby cows, baby kittens, and even, for a short while until the game warden came to pick them up, baby ducks. The ponds on our property had baby geese every spring and the state ground nearby provided many chances to see baby deer. But for all the baby animals in my life at that point, we had not yet had any puppies on the farm. We had Mooch, our wonderful, sweet, farm dog but she came to us as an adult who had already been spayed and so, no puppies.
So when I saw this image of this little girl giving away free puppies, I couldn’t help but imagine how hard that would be to do. I knew that each house or farm or family could only responsibly keep so many animals of any one kind, after all, we had given away kittens and sold pigs and cattle, but part of me so wanted to have a puppy that the thought of having to give one, let alone several, away was unthinkable. The figurine which depicts this scene is called, “God Loveth a Cheerful Giver.” In a unique way I was challenged not only to be generous but to do so not begrudgingly, but with a cheerful heart. It is the attitude of the heart which is key when talking about the Spiritual Gifts of Service and Giving.
Let’s start this week by taking a look at the gift of service. Sometimes translated as the gifts of “helps,” this gift is described in Scripture by using two different Greek words. “Diakonia” translates most directly to serving and “Antilempsis” translates most directly to helping. Both are used in this context to refer to a person who place themselves at the disposal of others in order to give assistance. If you think about the average Sunday morning at your church for moment, think about how many people it takes to have worship each Sunday morning. Having Pastor there to lead the service and preach is generally a given. Most churches have at least one musician there to lead people in song in some way. Then we have the ushers and, depending on the Sunday, the communion servers.
But what about all the other people? What about the people who clear the sidewalks and parking lot when it snows? Or the person who puts on the pot of coffee each Sunday without ever being asked? Who came in and cleaned the sanctuary and the bathrooms? These often unseen and unsung volunteers are those who are most likely exercising their gift of service. They don’t do these tasks for a paycheck, out of a sense of obligation, or for applause but simply because they see a need they can meet. This drive to meet practical needs in one of the primary ways they show love to their fellow man.
Do you have the gift of service? First of all, consider your motivation. Are you simply trying to meet a practical need no matter how un-glamorous that need may be? Or do you have other motivation for volunteering? When I think about someone exercising their gift of service, I can’t help but think of our director of maintenance here at camp. Yes, it is his job to unclog toilets and chop wood but so often he goes above and beyond in his work. He’s often the first person at work during the day, building a fire in the fireplace to warm us during our morning staff prayer time in Grace Place. And he is often the last to leave at night, cleaning up after others walk away from projects, working to fix someone else’s mistake, or just not wanting to leave a task unfinished. If you ask him to come up front for a round of thanks and applause, you’ll likely put in him a grumpy mood because it really isn’t about the applause for him. He just wants people to be able to come to camp and feel safe and comfortable in a clean, well-maintained camp facility.
Those with the gift of service tend to find satisfaction in doing tangible work which has a clear end goal. They tend to be the person you can count on not only to volunteer but to stick around until the very end of the project as they want to see things through to completion. They aren’t necessarily great at delegation because they would rather do the task to be sure it is done, and done right, than hand it off to anyone else. If anyone is going to become over-committed, it is going to be the person with a strong gift of service as one of their biggest frustrations is the limitations brought on by time. If they just had more time, they could get more done.
When it comes to a scriptural example, the story of Martha found in Luke 10:38-42. I think Martha often gets the proverbial “short end of the stick” when we talk about this story. She is doing her best to serve Jesus and just wants some help from her sister. She just let her gift of service take over a little too much and failed to keep her priorities straight. If you know someone with the gift of service, or are someone with the gift of service, you likely know that Martha isn’t unique in her I don’t believe Jesus spoke to her harshly but gently and compassionately when he reminded her that Mary wasn’t trying to get out her responsibilities, but just choosing to prioritize time learning about God and faith while Jesus was teaching.
While the person with the gift of service shares time and (sometimes) skills to meet practical needs, those with the gift of giving (sometimes also referred to generosity) share resources to meet practical needs. Least you assume that someone has to be rich to have this gift, please note that some of the most generous people I have met do not have much in the way of big savings accounts or seven digit retirement accounts. Instead, people with this gift often choose to live more simply so they are able to have a greater percentage of their income to give to others who are in greater need. They don’t give to have something named after them or be recognized in any special way but they give simply to alleviate the needs of others.
When it comes to an example from Scripture, the firs story which comes to mind is found in Mark 12:41-44. As Jesus was watching people put their offerings into the temple treasury, a poor widow comes up and puts in just 2 very small copper coins. In the midst of the wealthy putting in large sums, this widow is who Jesus holds up as an example. Why? Because the rich wouldn’t miss the money they were throwing into the treasury. They gave out of their excess. But the widow put in everything she had, she gave out of her poverty.
It is easy to assume this gift is all about the financial resources you are able to give. That’s not a good assumption to make. At camp it is not uncommon to receive gifts of other resources such as crops, lands, or vehicles. We’ve been gifted furniture and building supplies, recreation equipment and musical instruments. These are resources people have chosen to give rather than selling or using them for themselves. At times these have allowed us to update or upgrade some part of our facility in a more cost effective manner. At other times, we have made a connection to someone who wanted to purchase the item and benefited from the sale. Each year in August, I marvel at all the fabric which is donated to the camp in the form of beautiful quilts at our quilt auction.
Do you have the gift of generosity? Ask yourself if you choose to live more simply so you are able to give more away. Consider if how you view your resources: are they something you have earned and are therefore entitled to or are they something which God has entrusted you to pass along to those who are in need of them? Do you give because you feel obligated to or because you feel called by God to? Do you want to give the very best or are you passing along your cast offs? Are you taking the time to seek our God’s direction in how you give, or are you giving at the first thing you come across which tugs at your heart?
We are all called to be good stewards of our resources, and to use those resources to support the work of the Church, but those with the gift of generosity go a step beyond and, when they feel they are called by God to do so, happily give sacrificially.
Each in their own way, these two gifts are vital to the daily work of the Church in the world today. While Sunday might look a little different without the worship leader, it doesn’t happen at all with those willing to do the behind the scenes work to keep the church building open and safe or those who are called by God to play a special role in providing a way to heat the building in cold winter months ahead!