Thursday, October 15, 2015

Giving is Living – Living is Giving

Giving, as represented in this portion of Michelangelo's
"The Creation of Adam," transcends time and eternity.

We live in a consumer society, drenched every day in a deluge of ads telling us about all the stuff we can’t live without. We’ve perfected the fine art of receiving. So when I read, “Giving is Living – Living is Giving,” it seemed counter-cultural. Then I thought, “That’s right!”

Not that I’m the world’s most generous person; I enjoy receiving things, even in my advancing years. But there’s a lot to be said about giving.

In 1981 I met Bob Lupton, founder of FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta. The mission of his organization then – as it remains today – was to serve and help poor families to become self-sustaining. As I was interviewing Bob for a magazine article, he made a statement that’s stuck with me ever since: “The greatest poverty is the inability to give.”

He explained even for people with genuine needs, dignity and a sense of self-worth come from being able to give, especially for parents to provide for their children. This is why well-intended Christmas projects to give food, clothes and toys to impoverished families often fall short – the generosity of those that have unintentionally reinforcing the futility of those that have not.

When Jesus said 2,000 years ago, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), He wasn’t just introducing an idealistic philosophy. He was declaring a timeless principle that when we give, in whatever form, we also receive.

Parents experience this in giving to a child; seeing the delight in the young one’s eyes warms the hearts of mom and dad. Grandparents know this remains true as they interact with their next generation. Dedicated teachers discover this when they not only convey subject material, but also inspire students to learn and grow as individuals. Many nurses find much gratification in caring for patients, whether assisting a new mother give birth or comforting those with debilitating illnesses.

I’ve found giving to be more blessed than receiving while serving as a hospital volunteer, visiting patients who had just undergone open-heart surgery, just as I did years before. Being able to offer encouragement by telling my story and giving suggestions for their recovery process meant far more for me than if I’d been paid for my services.

The same has proved true in mentoring other men, offering my time and attention to assist in their desire to grow personally, professionally and spiritually. In giving, I’ve also received richly, perhaps more than the guys I’ve mentored.

At the same time, the blessing of giving is compromised when it becomes a requirement. That’s why the Bible teaches, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

What we all need is not a guilt trip, not brow-beating or high pressure to give, whether it’s of our time, talents, or material resources. What we do need is a reminder that living truly is giving, and giving is living. It’s about the joy – and blessing – of giving, especially to those lacking a means for repaying us for our kindness.

And also an awareness that as we give in the right ways, we are helping others to get into positions of being able to give as well, thereby extricating themselves from what Bob Lupton described as the greatest poverty of all. 

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