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I don't want your money from abundance. I don't want to relieve your conscience, but I want you to give until it hurts: to give because you want to share the poverty and the suffering of our poor.
– Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Awhile ago a friend of mine wrote what I consider to be a brilliant post on the difference between what he calls “generosity” and “self-sacrifice.” I thought I'd add a little to that, I'm not changing his central point, I'm just hitting it from a different angle.
When we give I suspect that we feel good doing so. We feel good seeing the way our change is welcomed by panhandlers, we feel good when we drop our offering in the plate at church. For some this is because it appeases their consciences, for others this is because it confirms their internal belief that they are better than most people.
I am suspicious of giving that only feels good. I am suspicious because the biblical model of giving is of a giving that is painful. Giving, in the New Testament, does not feel good. Giving means being robbed and piling even more into the arms of the thief. Giving in the New Testament means being torn from your family and your work and carrying a heavy load for the soldiers who are oppressing you – and then offering to carry that load for an extra mile. Giving in the New Testament means dying. It means sweating drops of blood, it means being beaten, it means being crucified.
When we not only give out of our abundance but when we give that which keeps us secure then we will be giving Christianly. When we give not because it feels good but because it is painfully necessary then we will be giving biblically. When we give to the point where we are trapped with nothing to sustain us except God, then we will be following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Of course the danger is that when we begin to give more than those around us, though it pains us at first, we soon begin to feel good giving that little bit more because we are viewed as more noble or radical than most. This giving ceases to be painful. Therefore, instead of stagnating we must continue from that point into deeper and deeper forms of giving. As soon as each stage begins to feel comfortable we must give more. In this way we may discover that we have followed Jesus on the road to the cross. In this way we may, like Paul, be able to say that our very bodies are a testimony to the crucified Christ. In this way we will be the presence of the crucified Christ in the world and our suffering will bring salvation.

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  1. “When we not only give out of our abundance but when we give that which keeps us secure then we will be giving Christianly. When we give not because it feels good but because it is painfully necessary then we will be giving biblically. When we give to the point where we are trapped with nothing to sustain us except God, then we will be following in the footsteps of Jesus.”
    Dan, thank you for putting these words out there in a way that has forced me to think about this and face the reality that I have so far to go in this area of my life. I think that, like you said, it’s so important never to think that we are doing enough. The element of sacrifice must always be present, prompting us to go deeper and further than we ever imagined possible in our giving, not only of our money but of our very lives. If our model is Christ Himself, then all we need to do is look to Him and know that there may be no limit to the sacrifices that we will be called to make. Like I said, I have SO far to go in this, having barely scratched the surface in this aspect of my life. I just pray that God would give me the courage to move forward and not hold anything back.
    Thanks Dan.

  2. Ian,
    Thanks for your thoughts and your kindness.
    You know, I think maybe you should be a little more gentle with yourself. You say, “it’s so important never to think that we are doing enough.” I cringe a little bit at that because I see so many Christians so weighed down under guilt and the burden to always do more. I think we’re placing ourselves behind the eight ball if we’re thinking in terms of “doing enough/not doing enough.” I think instead we should think in terms of moving into ever deeper intimacy with Christ. We ALL have “SO far to go in this,” but it comes naturally as we move into deeper intimacy with Jesus. In fact, one of the first things I tend to tell people who struggle with all this is, “Stop trying so hard!” We need to surrender our efforts, are struggling, our attempting to do what only God can do. Instead, we need to being crying out for deeper intimacy with God. It is only when we attain that truly genuine relationship with God that all the things we try to do (and fail to do) will become increasingly natural to us.
    Much love,

  3. Well, if this isn’t scary, I’m not sure what is.
    Great qoute… it seems to capture a lot of what you’ve been writing.

  4. Well, your response to Ian answered my post as well. I guess I see this as scary because I’m still thinking that I need to do stuff… I need to start giving… I need to suffer somehow. I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand how doing this would not be terrifying until I just do it. Maybe then I would start to better understand God and realize a lot of new stuff.

  5. Of course, you could start doing it and discover that it was even more terrifying than you imagined. That’s why, more than any other commandment in the Bible, God tells us not to be afraid. Our faith in God, not our fear, should dictate our actions. It’s only by continually moving into our fears that we can overcome them.

  6. Hey Dan, I read this post a couple of days ago, and have thought about it a bunch, heres some of my thoughts on the topic:
    The pastor at my church recently went on a “missions trip” to kenya. This past sunday, the group that he and his wife went with shared some of what they did and learned on their trip. One of the things that hit them the hardest was the way that many of the very poor people they met in Kenya continued to give, even though they had hardly anything to give. They told one story of a church service where they were passing the offering plate around and one family literally didnt have any money to put in the plate, so they brought cabbages which were auctioned off right then and there in the service, and the proceeds were then put into the offering. The team was also amazed at how even though they had so little, their faith and trust in and their love for God was so strong.
    I’m begining to wonder if we have one idea backwards:
    I hear that as we grow stonger in our faith, we should be giving more and more.
    What if the very act of giving to the point of true sacrifice and pain increases our intimacy with God, as our dependency on Him increases. As we begin to live giving to the point of feeling pain because of it, we are then in a place where we can be knowing God more.
    In my own life experience I’ve always seen the times where I have felt closest to God times when I then was able to give more freely. I wonder if this actually happened in the other order?
    Suffering seems to be so central to Christianity, Christ showed that in his own suffering. Through history the church has grown the most in times when it has been prosecuted, as she was enduring suffering. When leaders of countries have adopted christianity, things int he churhc seem to fall apart.
    Maybe I should have put this in my own journal, as it turned out to be longer than i thought it would, but it seems to fit in here, hope you dont mind.