On Generosity

bread-cooking-kitchen-home-made-food-bakeryToday I signed up on one of those meal trains that schedules food for friends in need. It’s only early March, but this is probably the 6th time since January that I’ll be trotting a shiny disposable pan of home-cooked comfort to someone who has had a baby, or an accident, or surgery, or some event that requires care and feeding by our church congregation.

It’s what I do. I like to cook, and baking is my hobby as well as my business. I’m not the doctor type – you do not want me tending you because illness – mine and everyone else’s –  makes me irritable. But I can cook for you, so I do.

All this cooking has me wondering: am I truly generous when I give something that comes so easily? Shouldn’t generosity be hard? I think of what King David said in 2nd Samuel 24:24, “I will not make offerings to the Lord with that which costs me nothing.”

I think we instinctively know, through the lens of our God-bestowed consciences, that giving when it’s hard to give is honorable. We admire those who dig in and fight the limitation of their resources. On some of the meal trains I’ve done, there have been people bringing food who don’t have extra for their own families. For them, cooking for friends is not only an act of generosity, but of faith.

This reminds me of the poor widow of Luke 21, who donated a tiny amount of money to the temple. But it was all she had, so Jesus pointed her out as a beacon of generosity. According to Him, her small contribution was worth more to God than the huge donations of the wealthy.

So my path is clear: I should hang up my apron and assemble a first-aid kit, right? If I really want to be generous, I should cultivate my inner nurse, because it’s SO MUCH HARDER for me and therefore more worthy.

I might have convinced myself that this is true, except for King Solomon. Solomon, the richest man who ever lived, lavished gifts on his guests, including the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10), who I assume was not hurting for money. Throughout the Old Testament we see kings giving lavishly to the people (Esther 2). Was this because they were showing off? It’s possible.

But the Bible does not seem to condemn these displays of abundance. It’s full of exhortation to give liberally (Isaiah 32:8, 2 Cor. 9:6, Luke 6:38). We aren’t talking only of money. Don’t we all know people who don’t have much but would give you the clothes off their backs? What about my friends on the meal train, whipping up food out of meager pantries?

On the other hand, I have some wealthier friends who can afford to give more, so they do, in the same spirit. I know people who always have books in their cars. When they read a book they like, they love to buy copies of it and stash it in their trunks so they can give it away. Other families I know love to shop from small local businesses, even though it costs more, because they want to be generous to their community.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some of these meals, and books, and shopping, and in each encounter, my friends were thrilled to give to me. There was no sense of duty, no sense that perhaps because the giving came so easily to them that maybe they should move on to something that would be more of a challenge.

No. To them, their particular brand of giving is part of who they are. It’s an expression of faith and worship. Their example reminds me that the resources which are easiest for us to give away are likely the very ones we’re meant to give. Whether it’s time, skills, goods, or money, whatever brings us joy when we give it is our “generosity niche”.

So I think I will keep cooking. Besides, it’s not always easy; sometimes I have to go through the bother of using an actual recipe instead of just whipping things up like I usually do. But I will persevere, because after all, you really don’t want me as your nurse.

Photo via Visual Hunt

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