I remember it plain as day. It was a strange scene to say the least.
Years ago, I was helping to lead Vacation Bible School. It was the end of the day and I was putting things back in the closet when I heard the shrieks from a child on the playground. Hurrying outside, I saw something that I didn’t think was possible.
One of our older children had chosen (unwisely) to get in a swing that was clearly designed for a much smaller child. The swing was a kind of harness, complete with holes for the child’s legs to fit through. When I stepped out on to the playground, I saw that her legs had gotten stuck in the harness. She was imprisoned; held fast to the swing. But that wasn’t all. She was hanging upside down.
Now, I have no idea how this must have happened. But what compounded the oddity of the scene was that another child, about the same age, was standing nearby watching the girl scream in terror. The witness to this playground malfunction was a mature child who could have, I thought, brought some kind of assistance to the dilemma at hand. And yet, he just stood there looking at her while she screamed.
After remedying the conundrum with the gravity-defying child, I turned my attention to the child who had watched the girl hang upside down.
Perplexed by the other child’s obvious nonchalant response to his peer’s predicament, I asked him, “Why didn’t you try and help her?”
He shrugged and said, “The devil told me I didn’t need to.”
I was irritated with the child until I thought more about his response. The more that I reflected on it, the more I found myself moved by the honesty of his statement. We oftentimes assume that evil wishes for us to take a particular malicious action. However, sometimes the tempter succeeds in getting us to do nothing when something is called for.
Jesus calls the devil the Deceiver, after all.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul highlights a teaching from Jesus that we do not have access to in the Gospels. He says, “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (Acts 20:35).
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Funny statement, this is. We’ve heard it all our lives. Although we don’t have a record of Jesus saying these exact words, he does tell us that when we “give… it will be given (back) to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38)
Here’s the thing. I don’t think we believe it. I don’t think we actually believe that it is more of a blessing to give—that is, to be generous, to contribute, to share--than it is to receive.
If we stop and think about it, the statement seems absurd. Who doesn’t want to receive? We are consumed with consumption. It is far better to be served. It is far more desirable to be comfortable. It is far more satisfying to get what we desire.
Besides, we don’t have enough to share or to give away. Right?
Ah, this is the deception that we allow ourselves to buy into. We equate giving with loss rather than gift or blessing.
In truth, I’m not sure we openly talk about this. Much of our energy is placed on the needs that exist and not the blessing that we receive when we contribute. We tend to emphasize the morality of giving, and that we are compelled to give. Not surprisingly, then, we grow resentful of those who ask us to give or share.
But Paul gets it. In lifting up the truth about giving, he draws our attention to a God who knows the joy of being a creator of good things, of being radically generous, of bestowing blessings upon others. Jesus teaches us that it is a blessing to God when He gives us life, supplies our needs, showers us with good things.
We give and contribute and are generous because God has first been generous to us! To give is not a burden. True, giving is a sacrifice. But the gift is that in giving we receive far more than we could have ever asked or imagined.
But we just don’t buy it, do we?
We’ve allowed ourselves to become stingy with the gifts God has given us. We hold on to our resources because we cannot imagine how God could bless us by giving something valuable away.
Isn’t this the story of the boy who shared his meager lunch with Jesus, only to see God work a miracle through it? We are resistant to believe that God could be that powerful with our own sacrifices, and our own giving. So, we choose not to give.
But the truth is, giving is such a blessing! Rebecca and I have been roundly astounded by God’s blessings to us when we have tithed our incomes to the church and contributed offerings to needy causes. Many would argue that we are not being wise stewards of our resources. And from a worldly perspective, that is definitely true. The money we give away could have been used to make improvements on our home, invested in our retirements, or put aside for our children’s education. And yet, God has always, always, supplied our needs (and then some). When we have given generously, we have been richly blessed beyond measure.
Why are we so resistant to believing that it is more blessed to give than to receive?
I don’t know. Perhaps we’ve been deceived by the world. Perhaps the devil has convinced us we that we don’t have to give.
You know, the Deceiver’s not stupid. He knows what a blessing giving can be.