Singled Out for Him: Giving Extravagantly
- Friday, August 22, 2003
Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree is a wonderful children's story that illustrates the blessings of being a giver rather than a taker. The apple tree in this parable gives gifts to a little boy-apples to eat when he is hungry, shade when he is hot and tired, and branches on which he can climb and play.
As the years pass, the tree gives up all its branches to meet various needs and demands of the boy who is becoming a man. Finally, all that is left of the tree is a stump, which the tree offers as a seat to the grown man who has returned to his childhood home. The man, who has spent all his life taking from others, is now disconsolate and empty, while the tree that has always been so generous is contented and happy.
Written more than two centuries earlier, the words of Ugo Bassi remind us that the richest person is the one who has given most:
Measure thy life by loss
instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk
but by the wine poured out.
Unfortunately, our natural instinct is to be takers rather than givers. Perhaps no society in the history of the world has been more materially prosperous than ours. Yet studies reveal that our giving is on the decline rather than the rise. Our prosperity has bred increased selfishness, stinginess, and insecurity. How contrary this is to the heart of God and to the nature of the gospel itself!
Many of us as singles have fewer financial obligations and, therefore, more discretionary income than those who have dependent children. This fact ought to be reflected in our giving. A key principle in God's Word is that "Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord ..." (Deut. 16:17, emphasis mine). It's simple: those of us who have been blessed with more resources (money, time, possessions) ought to be more generous in giving to meet the needs of others and in investing in the work of His kingdom.
Mary of Bethany was a single woman who loved Jesus deeply. The greatest expression of her love came when she anointed the feet of Jesus with a pound of costly ointment. Those who observed were indignant at her lavish worship. How fanatical! Such a waste, they thought. But what could be more wasteful than to lavish such costly gifts on ourselves?
Unfortunately, the more we have, the more we think we need, the more we want, and the more those things begin to control our lives and affect our values.
Many years ago, I made the decision that, particularly as long as I was single, I did not want to own anything that I didn't need to own, unless the purpose of that possession was to enable me to invest more effectively in the lives of others and the Kingdom of Christ.
I'll confess this is all easier said than done. It is easy to deceive ourselves and to confuse needs with wants. But I don't want "things" to have a grip on my life. On a regular basis, I look for ways to counter my natural bent toward covetousness by giving away items I do not really need.
On occasion, the Lord prompts me to give away some funds or a possession that I think I really do need. These are wonderful opportunities to prove my heart is truly surrendered to Jesus as Lord, to walk by faith, and to consciously depend on Him to meet my needs. I don't want to own anything that I'm not willing to give to Jesus, or to another believer in need, on a moment's notice.
Then, at the end of each year, I take time to evaluate my giving for that year, and to consider prayerfully ways that I can give more the next year. When I was a young girl, God placed in my heart a desire to give everything I possibly can during my lifetime for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. I have always found that this is the most joyous and secure way to live.
Such was the experience of Frances Ridley Havergal, the nineteenth century hymn writer who penned the words to that familiar hymn of consecration "Take My Life." One of the lines in that hymn reads: "Take my silver and my gold; Not a mite would I withhold." Frances once wrote to a friend:
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