I recently found myself working from a cafe and when a large group of seniors came in. I was very politely approached by staff to see if I could shift tables to allow for the group to sit together. This was not a problem of course – I was more than happy to oblige…until I realised that the group of seniors didn’t seem to be that thankful. I felt they almost had an expectation that I should move for them. There was almost a sense of entitlement. I found myself wishing they were more thankful for my act of kindness and even feeling some regret for being so willing to help out. Very quickly, I am a little ashamed to say, my willingness to help out and do something for someone else turned into hostility, which all came about because of how I perceived that people were responding.
If we knew in advance whether or not someone was going to be thankful, or show gratitude to us in a manner that we would expect, I wonder how much that would impact our behaviour. It may make things easier but it could possibly create a world in which we would only do nice things to those who would offer thanks in return. It would take the risk out of generosity. Making it a kind of love your neighbour and hate your enemy situation.
But Jesus flipped this mentality on its head, He taught his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them. It is an encouragement to act out of generosity to anyone you come across regardless of how they might respond to you. It’s a tough ask.
But it comes with an incredible strength. Someone whose behaviour does not depend on the response of those around them shows true character, especially if they are able to be generous is a hostile environment.
It’s much easier to repay people in kind, to offer animosity for animosity. Being generous is a life changer, for you and the people you are being generous to. You might not get a wave of thanks in return, but it’s worth the effort to bring a little bit of love into our world.
One of the greatest examples of generosity comes from the life of King David, in the Old Testament in the Bible.
He had made a mistake. His pride got the better of him and he insisted on knowing exactly how many fighting men he had under his command. Whilst it sounds innocuous enough, what it shows is his priority at the time. It showed what his ‘god’ was in that moment. He put his faith in numbers rather than in the strength of God – as a result his men paid the price as a plague devastated them.
A prophet came to David after the plague had passed, David felt incredibly guilty and ashamed that his actions had caused damage to his men, and the Prophet said, ‘it’s time to worship God now, go and build an altar on that land over there and worship.’
As David went to do that, the owner of the land approached him and offered to give him the land and the animals to use for free. Surely that’s one of the many benefits of being a king…
But his response showed his true heart – he said ‘I will not offer something to God that cost me nothing’. It would have been all to easy to go ahead and take advantage of the situation but David knew he needed to value what he was about to offer God.
That is an incredibly powerful message. As we think about giving and generosity may it be a helpful reminder, that giving without sacrifice is not generosity. If it costs us nothing to give then the gift is worth nothing.
It happens again and again. Every time that I travel to a developing country and connect with mothers who have taken a loan through Opportunity International, the same theme comes out. When we ask them what they are hoping for, it is always about providing their children with a better life than they have experienced themselves. The love of a parent for their child is strong and this is not only true in some of the poorest parts of Asia, I believe it is true world wide. It is a global phenomenon. Parents love their kids. We may show it in different ways, but it is love all the same.
We want the best for them and for them to have opportunities that we didn’t have. That’s part of being human.
The amazing thing in all this is that it actually shows me that there we have much more in common than we think. It is all too easy to focus on the differences between people groups, nationalities and ethnicity. Some cultural expressions of people differ greatly across the world, but when it comes down to it, we are all on the same planet trying to survive and if possible thrive. Whatever that looks like, but at the heart of it all is love. And our kids certainly have a way to bring that out in us – which is humanity at its best.