Monday, November 14, 2011

Half-hearted prayers answered wholly

Specifically answered prayers are big victories for me. I love Jesus but sometimes I feel as if I'm walking the path He's laid out for me on my own. I wander through life and ask Holy Spirit for help with big decisions, guidance, assurance, etc, but rarely do I have those moments of solid, beautiful realization. The moments where God is so close that every part of my body and Being responds accordingly. The moments when the hairs on my arm stand up on end, tears fall freely from my eyes and I feel full to overflowing.

This morning I prayed that I would be even more smitten with Jesus. I've gotten into the bad habit of assuming my prayers will not be answered...or at least not in the way I want them to be answered. I wake up in the morning with half-hearted words already on my lips. They are half-hearted not because my whole heart does not ache for their fulfillment, but because only half of my heart holds out hope that they will. God is mysterious and despite my lack of faith, I prefer Him that way.

But today my prayer was answered in the simplest of ways. As I was sending off emails and dealing with the mundane details of my life, a song came on Pandora that I had almost forgotten about. I was immediately bowled over again at the joy found in these words. Listen to it and let your heart be overwhelmed with the beauty of the God who created us.

Thy mercy, my God, is the theme of my song,
The joy of my heart. and the boast of my tongue;
Thy free grace alone, from the first to the last
Hath won my affections, and bound my soul fast. 
Without Thy sweet mercy I could not live here;
Sin would reduce me to utter despair;
But, through Thy free goodness, my spirits revive,
And He that first made me still keeps me alive. 
Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart;
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground,
And weep to the praise of the mercy I’ve found. 
Great Father of mercies, Thy goodness I own,
And the covenant love of Thy crucified Son;
All praise to the Spirit, Whose whisper divine
Seals mercy, and pardon, and righteousness mine

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On giving and sacrifice

Boyfriend and I got into a (somewhat heated) discussion about giving and the slippery slope of guilt that inevitably comes with being an affluent, American Christian (at least compared to the majority of the world). I'd love to say that my mentality is always, "I can't spend $300 on a pair of boots! Some people don't even have shoes!", but I obviously don't always think that way. All you have to do is look at my lifestyle to know that there are certain areas that I find I can easily justify spending more than what I need to spend. And that really was the crux of the problem we were discussing; it's easy enough to say we should only live on what we need, but if I followed that to the letter I'd be living in a box with a few sweaters and some ramen noodles.

I have actually had this same conversation with multiple people in the past. Generally we come to the consensus that God does not have a hard and fast rule about giving that applies to every person and every situation. Rather, He requires of us only that we be open to giving (and maybe giving radically) if He calls us to do so. I think there is merit in this conclusion, but I don't think it goes far enough.

The Bible has a lot to say about money and giving and most of the time what it has to say is quite jarring and counter-intuitive. In Luke 21:1-4 we see the story of the Widow's Offering. Many wealthy people were giving lavish gifts out of their resources, but all the Widow had to offer was two copper coins. Yet Jesus said she had actually put in more than all the others because she had given out of her poverty. It was a sacrifice for her to give. And then we have the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8:2-4: "In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people." The Macedonians considered it a joy to be able to sacrifice their own comfort in order to serve the body of Christ. 

So we are beginning to see here an emerging theme. Instead of being commended for their willingness to give, all these people were commended for their sacrifice in giving. This is fitting of our call as Christians to follow Jesus where He leads. If we're following Jesus, where will that ultimately lead us? What was the culmination of Christ's life on earth? It was His sacrifice, His self-giving, his love. According to Richard Beck (on his brilliant blog yesterday), love at its core, is courage in the face of death and neediness. In his explanation he quotes from Arthur McGill's book, "Death and Life: An American Theology":
[The love which is proclaimed in many churches] carefully disregards the outcome of love. These churches speak of love as helping others, but they ignore what helping others does to the person who loves. They ignore the fact that love is self-expenditure, a real expending, a real losing, a real deterioration of the self. They speak of love as if the person who is loving had no problems, no needs...[The] proclamation is heard everywhere today. They say to people: "Since you have no unanswered needs, why don't you go out and help the other people who are in need?" But they never go on to add "If you do this, you too will be driven into need." By not stating the outcome of love they give the childish impression that Christian love is some kind of cornucopia where we can meet everybody's needs and problems and still have everything we need for ourselves!...Too often in our churches we hear the gospel of love without the gospel of need. Too often we hear the lie that to love is to help others without this help having any effect upon ourselves....The only love that has anything to do with Jesus Christ is a love that has no fear of need, of neediness, of poverty.

This definition of love sounds a little intense, but does it require of every Christian their living out of a box, eating ramen noodles? Probably not. What it does require is that our giving be done in love, which is by default, sacrifice. What does this look like for each individual person? I don't know. But I do know that if my giving, whether time, money or resources, doesn't cost anything for me then there is likely not much love in it. My desire is that I would cultivate in my heart a readiness towards self-giving. It doesn't mean I won't ever get to enjoy little things ever again...after all, God is a good gift giver...but it does mean I will be looking for ways to live on less so others may experience more.

What do you think? What does God require of us when it comes to giving?
In what tangible ways can we cultivate a readiness for sacrifice?