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Saturday, 1 March 2014

It is more blessed to give than to receive

In my bible reading this week I came across these famous words which, interestingly enough, don't really come up where you expect them to. As he leaves the Ephesian church behind in Acts, Paul reminds the brothers and sisters of something he had heard that Jesus once said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ This has become one of those hand me down sayings - much in the way that Paul himself probably received it - but it has lost its radicalism. It has become somewhat twee, a hearsay, a blithe aphorism that doesn't really mean much. The question is, is it true? Is giving good for us? 

I've been challenged of late by Pioneering folks at Ridley and Chris Duffet, a somewhat unlikely, but marvellous, evangelist about what it means to get involved with what God is already doing. It's made me wonder how we managed to make Christianity so mind numbingly dull. If there is a creator God and his love for humanity is such that, not only will he marvel at the beauty of his creation and concoct a ludicrously costly salvation plan to bring them back into relationship with himself, but he will also invite them to partner alongside Him in redeeming the rest of the planet (Romans 8:19-21) and changing the world - how did we manage to narrow that down into a set of rules and structures mostly confined to within church walls? To a one off profession of faith and a lifestyle which - other than missing out on a Sunday morning lie in - looks little different from anybody else's? 

Surely there is more to it than that? The thing is, I think there is. I'm beginning to think that God actually wants us to be involved in what He's doing; that He's actually acting and speaking all the time and we can either tune into it and keep in step (Galatians 5:25), or miss out. This seems to be what Jesus says: "“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working...Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." (John 5:17-19) God the Father is always doing and God the Son listens to him and does; whatever Dad does Son does. Like Father like Son. And now, through the cross, we're the sons. We're the daughters who should be doing what we see our Father doing. But half the time (most of the time) we're missing it. 

What are we doing today, Daddy?

A couple of weeks ago, I went out to do some creative evangelism with another Pioneer at Ridley. As we prayed before hand, I had a picture of a little kid running into his parents' bedroom and jumping onto the bed in excitement shouting, "What are we doing today, Daddy?" The sense of a Dad who has fun plans for a Saturday morning and a little kid who can't wait to find out what they are; who is so excited about the possibility of just doing what his Dad is doing that he's run in at 6am - interrupting his parents' well deserved lit in - and started leaping around. What if following Jesus was a little bit more like this? Like getting excited about what God is doing and asking to be involved with it? Like being a little kid who's willing to get involved with his Dad's crazy plans because he trusts him and knows that - even if those plans seem a little foolish or scary, they're good plans because they're Dad's plans.

That isn't a boring lifestyle. It's an adventure. How could building a kingdom - a kingdom full of peace, and healing, and hope, and transformed lives, and restored relationships - ever be boring?

And so, to bring us back to Jesus' aphorism, giving is better than receiving. Our God is a giving God. He's generous to the extreme and he invites us to partake in that generosity. Not only because it's what we should be doing but because it's good for us - it's joining in with Dad's fun time Saturday plans, not Monday morning's job list. Mike Pilavachi tells a story about paying for the car behind him at a toll booth on a road; about the tingly feeling of doing a totally random act of kindness for a stranger, about the goodness of blessing someone else. This morning, my lovely friend Jax and I went out for a coffee. The cafe was super busy and two of the workers were off sick. The manager was stressed and run ragged - so much so in fact that she brought me a cup of tea with no actual tea in it! What was the Father doing in that situation? What was the ever-giving God up to and wanting Nic and Jax to participate in? I think what God was up to was wanting someone to appreciate this woman - to show that she was noticed and cared for and doing ok even in the middle of a chaotic shift at work and difficult colleagues. And so, we bought her flowers. Nothing spectacular, just a handful of flowers from the conveniently placed florist next door, and she was gobsmacked. I didn't try and make it something deep and meaningful - I just mumbled that she seemed like she was having a bad day and left the flowers on the counter, as she stood there amazed and unsure what to say. And do you know what, it was exciting. Really exciting. That tingly feeling of having given without expecting to receive. Only I was receiving. I was being blessed back in abundance - which perhaps solves Phoebe's age old question of whether or not altruism can ever be truely selfless.

I begin to waffle. But I wonder if life following Jesus was always intended to be more of an adventure than we have made it. Jesus said he could only do what he saw the Father doing, so perhaps we should ask God more often what he's doing, where he's already at work, and what his Saturday funtime plans are, so that we can get involved. Sons and daughters hanging out with their Dad changing the world together. That sounds pretty good.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. What does creative evangelism look like?

    Modern churches often take a big step away from evangelism outside the walls of the church, in retreat from the old stereotype of the 'bullhorn guy' (see Rob Bell's take -

    What does creative evangelism look like in the 21st century and how successful is it?

    Also, people have messy, messed up lives to which there is no quick fix. Are we prepared to be broken by others' brokenness, and push beyond the single generous act. That is a big ask.

    I have been musing lately about whether the ultimate creative evangelism is through prayer. How better can we convince someone that God is real and loves them then bringing them into the secret place with God and letting them having a 'god experience' for themselves. And if that's a good approach, how do we do it outside the walls of the church? Some great stories of 24/7 prayer rooms in public locations - can that be replicated into high streets across the country? Should it be? How sustainable is it?

    Many questions.