We’re nearly there everyone. Six weeks into Lent; nearly at Palm Sunday, just over a week until Easter. This week I’ve found myself reflecting on what I’ve learned during the 40acts experience, how my experience of God has changed, as well as looking to the future to consider the lasting changes I want to take beyond Easter.
Here are two things I’ve learned about generosity this week:
1. Generosity doesn’t always start from the heart
A lot of the time we talk about generosity as a heart thing; an attitude, a personality trait, for some even a spiritual gift; something that lives deep within our DNA and drives us naturally and automatically to respond with compassion, grace and concern for others around us.
Yes, generosity is all those things. But what if generosity doesn’t come as naturally to us? I’ve certainly been challenged by 40acts, discovering that I’m not as naturally generous as I thought I was, that there is still a lot of work to do on my heart. And I’ve also discovered that, in that situation, making head decisions over heart decisions can help.
There are some days during the 40acts challenge that my response has been heart driven, but on more occasions I’ve had to let my head take the wheel and drive for a bit. I’ve added it to my to-do list for the day to make sure it gets done. While at first it seemed to suck the excitement from the generosity challenges, making things less spontaneous, I’ve discovered freedom in some of the routines and disciplines that come with head-driven giving.
2. Receiving first can be the gateway to generosity
I’ve known it for years, but I totally suck at being on the receiving end of the kindness of others. I need to be better at it and, in an ironic and (I suspect) spirit-fuelled twist, I’ve found myself on the receiving end of other peoples’ 40acts challenges A LOT over the last few weeks.
Learning to receive well has shown me how I can be better at giving. From the practical “Oh, nice idea, I’ll steal that one” through to the humbling gratitude that the generosity of others can often deliver, receiving helps to increase our capacity to give, and the heart stuff .
Yesterday, for example, the 40acts challenge was to make a connection with people, a stranger, an old acquaintance. I’d barely reminded myself of the challenge as I got ready to jump off the train, when I found myself on the receiving end of the greeting (hey Matt, if you’re reading – good to see you!).
That chance encounter with an old (and more distant than it should be) connection started with a wave, a handshake, and the briefest of catch ups that completely transformed my day.
Paul famously recounts Jesus as saying ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive’ and I’ve found myself treating that statement as an either/or. You’re either a giver or a receiver. But its not that at all – it’s a both/and. We should be both giver and receiver. The two can’t exist without one another and are both key behaviours found in God’s masterplan for us and His kingdom.
The modern dictionary definition of the word ‘receive’ will be something along the lines of a verb meaning ‘to get or to be given something’. But let’s get our greek on for a minute – when Paul writes in the New Testament the word for receive he uses is lambano.
While its primary definition is similar to our modern day definition of the word, lambano also incorporates richer ideas of receiving. One definition is “not to refuse or reject”. So receiving is a gift in itself –not turning down the generosity of others can be just as generous as when we’re the ones giving.
In fact, if I refuse or reject the generosity of others, that’s not cool. Who am I to stand in the way of someone else’s own relationship with God and the personal calling He’s put on their life to be generous, in that way, towards me.