Pragmatic Communion

pragmatic living in the presence of God

I’d like to think I would.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
Matthew 13:44

Recently, I was asked to deliver a short message about giving. The emphasis was to be on financial giving, a touchy subject for some. Especially in today’s economy. So, I got the obvious question out of the way. If I’m doing all this talking about giving, do I put my money where my mouth is? Do I give? So I admitted, right up front. We tithe.

When I first got married, tithing was a foreign concept for me, but my new husband took care of paying the bills and I was happy to be rid of the monthly guilt associated with the fact that I never opened my bank statements. I used to joke that I married him so I would have someone to balance the checkbook. And my new husband wanted to tithe. I was uncommitted. Meaning, I didn’t care.

That’s the admission. I began tithing because my new husband wanted to and I didn’t care.

Reading that back just now, it doesn’t say much for me.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve continued to tithe. We’ve had lapses, but they were more from laziness and disorganization rather than a conscious decision to hold onto “our money.” In the end, we found that the best way for us to give is to schedule our tithe on bill pay. What do I think about that? What I don’t see, I don’t miss.

But as I prepared to talk to others about giving, I was thinking I should have a better reason for doing it than “My husband wanted to and I didn’t care.” and “It’s set up so I don’t notice it.” I understand why I began tithing and the logistics of how we tithe, but why do I tithe?

Then I remembered story of Elijah and the Widow of Zaraphath in 1 Kings 17:

8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.”

“Commanded.” I saw that word before. In verse 4: “. . . I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” Then verse 6 reads: “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he would drink from the brook.”

Birds brought Elijah bread and meat, morning and night, because the Lord “commanded” them. That’s impressive provision. At my house, we feed the birds. (and the raccoons, but, I digress.)

10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

Commentator Matthew Henry describes the widow as “very charitable and generous,” saying “She objected not to the present scarcity of it, nor asked him what he would give her for a draught of water (for now it was worth money).” She didn’t tell him she had more important things to do than fetch a stranger, an Israelite, a drink of water. She didn’t make excuses because she herself was weak from famine. She just stopped gathering her sticks and went to get Elijah some water.

Would I do that? I’d like to think I would.

But honestly? If the land was in famine and I had a starving child, would I? Or would I find out if this stranger could barter anything of value so I could take care of my child?

12 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

That we may eat it – and DIE? That’s abrupt. Brutally honest. She only has enough flour and oil to make one meal for her child and then she expects they will starve to death. But she’s talking to a prophet. Didn’t she get the memo? Didn’t the Lord “command” her?

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.’ “

She’s a Sidonian. Elijah is talking about the God of Israel. What kind of faith does she have in the God of Israel? What kind of faith does she have that Elijah has heard from the God of Israel? This guy could be a nutcase. He could be desperate and willing to lie for food or delusional from lack of food and water. She just told some stranger that she had just enough to feed herself and her child and then she expected to die of starvation and he responds with “Don’t be afraid. Make my bread first and then make something your child.” This Israelite is asking her to feed HIM before her starving child. And telling her she won’t run out of flour and oil. Won’t run out. That doesn’t make sense. How is that possible? She has a starving child in a land of famine and some stranger is asking that she FEED HIM FIRST?

Would I do that? I’d like to think I would.

Would I see then, as I can “objectively” see now – from my vantage point of having well-fed children tucked in bed for the night – that one meal would not save my child’s life? Would I be able to see that one “last” meal would just prolong the inevitable? Would I look at this man, this stranger, who professes faith in the God of Israel, and tells me my oil and flour won’t run out, and do as he asks me to? Would I put my hope in him and his God?

I’d like to think I would.

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

Would I be willing to give up everything I have and think I hold as “mine” in exchange for something greater? Would I be willing to give up EVERYTHING in exchange for the blessings of faithful provision of an all-powerful God? I’ve never been asked to give up EVERYTHING for Him.

Or have I?

Romans 12:1:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”
(NIV)

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”
(The Message)

I’m asked to give up far more than my last handful of food or my last two coins. I’m asked to give myself. Do I do that? Not consistently. But by the grace of God, every time I’ve taken possession of my time, my day, myself, I’ve come to my senses, and given again. I love what Matthew Henry writes: “The meal and the oil multiplied, not in the hoarding, but in the spending.”

I believe the “treasure” in Matthew 13:44 has nothing to do with money or possessions. I understand the “treasures” of this world are fleeting. I’ve learned that joyful giving brings unimaginable blessings. And I’m also aware that you don’t get a gourmet meal from flour and oil.

This is why I tithe.

You have found a treasure: the treasure of God’s love. You know now where it is,
but you are not yet ready to own it fully. So many attachments keep pulling you away.

Henri Nouwen
The Only Necessary Thing, Living a Prayerful Life

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February 18, 2010 - Posted by | faith, giving, pragmatic presence, spiritual growth, Uncategorized | , ,

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