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No-one is too poor to be generous

By Jo Swinney | 19 June 2019


I have been on the receiving end of a lot of extravagant generosity. When I was a small child my father was an Anglican curate, in the days when such roles entailed signing up to a life close to the UK poverty line. From there, he and my mother went on to an even less lucrative missionary calling, founding the Christian conservation charity A Rocha.

Money might have been tight, but our friends were not. I remember being taken out for dinner by a neighbour and being told we could have anything off the menu. I was playing at a friend’s house on one occasion and her mum made her give me a stuffed hedgehog I’d said I liked. Every Easter a family sent us a ginormous box of chocolate eggs. We were lent houses to use for holidays and godparents paid for music lessons. At countless moments of need, cheques would arrive in the post, often for sums eerily matching the missing amount of money. One memorable Christmas when the turkey was unaffordable, money for a turkey arrived.

All this kindness felt like it came from the hand of God. As a family we felt an extraordinary sense of divine provision. But as I grew older and made my own choices that kept my bank balance low, I began to feel a certain dis-ease about being on the receiving end of so much help. It wasn’t just the unbalanced power dynamic that can ensue if both parties aren’t incredibly careful, or the anxiety that came from being unable to reliably provide for myself, or the need to express adequate gratitude without seeming smarmy; it was a creeping stinginess in my soul. I was becoming a penny pincher, a watcher of the bottom line, a taker not a giver.

Jesus said it is hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23). Wealth can be a trap from which it is hard to escape, even as the door stands wide open. But generosity is as much a key to freedom for the cash-strapped as the mega-rich.

In Acts 20, Paul says an emotional goodbye to the elders of the church in Ephesus where he had spent three years preaching and training up leaders. He gives them some parting wisdom, but he also talks about the fact he hadn’t coveted their resources or drawn on them for support: ‘You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (verse 34-5)

Of all the generosity I have received, the most memorable was a meal cooked for my family by a Malawian village when I was 11 years old. We were staying with friends who worked as doctors and had come along on one of their regular trips out to the rural areas around the city of Zomba. The village pooled together their resources to make us a feast, to celebrate and honour us as their guests. As we ate the chicken, greens and maizemeal porridge, we were treated to an exuberant performance of song and dance. We discovered later that their food supply was due to run out long before the next harvest and for some survival hung in the balance, and yet their joy in giving was palpable, their unrestrained generosity a source of life, strength and dignity.

No one is too poor to be generous. And what the generous know is that often there is more pleasure in giving than in receiving. These days I am fortunate enough not to worry about money and I am able to share my resources without fear. I have tested the truth of Jesus’ words and no surprises: he was right. Giving is better.


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A feast from a stone-cold potato

Posted by Jo Swinney

Jo Swinney is an author, editor and speaker. She is Director of Communications at Christian Publishing and Outreach and lives in Bath with her husband and two daughters. @joswinney


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