A few weeks ago, my husband and I had a rare day out in York. A friend of ours had told us about an authentic Middle Eastern kebab shop, and having recently moved to rural North Yorkshire, we were keen to try it. We went, we ordered, we perched on bar stools and greedily munched our way through the delicious kebabs.
As we were wiping the crumbs from our mouths and the counter, a young woman entered the shop to buy a drink. We’d both noticed her on our way in: she’d been sitting in a doorway attempting to sell the Big Issue. Something prompted me to ask her if I could buy her some food; she said she’d come in for a drink and picked one out from the chiller. I asked again if I could buy her some food, she said no, it was too expensive. Eventually she agreed. I paid; she ate. We both left happy.
This is generosity as responding to immediate need. (And yes, I do know that it was an easy need to respond to – but I also know I don’t often respond to such simple needs in this way.)
Back in the nineties, when I first moved to the capital, I attended a great Bible study group in central London. All of us were under 30 (and I was at an age when 30 seemed old). There was a guy in the group, let’s call him Dave, who was a bit different from the rest of us – a few years older than me and a lot more in love with Jesus. One night he arrived at the host’s flat without a jacket. “Oh” he said “I got into a conversation with a homeless chap on the way here. I was talking about Jesus… and I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. ‘Give me your jacket – I’m cold’ he said.” So Dave did. This is generosity as sacrifice.
My husband’s family lives overseas. One morning in mid-December my husband announced that he was going to send his dad and sisters enough money for them to enjoy a Christmas feast. This was in addition to the money we’d already agreed to send to his dad. My first reaction was irritation, almost tipping into anger. Unedifying and ugly I was immediately ashamed – and humbled by my husband’s more generous heart.
At the start of the new year, as I think about these three stories, I ponder how you and I are going to respond with generosity to all that 2020 will bring? It’s exciting and a bit daunting. We know the good we’re capable of, we know we have it in us to act as Jesus would, to respond with thanks and generosity to all we have… Yet how do we square that desire to be open-hearted and open-handed with the need to tighten our belts knowing that January’s post includes the credit cards bills and bank statements showing our Christmas spending?
We all have different circumstances, different incomes and demands on our time and money. There are no rights and wrongs. We’ll all be generous in our own way. We’re all works in progress.
But, for what it’s worth, here’s my three-point generosity plan for 2020:
- Revisit my regular giving – is it enough? Is it generous? Is it representative of who I am?
- Resolve to listen more carefully to the promptings of my heart and the whispers of God. And then act on them. I know I’ll sometimes be surprised by where this takes me. I’ll almost certainly be impulsively buying more kebabs. I might lose my coat.
- Remember that generosity isn’t just about hard cash. I’m resolving to be generous with my time – to volunteer, plant some trees, spend more time with family, stop and chat to neighbours and strangers, smile at everyone. Be kind.
Most of all I’m going to remember the Lord loves a cheerful giver. I resolve to be an obedient one too.
What about you?