Summary: A biblical foundation for giving and receiving. God is the source of all our wealth and good things; it follows that we are to share those good things in order to enjoy them more.
FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW
“Take what you can get…and don’t give anything back!” From what I remember of Pirates of the Caribbean, this was some sort of motto that Captain Jack and his first mate lived by. It wasn’t the pirate code per se but a rule of life.
Unfortunately it sounds a lot like the culture code of our North American lifestyle. Take what you can get and don’t just give it away. Think about that for a second. When you are downtown in Winnipeg and a panhandler begs for a loonie, what do you think? I earned this money and I am not going to just give it to some bum who is going to spend it on booze or Lysol. We work, we earn our money, and it galls us to think that some people just sit there with their hands out.
Take what you can get and don’t give anything back. For those of a non-religious background and mindset this is the code of life. But it is a code that will lead to stagnation of the soul.
Consider the laws of nature in this regard. A body of water that has no fresh inflow and no apparent outsource will eventually become a cesspool of disease. The water is no good for drinking or irrigation. It’s only use is to become a haven for unusual creatures that grow in that malaise. But a lake with a constant inflow and outflow stays fresh and is home to fish and birds and quaint little cottages. The law of nature suggests that which receives and gives will be beautiful and useful.
The law of God concurs. It is a biblical truth that when those who receive with gratitude understand the gift they will turn and give to others. This is a law, not so much in the commandment sense, but in how life works best. If you want to get the best out of life then you must conform to the pattern that God has laid out for us. Hoarding and guarding our possession leads to stagnation spiritually and holistically.
We find this truth in the history lessons of Israel in Deuteronomy 8. This is the theological foundation for learning to be gracious receivers and gracious givers.
1. Remembering to thank God
The book of Deuteronomy is a record of God’s law spoken again to the people of Israel. That’s what the title means: “second law” or a second telling of the law. Israel had heard the Law before but now they stood on the brink of entering the Promised Land. After 40 years of wandering in the desert God was going to bring his people into the land. In preparation Moses reminded them of God’s commandments. You have to imagine the thoughts going through Moses’ mind. He might have said, “Just before we crossed the Red Sea you guys began complaining and pining for the comforts of Egypt. Then we crossed the Sea in a great miracle and no sooner had the waters returned you were complaining about water and food and wishing you were dead. Bread from heaven rained down on us but you worried that it might not come tomorrow. Then when I went up the mountain to receive God’s law, I return to find you worshiping a golden calf.
Listen, God has been forgiving and gracious, but now as we stand in a new place, we must think about how far we have been brought by God and how much he has given us. If we forget, there is a terrible cost we can ill afford.”
Here in chapter 8 of Deuteronomy we have a call to remember these things. Moses was very concerned that they enter the Promised Land with thankful hearts. Note his repeated warnings: v. 1 “Be careful…” v. 2 “Remember…” v. 6 “observe,” v. 11 “Be careful and do not forget,” v. 18 “Remember,” and vv. 19-20 “if you forget.”
Above all, Moses was trying to engrain in their minds who was the source of all their blessings. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day” (10-11).
A grateful heart will not forget the source of these good things. Gratitude is an expression of modesty. In Hebrew, the word for gratitude is the same word for confession. To offer thanks is to confess dependence, to admit that others have the ability to benefit you, that they have made your life better by their efforts.
Perhaps you have wondered why we say a prayer of blessing before each meal we eat. I know some believers who see it as legalistic and mere tradition and so have abandoned the practice. God knows I’m thankful, they say. And yet if we think about it and are sincere in our custom, we will recognize that it breeds a habit of thankfulness in us. People who thank God before each meal are practicing gratitude and are opening the door to gladness in their lives. Some faith traditions pray before and after the meal…I suppose they are thankful they survived the experience.