Summary: God has made us to be generous, and through our generosity we are changed and the world is transformed.
As I begin this morning, I want to invite each of us into a few moments of reflection. I would like each of you to recall, as best as possible, the moment in your life when you were happiest. But even more than happiness, try to call to mind that time in your life when you knew the most complete content and satisfaction you have ever felt. I engaged in this very activity this week, and I’m sure we all had similar memories flash through our minds as we thought back over our lives: baptisms, sports victories, musical accomplishments, weddings, Confirmations, and graduations. Certainly, these are all very happy times in our lives. But I imagine that many of you, like me, settled on something of a different nature in marking that moment of complete content in your life; a time when you gave an important gift to a special person, a time when you offered your gifts to improve the community, or maybe when you were serving on a mission trip in the name of Christ. For me, my most satisfying memories (and there are several of them from this particular trip) came while I was on a trip in Uganda; serving in that country in the name of Jesus Christ. I knew and experienced God more fully and completely in those two weeks than I ever had before or have since. In the midst of extreme conditions of poverty and despair, I found joy. I was completely content because I sensed that God was working through each of us on that trip as we interacted with the people of that country. Walking through prisons and slums and over the hills of rural Uganda was tough, but in our willingness to serve, God showed up in a mighty way. We can’t stop the rain from falling, but through generosity the world keeps “going ‘round.” Through giving the whole world comes to know more complete satisfaction.
You see, we are designed to give of ourselves. We are designed to be generous. God created us with a willingness to give; to God and to others. This is the way God has made us; we actually have the need to be generous. We have a God-given impulse toward generosity. And when we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy.
There is a writer who tells the story of a time when he was a young boy and a beggar came to the door. On this particular occasion, his parents were out and he was alone in the house. This being a different time many years ago, the boy answered the door and listened as the beggar described his need. On a boyish impulse, the young boy went to his room, broke into his own savings bank and gave the beggar all that was in it. He goes on to explain that never before or since did he know such sheer happiness as came in that moment. There is indeed great joy in generosity. Our hearts are enlarged by the very act of giving. And when we give generously, we become more generous. It feels wonderful to give because in giving we bring joy not just to those who receive our gifts, but in our own lives as well.
Yet giving is a delicate transaction. Giving must not be marked by the slightest degree of reluctance because then it is not freely given. If even the tiniest string is attached, then it is not truly a gift. Living in the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson’s home was managed by household servants who loved him very much. His servant boy wakened him every morning with a cup of tea. But on one occasion, his usual boy was off duty, and another one had taken over. The boy woke him not only with his usual cup of tea, but also with a beautifully cooked omelet. Stevenson thanked him saying, “Great is your forethought.” The boy responded, “No Master, great is my love.” When we give out of love, we are able to give freely without hesitation in the same way that God has given unconditionally to us in so many ways; most especially in the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. And it is God alone who can put in our hearts the love which is the essence of the generous spirit.
God is looking for persons who will give, as Paul writes, “not reluctantly or under compulsion,” but “cheerfully.” God loves the happy giver, the one who is generous in the very way that God has designed us to be generous. Anyone who’s ever dug down deep enough to give a gift—a gift that really required some sacrifice or cost something in money, time, or effort, and then watched the smile of gratitude on the faces of those who receive—anyone who has given in that way knows what it means to be a cheerful giver. What a concept; that giving will make us happy! But it’s the truth! Giving is not a burden, it is a joy!