Monday, September 18, 2006

A Vow of Generosity

What if affluent Christians could be persuaded to take a vow of generosity? Let me explain. Last year I noticed that many Christians gave up something as a discipline for the 40 days of Lent. I toyed with the idea of giving up coffee, or chocolate, or potato chips—maybe even all sweets. Before I could settle on the "what", one of those splinters began to move. I got to thinking, "what is really the value in me giving something up?" Rather than giving up something, what about intentionally practicing generosity for 40 days? Maybe it was just a way to avoid giving up sweets, but I've got to tell you, it was a powerful, transformative experience. I looked for opportunities to lend or give away things that could bless someone else or to go out of my way to help in random or not so random ways. It was pretty neat to see opportunities to be generous materialize. I confess that at first, I didn't jump right in. I'd see an opportunity to do something generous and then I'd weigh the cost. More often than not I had to overcome some reluctance and sometimes the opportunity passed while I was still thinking about it. Gradually, my hesitation became less-and-less and responding out of a spirit of generosity became more natural. So, somewhere along the line I got to thinking of the vow of generosity idea. See, if I give up something, who does that benefit? I understand that there might be some value in disciplining ourselves—most of us are pretty spoiled and take a lot for granted—giving something up reminds me to be thankful for all that I have. But if I take a vow of generosity, God can use me to bless others in diverse and incredible ways. Here's the challenge—give it a try. A formula that resonates with me is:
Live Simply, Give Generously and Practice Hospitality Give it some time—a month, 40 days, whatever works for you—and do it intentionally. If my thinking is correct and God blesses this initiative, it will become a habit or way of life. If you're a journaller, keep a generosity journal. If you haven't seen in already, watch the trailer from the movie Pay it Forward: Any thoughts?


jennifer said...

I appreciate and resonate with the vow of generosity. I enjoy giving to others and find that I have surges of reconciliation with God and a full heart when I have given, helped others, gone out of my way or given up something for someone else.

I don't usually give up things for Lent... I've often considered it but never truly committed to it.

Where I think that I do need to practice a relinquishing of sorts is in my inner life and personal relational behaviour and attitudes. Perhaps it could be called a generosity of my soul and spirit.

Give up complaining.
Give up indulging in workplace, family and church conflict.
Give up losing patience with my family.
Give up my bad temper.
Give up my unrealistic expectations of others.

Instead I would like to seek peace and reconciliation in all of creation... to practice a generosity of spirit toward others.

The Prayer of St Frances comes to mind.

The Prayer for Peace
make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying
that we are born to eternal life.

The following reminds me in those moments when I am feeling weary in well doing that I am living for God's Kingdom not mine.

It was written by Mother Theresa and is engraved on the wall of her
Home for Children in Calcutta, India.

Between You and God

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centred;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world your best and it may never be enough;
Give the world your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Thanks for the good thoughts,


Lois said...

Wow! I love the quotes from St. Frances and Mother Theresa and your own thoughts on generosity of soul and spirit. I think this is all on the right track and for me, it's liberating to feel like I'm on course.

Even as I say that though, I'm conscious of how easy it is to be distracted. Of how incredibly strong is the urge for self-indulgence and rationalizing the things we do. Genuine humility sometimes seems like a mirage.

The other thing though, is where do we go from here? Is it enough to simply seek a generous life as individuals, and hope that somehow God can use our lives to influence the thoughts and actions of others? On one hand, that sounds fine, but then I get thinking about why we are who we are and why we do the things we do. Who I am as I write this blog is the product of so many forces and influences - some internal and some external. I believe that God has been directing my path as I honestly seek Him. And, I'm encouraged that the path I'm traveling is not a solitary one but that there are many fellow travellers who have the same kinds of questions as I do.

As we find ourselves in positions of leadership, do we have a responsibility to teach others the things God is teaching us? How do we teach with humility so that we don't come across as being self-righteous or arrogant?

I was listening to Dallas Willard's audiobook, The Divine Conspiracy, and I think he has great wisdom and his teaching on the kingdom of God is a breath of fresh air.

Well, I'm starting to ramble so I'll post this but I still have way more questions than answers...

Anonymous said...

Great entry - I really appreciate it. I have included it in a recent posting on my blog if you want to check it out:
Cheers! Mark

Anonymous said...


I was inspired by your idea of a "vow of generosity" to ask people to make a new year's resolution about it and tie a green string around their wrist to remind them. Check out my blog about it:

Happy New Year! Mark