Generosity to others helps what ails our own souls

Do you recall the character “Curly” from one of Billy Crystal’s movies (“City Slickers”) who was the intimidating foreman at the dude ranch where Billy and his buddies went on a self-discovery mission?

Curly insisted that there was just “one thing” that everyone needed to know as he held up his black-gloved hand in a fist with the one index finger extended. For the life of me, I cannot remember if he ever said what the one thing was.

Is there one thing we can do personally to make our lives better … to even feel better about our life?

The answer is “Yes!” It probably will surprise some of you. Others of you have known this “secret” but perhaps have allowed its truth to fade from your life.

The “one thing” is revealed in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 in the Bible. It is the “secret” of how you open your life to blessing and favor — what the Bible calls “grace.”

Just a little background on this Scripture: Jerusalem had been hit hard by a famine, and the church there was suffering. While Paul, the missionary, was far away from Jerusalem planting new churches and encouraging the ones he had previously planted, he was led to ask the churches he was going to be visiting to take up an offering to help out the church in Jerusalem. Everywhere he stopped, they had an offering ready.

When he stopped to visit the churches in Greece, he was overwhelmed by their circumstances. What he found there was severe affliction and extreme poverty.

It reminds me of an African elderly grandmother I met living in the garbage dump in Nyeri town near Mt. Kenya. She fed herself and even some of her family, who took advantage of her, by collecting paper scraps every day, putting them in a large mesh net and selling those scraps for a few shillings.

The greater surprise for Paul was that these churches had collected an offering to be taken to Jerusalem and they were filled with an abundance of joy about being able to help. And even greater than that for him was the generosity of what was given.

These are his words: “They gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints …”

The lesson that rises clear here from the Macedonian Christians is that they received grace by giving grace. Even under severe circumstances and extreme poverty, the antidote for their misery was focusing on others and giving themselves to serving a cause greater than themselves.

Lest you be lead wrongly, this is not about practicing humanitarianism. I think you can feel better when you act in a humanitarian manner, but it is only short lived. The key to what occurred in these Grecian believers is that they did something first before they gave of their means; “They gave themselves first to the Lord” (2 Corinthians 8:5).

There is something supernatural that happens inside when people give themselves first to the Lord then do that which is unselfishly unexpected for someone else. A joy is released in our spirit that comes from God, and our lives are better.

A few Christmases ago, a couple from a church in Lexington, Kentucky, had gotten to know their waitress a little from their table conversations over a short period of time. They knew she had some personal expenses for her child and herself. So they went in to the restaurant one Sunday morning, had their breakfast and left an envelope with a tip of a few hundred dollars in it to help her out.

They left the envelope with their bill and watched from outside as she came back to the table, picked up the check and the envelope. She read the note that they had left and just sat down at the table and wept tears of joy and gratitude. It certainly lifted her, but can you imagine how the grace flowed both ways that day?

Whether you have much or whether you have little, there is a grace from God that flows, even through the most severe circumstances, when you give with the abundance of joy and the wealth of generosity.

The Rev. David Woods is a senior pastor at Park Chapel Christian Church.