Rector's May 2013 Letter

The Gift of Giving.

“You earn wages only to put them into a bag with holes”. (Haggai 1 v 6)

How many of us have never had this feeling? Sometimes it seems that there is no way to get ahead – or even to catch up. Every penny we manage to earn has been spent before it ar-rives; anything extra just seems to provoke the universe into dumping some unexpected ex-pense into our lives to take it away again. It isn’t surprising to find that the prophet Hag-gai, author of one of the shortest books in the Bible, found that the people around him suf-fered from the same malady 500 years before the birth of Jesus. What might be surprising is the remedy he said God was prescribing – give some of it away. In one sense, it shouldn’t surprise us. Most religions have always asked their followers to

give – not just towards religious purposes but also to the poor and needy, as a spiritual duty. It’s easy to see how essential that was, and still is, in situations where there is no ‘welfare state’ to pick up the slack for those who are destitute. But what is so startling about Hag-gai’s words, and what really struck home when I first read them many years ago, is the way he connects giving with our own sense of neediness. In effect, he says, we will never feel the full benefit of what God gives us unless we share part of it, giving it symboli-cally back to God in thanks for the gift.

 

Now Haggai, it must be admitted, had a spe-cific object in mind. The temple was falling to pieces and with it the people’s sense of com-munity and he had a message from God that the two were not disconnected. So at this point in my article, you might be starting to groan just a little and wondering which church roof I am going to be asking you to repair now. But actually, that’s not my point at all.

 

What charities, churches or individuals you decide God is calling you to give to is for you to discover. This is not about the ‘church asking for money again’. (Though as an aside, I’m never sure why some people say that with such disapproval. It was the centuries when the Church was rich and powerful that were the anomaly – today, when each local church is supported solely by the local community, is surely much closer to what Jesus intended, uncomfortable though it may be for those of us who have to somehow pay the bills!)

 

Haggai’s words remind us that giving is not just – not even mainly – for the benefit of those who receive it. Jesus said ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’, and I’m quite sure he meant it in a very literal and practical sense. I don’t have room to tell them here (says she tantalizingly!! Ask me in church or email me if you would like to hear them) but two of the most obviously ‘miraculous’ experi-ences I had years ago as a new Christian were about having the courage to put money aside for giving, and although I have often tried and failed as we all do to live up to what I have learnt then, the lesson has stayed very fresh in my mind.

 

When we commit to giving a certain amount ‘off the top’ instead of waiting to see what might be left over at the end of the month, it does several things for us.

It helps us to see just how much we really have, compared to those who by comparison are really ‘poor and needy’, here and abroad. It helps us quite literally to ‘count our blessings’, and my experience is that we then pay more attention to how we spend the rest of it, which will quite possibly save us more than we gave.

 

It allows us to give joyfully – “God loves a cheerful giver’ – because once that money has been committed, moved to another account or put in a separate jar or purse - it doesn’t feel like it costs us anything to give. We have al-ready parted from it and so we could say hon-estly to someone we wanted to help ‘Don’t worry; I was going to give it away anyway and I feel like God wants you to have it.’

It allows us to give regularly. It is no accident that charities now besiege us on the High Street, not to put money in a pot but to sign up to pay a very small amount regularly. Regular giving allows charities and churches to plan ahead and commit to staff and projects, and over the years it mounts up painlessly to far more than we would scoop out of our pockets and drop in a plate or collecting tin. So what-ever we decide to give, we should think about making a regular gift or gifts by standing order with the main part of it, to the causes (including our local church!) that we care most about.

 

But I also plan to keep some of that ‘giving money’ free of strings, so that I can look around me with God’s generosity, knowing that God will bring to my attention some indi-vidual or cause that he wants me to help. Sometimes that portion might mount up for a month or two before it finds its home, but gen-erally I know myself well enough not to let it mount too far – once it starts to look like ‘real money’ I find myself getting attached to it all over again, and being tempted to use it for other things.

 

And the final thing that giving does for us is allows us to see God’s power at work in the world; that our prosperity and peace really are in his gift and not our own doing; that God really can provide if we allow him the space to do it. One of the reasons why those who have almost nothing materially often have such a strong faith in that they see this played out in their lives every day. Once we have this final ‘gift’ that comes from giving, we know that we are truly secure in a way that savings accounts and pension pots can never guarantee.

 

Happy giving – and do share any ‘miracle’ stories of your own.

 

Reverend Karen Spray

church@revdkaren.org.uk

01392 877400


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