This is part of a series of posts on giving, all in light of the release of my latest book. In this post, we look at three obstacles that can keep us from giving, and the effect that has on our spirit. Check out the other articles in the series to learn more.
In this post, we’re looking at what keeps us from giving. Keep in mind that I’m not thinking about money when I say “giving.” I’m thinking about giving our time, our attention, our skills, or other personal resources. Giving can be as simple as going out of your way to offer encouragement to someone else. Money is only one way we can give, and it’s not as open to people as these other more common means.
As I see it, there are a few main obstacles to giving, all of which are addressed when we consider that we’re a part of God’s giving circle, pictured below.
1. We’re convinced that we possess things on our own. This may sound strange to you. “Don’t we all have possessions?” Sure, but we can’t actually hold on to them forever. And that truth relativizes possession in some sense. NOT in the sense that everything belongs to everybody, but in the sense that what we claim to “possess” in this world doesn’t last forever. It’s fading. That doesn’t apply to everything, of course. Our relationship with God isn’t fading. And our relationships with Christian brothers and sisters will, eventually, have no end. Not everything is fleeting. But it does apply to our time, possessions, and the skills or resources we’ve acquired in this life. We won’t have what we hold forever, so why are we so bent on holding onto it?
The truth is the things we “possess” have all been given to us by a providential and prodigal God, a God who always gives. But selfishness turns us into consumers and hoarders. Rather than passing on what we’ve received, we sit on it, like a dragon on his treasure. But we can only do this when we assume that do, in fact, possess things forever. The lie leads to selfishness. The illusion of possession leads to the practice of hoarding.
2. We’re primarily self-focused. Incurvatus en se, that was John Calvin’s term for sinners. We’re “curved in on ourselves.” We’re all letter Cs. Our necks are curved so that we stare at ourselves, at our own needs and desires. If we’re primarily self-focused, then we’re in a poor position to give ourselves to others. We’re in a poor position to give our ears to other struggles who just need someone to listen. We’re in a poor position to give our attention to the task at hand. We’re in a poor position to give a word of genuine encouragement to someone else.
Jesus was primarily others’ focused. He was constantly attending to the needs of those around him. This makes beautiful sense, since Jesus is God, and the triune God is three persons who focus on each other and always give themselves to one another. The Father is always giving the Spirit to the Son (John 3:35). The Son is always giving himself to the Father’s will. The Spirit is always searching the inner depths of the Father and drawing out the Son (1 Cor. 2:10).
3. We’re in a hurry. John Mark Comer’s book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, has been desperately needed in our culture. Our technological climate, with smart phones and constant web access, has lead us to believe that we always have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it. We sprint through days; we don’t walk through them. And that’s not a good thing.
We sprint through days; we don’t walk through them. And that’s not a good thing.
When we believe we have no time, the little time that we have gets directed to . . . us. So, this is bound up with the previous obstacle. It’s also related to the first obstacle, since hurry can make us hoarders. But when we see ourselves as a part of God’s giving circle, everything changes.
Part of God’s Giving Circle
If we’re part of God’s giving circle, then these obstacles melt away. We’re given a God-centered perspective that shows us who we really are and why we’re here. We’re creatures made in the image of a prodigal God, a God who always gives. And we’re here to give so that others might see the grand gift of the Son for all people.
1. We already have the greatest possession as a gift. Think about Paul’s words to the Corinthians.
“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
2 Cor. 6:8–10
We already possess everything. Sit on that truth for a moment. We think that there’s so much to possess, but really there’s only one thing: Christ. If you have the Son-through whom all things have been made and for whom all of reality exists-what else do you want, exactly? Being a part of God’s giving circle means that you have been given everything already. You’re rich, richer than Jeff Bezos. We may not always feel rich because the pressures of worldly concerns squeeze our hearts a bit. We have needs and wants that appear not to be met. But those are appearances painted with the brush of the present. When we keep the brushstrokes of eternity right in front of us, we see an eternal inheritance that outweighs anything we could possibly receive here on earth. And if that’s the case, why not give ourselves to others? Why not give our time, our attention, our words, our actions? With Christ inside us, there’s no end to the abundance.
With Christ inside us, there’s no end to the abundance.
2. We’re others-focused because God is others focused. God is always giving himself to himself, but he’s also given himself to us. Why? So that we can give the riches he’s provided from his own character to others. The gift of Christ frees us from self-focus because it replaces our letter C souls with the letter Y.
With a Y soul, we’re rooted in Christ, in the greatest gift God could give. We already possess everything, so we can fix our eyes up in gratitude and out towards others. We are shaped into givers because we’re part of God’s giving circle.
3. There’s no rush. With the prodigal God always giving us every spiritual blessing that we need, we can slow down because we’re able, with the Spirit’s help, to trust in the unfailing providence of God. This trust is not always easy, of course. We still tend to think that the world will fall apart if we’re not at the center of it, even at the center of our own little world. But that’s not true, and we know it. The world is God-centered. It has been and always will be. When we’re part of God’s giving circle, we can prayerfully and continually give up our desire to control everything, to rush around frantically as if we have “so much to do.” Don’t misunderstand me. We have much to do, but we have the God of all to do it through us. We’re not working independently.
Think of how this might apply to your relationships today. Who needs to receive a gift? It could be a gift of listening, of kindness, of compassion and sympathy. Go through the three obstacles above and watch how the God who gives will show you a way to give again. You have been given prodigally; now, prodigally give.