How to lose your joy while giving

If you want to lose your joy while giving, follow these seven way-too-easy steps:

1. Respond to every need as if it is your personal responsibility to meet it.
Here is a spiritual principle: The need is not the call. The call is the call. If you want to lose your joy while giving, then respond as if the need is the call. And of course, there are more needs than any one person can ever possibly fill so pretty quickly, you’ll be overwhelmed and you’ll get bitter. This is a great way to lose your joy.

2. Let yourself believe you’re the only one who cares.
I call this the Elijah Principle. Maybe you remember that story in 1 Kings of the time when Elijah ends up on top of a mountain talking to God and he gets a little whiny. He says, “Everyone else has abandoned you, God, and I’m the only one left.” We’ve all felt that way.  When you’re the only one taking out the trash, or doing everyone else’s job, it can feel lonely. Discouragement can give you tunnel vision. But God told Elijah, “Son, there are 7,000 people down in the valley waiting for you. You’re not alone. You’re just not tuned in.”

The truth is, God chooses to work through us but it won’t all fall apart if we somehow can’t keep up. There are others working, too, and God’s plan will unfold. That’s a given. But if you want to lose your joy, get yourself some tunnel vision and decide no one else cares quite as much as you do. That’ll do it.

3. Make guilt your driving motivation for giving.
This is a great way to suck the joy out of the room! When you make guilt your driving motivation, the enemy gets a two-fer. He corrupts an act of worship while reinforcing an unhealthy thought pattern.

But here’s a fact: You cannot be in two places at the same time. That’s both a physical reality and a spiritual principle. The same frustration we have when we try to do squeeze too many things into our calendars is the frustration we feel when we are in one place internally and another place externally. John Townsend and Henry Cloud talk about this in their book, Boundaries. They talk about the internal yes and the external yes. It is the battle between our commitments and our feelings. When the internals don’t match the externals, the Holy Spirit has no room to move.  If you’re spiritually frustrated in your giving, maybe this is a question for you: Do your internals match your externals? Because folks, you can not be in two places at the same time.

4. Close your heart toward every need except your own.
The other end of that spectrum, of course, is being so self-protective that we ignore every other need except our own. In that case, our giving becomes self-focused and while that seems like it would make us happy, it actually has the opposite effect. Being self-focused only draws more attention to our deficits. So then, we start trying to fix and control, and that leads to #5 …

5. Have an agenda behind your giving.
If you want to suck the joy out of giving, give with strings attached. Decide you’ll only give if it makes you feel good, or fills a personal need, or if your name can be on it, or if it gets used in a very specific way. That’s a surefire way to generate frustration and choke out joy.

6. Have no personal strategy or vision for giving.
When we give as a reaction instead of a reasoned and prayerful response, we find ourselves full of regret or even bitterness after the fact. Remember: Kingdom giving is always about “call,” and not just about “can.”

7. Don’t ever pray about it.
Wanna lose not just your joy but the whole point of giving as an act of worship? Then give for the emotional rush, or give because of an emotional appeal or because someone makes you feel guilty or because someone has manipulated you. But for goodness’ sake, don’t give because you’ve prayed about it and sought the counsel of the One Person in the universe you can confidently say is smarter than you.

That’s how to lose your joy while you’re giving. If, however, you’d like to cultivate joy rather than kill it when you give, then Paul has some good advice for us: Holy Spirit living leads to Holy Spirit spending. Let the Spirit invest in your life, then invest your life into the Kingdom. Find things that make you grateful (like your salvation, for instance) and give from that place.

If you want to experience joy, get yourself a good theology of giving. At the end of the day, it isn’t about funding ministry, paying the bills or getting credit. It isn’t even about helping you sleep at night. It is about following Jesus and according to the our scriptures, healthy, committed disciples will be compelled to give … joyfully.

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Thank you, Jesus.

“The word became flesh,” John wrote, “and lived among us and we beheld his glory.”

God — perfect in every detail — decided to be normal and called it glorious. He gave himself the powerlessness of an infant. He needed diapers. And milk. And comfort. He cried.

(Never mind what the Christmas carol says: “The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.”  Its a sweet thought, but really? Of course he cried! That was his glory — that he was willing to experience fully what we know as life.)

He had birthdays and good days and sick days and down days. He did boy things, like wrestle and throw rocks and run. He laughed and cried and got angry and tired and hungry. He made friends. And when he grew up, he looked like a man and acted like a man … so completely … that almost nobody knew he was God. John the Baptist had to point him out to us. He looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold!  The Lamb of God!”

And even then, no one took that seriously. Or almost no one.

For the sake of Jesus being everything God intended, he set aside all the authority of a god and  experienced the world he created by becoming small enough to walk through it. The one thing that transferred from heaven to earth was love. Jesus loved people the way only God can.

He took on our limitations so he could experience pain as we do and show us how to be unafraid of it. Love came down to walk with us through our worst, to grieve our limits and weaknesses with us so he could restore our stories.

At just the right time, the Bible says the Word became flesh. And in light of that grace-soaked truth, the only holiday greeting that makes sense is, “Thank you.”

Safiyah Fosua, who has a book of meditations called Mother Wit has a wonderful bit about this idea of God with us:

“What must it have been like, Jesus, to leave your home in glory to come to a place like this? … What must it have been like, Jesus, to limit yourself to flesh? After being Spirit for all of that time, how did it feel to hunger, to weep, to plead, to bleed? You walked up and down dusty roads, slept on the ground, and prayed all night long for me. I thank you for tasting a multitude of miseries so that you could really understand my petty moans and complaints.

“Thank you, Jesus, for enduring a family that often did not understand you, and for enduring the rejection of hometowns. I even thank you for letting them call you crazy! Now, I don’t feel so alone. Lord, thank you for loving Peter, and reclaiming Mary of Magdalene. In them I am reassured of your love for me. Thank you for opening eyes that had been sightless, and for restoring the sick to their families. Thank you for raising dead folks like me. Thank you, Jesus, for coming to us on that first Christmas morning.”

For showing us how to overcome … thank you, Jesus.

For being the perfect servant of God … thank you, Jesus.

For bringing justice to the nations … thank you, Jesus.

For being a visible sign of God’s grace … thank you, Jesus.

For being our hope … thank you, Jesus.

For being God’s promise for the people … thank you, Jesus.

For being a light in this dark world … thank you, Jesus.

For being King of Kings and Lord of Lords … thank you, Jesus.

Thank you.

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It would have been enough (or, How Jews worship by remembering)

This evening marks the beginning of Passover. I pray blessing over my Jewish neighbors who will celebrate this high holy feast and remember together God’s faithfulness.

In the course of the Passover Seder, Jews sing a song called “Dayenu.” Translated, it literally means, “It would have been enough.” The fifteen stanzas of the song are designed to walk the singer through the story of the Exodus. Five stanzas celebrate freedom from slavery, five tell the story of the miracles God did for his people, and five sing about closeness or intimacy with God. The great treasure of the Israelites’ journey through the desert was God with them in every moment — leading, guiding, covering.

Dayenu. “It would have been enough.”

The song speaks to all the minimal ways God could have acted to accomplish his purposes; yet, he went beyond and acted lavishly out of his great love. Deeply rooted in the concept of Dayenu is the sense of God’s sufficiency — of his position for us, not against us. Of his closeness.

He is the God who sees us.

“It would have been enough.” Dayenu inspires me to sing my own worship for all the ways God has gone incomprehensibly beyond what I could have asked or imagined.

It would have been enough for God to deliver me from an addiction without me killing anyone or being killed. But then he gave me a calling, a beautiful church community and a great passion for preaching and writing.

It would have been enough for God to give me a good husband for this journey, but he has given me so much more. In Steve, I have a man who supports this call selflessly and lovingly, who provides for our family marvelously, who shows such strength and grace as a father and leader. Who has a great sense of humor.

It would have been enough for God to give me a child, and yet he has given me the incredible and humbling privilege of raising up a daughter who stuns and amazes me daily. Who has a rare gift of discernment and a boldness in speaking life into others.

It would have been enough to have a daughter, but now he has given me a remarkable and gifted man of faith for a son. Who loves Jesus wildly. Who lives his faith fearlessly. Who inspires us.

It would have been enough to have been given the sheer pleasure of life. But I have been given so much more. My Father, who knows me better than I know myself, has written a much better story for my life than I could ever have written for myself.

On this Friday of Passover, what Dayenu will you sing to the God of your life, who has given far more than you could have imagined for yourself?

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“In the evening I went very unwillingly to Charge Conference …”

This week, I felt my heart strangely warmed.

On Tuesday evening, I went (somewhat) unwillingly to Charge Conference. I confess to having lost patience with some of these denominational forms. I’m not alone. We all tend to grumble about these things. But there, in the least likely of places, the Holy Spirit showed up, manifesting as holy conviction and illogical joy.

Terry Fleming, our district superintendent, spoke eloquently about tortoises and hares, humility and perseverance. Somewhere in his message, I experienced the truth of God being spoken over my life. It wasn’t a comfortable truth. I sensed a personal call to confession for a kind of pride that has been masquerading as faithfulness.

Heather Glover sensed the Spirit, too, though for her it showed up as gratitude. Heather is a poster child for our discipleship system, having been spiritually raised up from a life of addiction through Celebrate Recovery and Mosaic’s leadership incubator program. She now serves as our Director of Adult Discipleship. This was her experience of her first-ever Charge Conference, in her words:

Charge Conference, for those of you who aren’t familiar, is when the church leaders come together with the District Superintendent to approve the budget and church leadership for the upcoming year. Sounds like a hoot, right? I mean, anything with conference in the title will surely strike fear in the heart of any fun loving individual.

Never mind the mention of a line item list of the budget.

But WAIT! Let me tell you what Charge Conference means to me.

Charge Conference means that my God went before me and prepared a place for me at the table. I know this because when I walked in the room, no one batted an eye. Why? Because I belonged there. One of those line items in the budget list was my salary. Another was the budget for my ministry area. And I am the very first Director of Adult Discipleship at my church, EVER. My God went before me and made a way, against all odds.

Charge Conference means that God’s grace IS sufficient. It is by God’s grace alone that I am at this place in my life. From lost, addicted, and wandering far from God, to doing the Lord’s work. I don’t have a job. It’s a vocation. A calling. And I didn’t look for it. It fell in my lap. That’s what God’s unmerited favor looks like. That’s grace.

Charge Conference means that I am a part of something much bigger than myself. And it means I have the privilege and honor of being a leader among leaders.

I thoroughly enjoyed attending Charge Conference. I hung on every word that my fellow leaders, my pastor, and the DS spoke. And I left with a spring in my step, singing praises to my God. I will never take for granted the formalities in life that should otherwise bore me to tears. I have experienced a life of chaos, void of all formalities, and absent any sense of belonging. This is pure joy by comparison.

Lord, forgive me for failing to keep my eye fixed on you, for failing to look for you in the unlikely places, for failing to believe you can show up anywhere.

Even at Charge Conference.

 

(The title of this blog — and the line about being “strangely warmed” — references John Wesley’s journal entry on the night he experienced a spiritual awakening while attending a study of Romans in a home on Aldersgate Street in London.)

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