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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Habit #5: Joyful people pursue progress, not perfection.

I have a goal. It is to do one regulation push-up. One.

I was inspired to this goal by Olivia Perez-Breland who posted one day on Facebook that she’d accomplished the feat without actually meaning to. Sprogress-not-perfection2he was in the gym doing modified push-ups, when she noticed how easy it had become for her. So after ten or so, she decided to try a regulation push-up and sure enough, she could do it. In fact, she did several.

I thought, well … if she can, I can. Never mind the fact that she’s 20 years younger than me; let’s do this! I started focusing on modified push-ups and made them part of my daily work-out. I kept it up, and over time I noticed I could do more than when I first started. It was getting easier. I made it a goal to be able to do one regulation push-up by the end of the year, and I  worked on that goal for months.

Because I was writing a message at the time on the habits of joyful people — one of which is an ability to focus on progress not perfection — I wanted so badly to make one push-up happen before the Sunday of said message. I wanted to be able to end my message by showing my pueople how a focus on progress (not perfection) yields results. I wanted to be able to tell this story of working toward something for months, then end with the remarkable news that I’d met my goal. “See! I did it! The repetition of a discipline yields results!”

And then, I even fantasized about dropping and giving them one.

All for Jesus, of course.

It didn’t happen.

After months of trying — not even one!  That was months ago. Some time after that, I finally made one push-up. One. And for about a week after I finally accomplished a push-up, I was able to do it whenever I tried. But since then, I’ve somehow backslidden and am on my knees again (I could probably make a whole ‘nuther sermon out of that one sentence).

I may not ever accomplish a series of regulation push-ups, but what I can do today is twenty more modified push-ups than I could do a year ago. Which means that even if I’m not where I want to be, at least I’m not where I was.

Which is the point.

Progress, not perfection, drills into a deeper well of joy.

What places in your spiritual life could you point to and say, “I’m not where I want to be, but at least I’m not where I was”? And what disciplines are helping you get there? In what places are you frustrating yourself by focusing more on perfection than on simply making progress? How would a shift toward making progress help you better understand and embrace the concept of grace? How might it increase your capacity for joy?

(This post was first published on my old blog site, firestones, in November of 2014. I still haven’t returned to an ability to do a regulation push-up.  But I’m making progress …)

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Isn’t this supposed to be fun?

When you’ve seen one, the next one becomes easier to spot.

That’s how C. S. Lewis begins to describe (in his seminal work, Mere Christianity) a new kind of person — a breed, he says, that begins where most of us leave off:

“Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. … They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ … They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. … They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. … they recognize one another immediately and infallibly … In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.”

It is that last line that most stuns us, that is too often overlooked in this pursuit of holiness. To become holy must be great fun.

How have we missed this detail (which is not a detail at all)?

How have we come to define holiness as all the things we don’t do, rather than the rich treasure of possibility it is?  This is the yearning of one who orients toward life from a desire to live a more holy existence. It is the cry to be something more — more love, more joy, more peace, more Presence, more perfect. Not in the sense of gaining perfection on our own strength, but in the sense that this life can be more.

As Lewis also says, “The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. [God] is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. … He meant what he said. Those who put themselves in His hands will become perfect, as He is perfect — perfect in love, wisdom, joy, beauty, and immortality.”

I’m reading this and thinking about my own spiritual disciplines.  The great surprise, I’m discovering, is just how easy it is to master the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 (“If I have prophetic powers … if I have faith so as to move mountains …”) , without sufficient attention to the heart of that poem (“Love is patient and kind …”).

It is humbling (and a little deflating) to admit just how much easier it is to be spiritually disciplined than it is to pay sufficient attention to the goal of love. Paul has warned me over and over that without love, all the rest of it is senseless noise. He teaches me that as I orient my life toward love privately, it will show up publicly. How can I reorient my spiritual life so that more love is exposed?  So that I begin to take delight in letting the love flow — in my prayers, in my serving, in my reading, in my journaling?  I ask this question recognizing just how far I have to go.

So then, that is my prayer for the coming season: that I will become one of those people who is easy to spot — so infused with patience and kindness, so obviously lacking in jealousy, envy or pride, that they will say of me, “Doesn’t she love well?”

And just as often, “Doesn’t she seem to be having fun?”

 

*From Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity.

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