Sorting through the regular mail, a postal worker discovered a letter addressed as follows: GOD, c/o Heaven. The enclosed letter told about a little old lady who had never asked for anything in her life. She was desperately in need of $100 and was wondering if God could send her the money. The postal worker was deeply touched and passed the hat among her fellow workers. She managed to collect $75, and she sent it off to the elderly lady.
A few weeks later another letter arrived addressed in the same way to God, so postal clerk opened it. The letter read, “Thank you for the money, God. I deeply appreciate it. However, I received only $75. One of those jerks at the post office must have stolen the rest!”
How easily we become discontent. We’re not easily satisfied. When asked, “How much money is enough?” the late John D. Rockefeller reportedly answered, “Just a little bit more.” We struggle to be satisfied with what God has entrusted to us. We hold onto it very tightly, and seek to add more.
But scripture says, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Proverbs 11:24-25 tells us this amazing good news. “One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will in turn be watered.”
Find your blessing in being generous. When tested whether to be stingy or generous, kind or miserly, to forgive or demand, pass God’s test. Give water so you may receive water.
Now none of this trivializes the reality that money is a very important factor in our lives. It’s a necessary tool. We need it to buy the necessities of life, and the extras that can make life blossom.
But it’s such a powerful force that we ought to become much more aware of our attitude toward it. We should pray about money. Perhaps pray for it, but absolutely pray, reflect on our view of it, what it means to us. Where did you get your attitude? How much fear is involved in it? What are you trying to say about yourself with money?
Don’t let your decades old attitude on money be your last one. See how this is an area that may be causing you pain, or hurting relationships, or damaging your faith and walk with the Lord.
It’s pretty much impossible to believe our relationship to money is an area that God has no need to touch or transform for us to fulfill God’s will and know God’s grace. Money does a lot of good, but it also has messed up a lot of people.
An unhappy man sought counsel. He was led to a window in his office that overlooked the street below. “Tell me what you see.” The man said, “I see people.” He was led to a mirror. “Tell me what you see.” The man said, “I see myself.”
He was told that a mirror is a piece of glass that has been covered with silver. “No sooner than a little silver is added than you cease to see others and see only yourself.”
We want to avoid this. Don’t close in your world because of money’s power. Look at the world through windows, not mirrors.
As we finish the Letter to the Philippians this morning, let’s recall that the Philippian church had sent the imprisoned apostle Paul a gift of money, and our Letter to the Philippians is somewhat of a thank you note in return. At the end of it, Paul tells his church again how grateful he is for them. They were the ones who from the very beginning accepted the gospel and shared in giving and receiving to his ministry, and to Paul personally. In fact, he’s more than grateful. He’s joyful. He rejoices in them and tells them to rejoice also.
What we see in these folks is a happy church committed to the full gospel of caring, sharing, and generosity. They were a joyful church because they were a generous people. The Philippian Christians had learned the secret of joyful giving and living.
What is that secret? The secret is this: You must choose whether you’re going to enter the circle of giving and receiving. The secret is the choice. The secret is not that the circle of giving and receiving exists.
The circle itself says, “What you give to others, you receive in kind.” This isn’t news to you. It’s incredible that it’s true but we all know it’s true. You’ve already experienced it enough times to know what this circle, this law even, is.
We shouldn’t use ignorance of it any longer as an excuse. Pretending you don’t understand that when you give to others you receive in kind is just another way of stepping away from the circle.
You know what I’m talking about. You’re not dumb. You’re not naïve. You know if you forgive someone, you’ve been forgiven. You know when you give unexpected kindness to someone else, you receive compassion. You know giving of ourselves means receiving more of ourselves in return.
That’s not the secret to joyful living and joyful giving. It’s in the choice. Either you’re in or you’re out. If you don’t choose, you lose.
Imagine always choosing to enter the circle and to obey the blessed law of giving and receiving. Imagine every time you start to think, “Not this time,” instead you turn that around and say, “This is the time.” Every time you start thinking, “I can’t forgive her, I can’t afford it, I can’t trust again, I can’t learn more, I can’t give, I can’t pray for him, I can’t start over, I can’t take another step closer, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” instead you say, “I can.”
I can forgive. I can trust. I can give more. I can hope. I can learn. I can pray. I can love. I can, I can, I can.
The changes in your life. The joy in your heart. The grace in your soul. The gifts you would give. What you would receive in kind. Choose to be a gift-giver. Be a gift-bringer. Obey the law. Be a keeper of the circle.
In view of the Philippian’s generosity, Paul wrote, “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”
Paul knew all about this. He told his church that he rejoiced in their gift. But it wasn’t the gift per se for which he was grateful. It was that it showed they were givers, and they cared about him. He told them they had done something not every person or church would do. They had chosen what was best.
The truth is Paul assured this church that he was not after their money. Rather, he was content in Christ or because of Christ. His point was through his personal experience he cultivated satisfaction. Paul learned to be content at the extremes and everywhere in between. He knew how it feels not to be able to pay the bills, and to have money left at the end of the month. He can sympathize with the worker who is greeted one morning with a layoff notice, and identify with the one who gets a promotion. He knows how to live in feast or famine.
How satisfied are we? Are you satisfied with your job? Perhaps you shouldn’t be. Seek in prayer what you’re supposed to be doing. Perhaps you need a job. We need to keep you in our prayers. But perhaps you ought to be satisfied with the one you have. It’s not easy to be satisfied with what you have, if your insides are itching for more. Prayer again is required.
An elderly man, who had learned to live off little, watched as his new neighbor moved in one day. After all kinds of modern appliances, electronic gadgets, plush furniture, and costly wall hangings were carried into the man’s house, the older man called over the fence and said, “If you find you’re lacking anything, neighbor, let me know, and I will show you how to live without it.”
Contentment is often seen as trimming back your desires. That’s part of it for sure. Greed and contentment can’t coexist, so it’s not like we can keep wanting and wanting and be satisfied. Still, we want something better than just to stop wanting more. We don’t want just to exist and say I guess this is all there is, and I better not expect more. We want a sense of contentment that keeps us in the circle of giving and receiving.
Christian contentment means to live with a sense of God’s adequacy, a conviction that God is adequate for any need we face. Therefore, we can give joyfully, knowing God will supply our needs; and we can receive gratefully knowing we are being supplied.
We want satisfaction with our lives to relate to God’s will for our lives. We mean to be content but only if we’re living vessels of God’s grace. We never want to lose our consciousness of being a blessing and being blessed in kind.
The Lord knows our hearts, our lives, our finances and our faith. We’re continually asked to choose to enter the giving and receiving circle at home, at work, in the world, and at church. We’re to give in proportion to what we’ve received, so we may receive as a result of what we have given.
We’re partners together in the ministry of this church, our community of faith in Jesus Christ, love for God, and hope in the Holy Spirit. Let us both give and receive as members and friends of Christ’s body at Church on the Hill.
As I said at the end of my letter in the stewardship narrative: “Our spirit is strong. Our ministry is important. Our fellowship is dynamic. Our mission is growing. Our heart is kind. As we live generously, we will be so enriched. As we give, we will receive.”
Can the church say Amen?