We’ve acknowledged that there is a role for institutions like government to play in addressing issues of material abundance. We are to support legitimate efforts by these institutions to fulfill their roles. But what is our personal response to the world outside of our faithful stewardship to our family and local community relationships?
One of my favorite writers is R. Paul Stevens. At a recent conference Stevens said:
“For Christians the need of the world is not the call of God. The call comes from God and we will need to withdraw frequently and regularly from compulsive need-meeting in order to hear the voice of God.”
There is no formula! Giving comes out of an abiding relationship with God. We are finite individuals with limited resources and limited knowledge. A pastor friend of mine says he keeps handing his job application to become savior of the world. God keeps returning it stamped, “Position already filled.” We are not to take on all the suffering of the world as though it were ours to solve. We are to be witnesses to the one who has taken on all the suffering of the world and bring others into abundant community with him and his disciples.
Stevens talks about discerning a call from God as we determine what needs of the world we should personally address. Actually, I believe there is only one call for all us and that is to enter into loving relationship with God and join his family. Yet love is action and what action we take in response to God’s call will vary by individual. Here are just a few factors I believe figure into our discernment of how to respond to God.
Gifts and Experiences – What capabilities, innate or learned, do we have to offer God? How has our personal biography equipped us to serve others? Each of has abilities to contribute, but in addition, we each have life experiences that enable us to deeply empathize with others who are shaped by similar life experiences.
Passion – What are we passionate about? Our passions can sometimes be driven by inappropriate motives, like the need for recognition, having false expectations placed on us by others, or fear of failure. But with maturity and wise counsel I believe our passions can also serve as a vital indicator of how God would have us personally respond to the world. The Spirit nurtures passions within us and God takes immense pleasure along with us when we engage these passions.
Context – What context do we find ourselves in? What are our life circumstances and what resources do we have available to us? What are the greatest needs within our sphere of influence that we might address given the constraints of our personal context? (ex., marital status, caretaker for children/parent, income level, physical condition, etc.)
All of this discernment is done in relation to the scriptural narrative and within family and a community of others who know us, are honest with us, and seek the best for us. When we are in ongoing reflection on these matters, decisions about things like a career and financial matters become far more focused. The focus of our giving (time and money) becomes a natural outflow of the rest of our life before God. Instead of trying to establish our giving based on a formula, or on assuaging guilt about our status relative to someone else’s, our giving comes out of the simplicity of our focus on God.
So what is that stands in the way of our giving generously as God desires and how can we become more generous? Some thoughts about that in the next post.