“There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” Ghandi
When I was small, I received a weekly allowance from my parents. From a young age they instilled in me the importance of fiscal responsibility. A dollar a week. 10% went to the church, 45% into savings, and the rest was for spending. I had little jars and I split my change between the three—tithe, bank, and spending. I never resented giving money to my church. I always proudly brought it with me to Sunday school. After all, Jesus wants us to share with the poor.
Then, when I got into high school, my church organized its first short-term missions trip for the youth group. It was a trip to Mexcio. Oh, how I wanted to go! And I would get to go. After all, who can deny a missions trip? What parent would do such a thing? As it turns out, my father. I pleaded with him to be able to go, but he said to me, “There is plenty of service to be done in this city. There are plenty of people who need help, right outside your door. Why should I send you to Mexico to help build a school when I don’t see you serving in your own community. Take this next year,” he said to me, “and prove to me that you care enough to serve where you’re at, and then we’ll discuss it again when the next missions trip comes around.”
I was aghast, but to this day, I am thankful to my father for saying those words. For the next year I did focus on serving in my city, and my eyes were opened to people I had formerly seen only as the unlucky ones, the lepers of society. The next year I did go on a short-term mission, but my true experiences in service, came in my own home town.
A short term missions trip is a drip in the ocean, and for many who go, it’s the beach, sun, and friends that are the real draw. The service work is simply a cover, and excuse to go on vacation. I could write an entire post on short-term missions and the impacts or lack-there-of that they have on the communities in which they take place, but I’ll save that for another time.
While there is nothing wrong with giving money through your church, or donating to charity, or going on short-term missions trips, it is an easy way for the upwardly mobile to appease their consciousness in regards to the poor and Christ’s call to serve them, without actually having to interact—allowing us to maintain distance from the poor. But as Shane Caliborne, from The Simple Way points out, “Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He is seeking concrete actions of love.” It regards us to get up-close and personal. Jesus was all-in, and many of us Christians prefer to play the role of the bystander, cheering from the sidelines. While Christians and the poor may both receive what they desire through giving from a distance, no new community is formed. Did not the first century church live together, sharing their wealth, selling land as there was need. And all were taken care of. That is what we’re called to, and something that many Christians in the church today simply don’t want to face. We are called to get to know those in poverty, to see them as people with names and stories, rather than just strangers on the street. This means doing some unconventional things in a culture that is all about me, Christians are called to make it about Christ, and through that, make it about others. And not at a distance. If God is love, and we are made in his image, then we are called to love. And how can we love what we do not know?
Beyond that, the concept of sharing means examining your life and seeing where you’re living beyond need, and into want. Ghandi said that, “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not for their greed.” As Christians, we need to take a close look at our lives and ask this question, “What is enough?”
In the past two years I went from a desk job to working as a cook. I took at 2/3 pay cut. Somehow I still manage to survive, although when I was working my desk job, I never had a large surplus of money. Granted, now it’s going to take longer to pay off my student loan, but in the end, it’s not all about money. I still survive, and I still manage to live a pretty darn good life, filled with blessings of work, friends, faith, and service. There are some things I have opted to live without—TV, internet, car—in making this life choice, but I still have days where I walk down the street, a grin plastered to my face and I think, “This is my life. How awesome is that?”
Despite what our culture says, money is not the be-all and end-all. Mamon is not the be-all and end-all. Stuff will not make you content or complete. In a culture that pushes for a rat race, Christ encourages us to live more simply, to downsize so that we may be more generous, even to the point of being extravagantly generous. If we truly want to take hold of the charge to “love our neighbours as ourselves,” then we must simplify, pare-down, and embrace a new way of life. We must choose to live on what we need, and trust God to supply. And out of that will come a different form of life that is so countercultural that people will look at you like you’re crazy, but you just might be on to something.
And this extends into the realm of using your gifts as well. I am a cook. I have chosen a job working at a bistro that also works with high-risk youth to give them life and job skills. It’s not a glamorous job, and I’ll certainly never get my own TV show working at a place like that. The menu, while decent, is nothing mind blowing. But at the end of the day, it’s about more than cooking, it’s about the youth. It’s about reaching out to a segment of the population and saying, “You have potential. You have a future. Let’s make it happen.” I could be working at any number of other places, restaurants that would take me up the ladder. But for now, I am where I need to be. I am serving others, making my faith seen—taking it beyond words. I am choosing to follow the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always, and when necessary, use words.”
And when you become radically generous with your time, talents, and money, you’ll start to see the world around you change. You’ll develop deep friendships with people you may never have talked to in any other circumstance. You’ll go beyond money, to serving others out of love, and allowing that service to be reciprocated to you. Then it’s no longer about money or wealth, but about love, friendship, and family. I don’t have any good examples of this yet in my new neighbourhood, but goodness I’m looking forward to developing them.
At the end of the day it comes down to this, you never see a hearse with a Uhaul behind it.