Sunday, March 28, 2010

Refreshing God's people

I have been spending time with God reading, praying and relearning intimacy with Him for one week now, and it has been awesome. Not only do I feel more centered each day and more able to focus on my responsibilities with a positive attitude, but I also have more spiritual strength to be Christlike in hard situations. There have been a few times this week that something has made me angry and I have been very tempted to gossip, hold a grudge or just be grouchy and grumbly. At times when I feel I would have normally given in to those feelings and desires, I found myself going to prayer. Last night something deeply upset me and I said to Josh and to God, "I know the right thing to do, but God is going to have to fill me up because 'me' does not want to do it." I didn't feel capable of what I knew was God's will, but He is amazing; He filled me up and taught me something wonderful through my frustration. And that's not all: He took my anger over feeling wronged and used it to convict me of my own sin. I think this is going to be a pattern.

Here's what happened.

A few times this week, but specifically last night, some things happened that I felt were unfair to me. It involved spending money; whenever I have to spend money on or because of someone else for a reason that I feel is unfair, I get upset. I had told myself, I think, that I had the right to be upset because Josh and I don't have a lot of money. Since we don't have a lot, people shouldn't expect anything of us, right? They should be the generous ones, because their paychecks are bigger than ours. But what God showed me last night was that I have been living with a stingy spirit.

Stingy is such a nasty sounding word. I never wanted to admit it about myself because my Father, God, is the definition of generosity. Christ gave everything to a world that put Him to death! I never wanted to see myself as having a quality so unlike Christ. But whenever someone expects something from me that involves a financial burden, I get angry and resentful. That is not God living in me! If everything I have is God's, including my money, then I should be using my resources to extend love to others. I should look for opportunities to be generous with the money God has generously given to us.

God gives us an example of giving even when our resources are small; I've heard the story a thousand times.

As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins."I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
Luke 21:1-4

I never once thought of myself when reading this story. And I think if I were really being honest and I were the one there with Jesus, I would've said, "Yeah, Jesus, but I have rent to pay! And groceries to buy!" But while I would like to reason that my situation is special and different, the fact is that I can live with a generous spirit no matter how much or how little money I have.

One reason I never thought of myself as stingy, and maybe why I never identified with this widow, is that I have always gotten the concept of tithing and giving to God. That's always been easy; God is perfect and faithful, and He deserves everything I have to give and more. But when I have to "give" to someone who I don't think deserves it, my attitude changes. That's not the standard God uses on me, though. I certainly don't deserve God's generosity, and yet God gives good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7).

So I have been tearfully asking God to give me the desire to be generous and that the Holy Spirit would fill me, removing the resentment and grudges I am holding against those who I feel have robbed me. After praying last night, I decided to look for insight on generosity in the Bible. I found this verse in Philemon in which Paul is thanking God for Philemon's faith and love for others. The wording is a little different in the NIV, but I don't think that the differences here in the New Living Translation alter the message. In fact, I believe God intended for me to read it in this translation first so the words would click in my brain. I changed the name Philemon to my name and imagined if a spiritual mentor was writing these words to me:

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Kelly, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God's people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and comfort, my sister, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God's people.
Philemon 6

If I allow myself to have a stingy heart, whether I think I'm right or not, I will not be able to understand and experience all the good things I have in Christ. I certainly won't be able to refresh anyone around me. But once I live with a generous spirit, knowing everything I have comes from Him, I can refresh the hearts of God's people and be known for my love and kindness to others. That's a reputation I want.

This week, I am asking God to give me the kind of faith that produces generosity and to help me understand all the good things in Christ so I can give good things to others with a joyful heart. He has already removed my anger, which yesterday I had felt was impossible, and blessed me with so much peace!

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