We want to be thankful and generous.
By Lynn Yount, UGM Volunteer
“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thess. 5:18)
Because we rely on the support of our community, we write a lot of thank-you notes here at the Union Gospel Mission. As a volunteer in the Marketing & Communications department, I know this firsthand.
Countless times that I can recall, UGM has scarcely identified a need within the ministry when God brings someone along with a unique desire or ability to fill it. Whether that need was large or small, this sort of occurrence prompts a grateful response. It isn’t hard to say thank you to those who selflessly give without expecting reciprocation. When thanks are all you can give, you’ll probably give them generously.
But the verse says to give thanks in “all circumstances.” All. If you’re alive, you know not every circumstance is going to feel like a need-perfectly-filled-in-a-timely-manner situation. We may have an ongoing or frequently arising problem that doesn’t just get fixed once and for all.
Some interpret that verse to mean we should thank God THAT these needs and struggles have come along. Pain and hardship bring us closer to Him, they say – which is true in general. But I don’t think THAT’s what we need to be thankful for. “Thank you, God, that my back hurts so badly today” or “Thank you, God, that I didn’t get to see my kids because traffic made me late for visitation” just doesn’t seem like it fits with the spirit of other Biblical commands to ask freely for what we need with full reliance on His loving response (Philippians 4:6, Matthew 7:7-11).
In the context of that letters Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and Philippians, I’m convinced he meant our continual thanks to be for one underlying and predominating fact: Jesus became human, was crucified, and rose from the dead for us to have eternal life with him. That’s a gift for which thanks are all we have to give and for which we don’t have the capacity to be thankful enough.
It’s a gift that makes every other circumstance – back pain, a missed visit with the kids – move to the background. It is grounds for gratitude against which no temporal complaint can loom large. When we need something to rejoice over, our go-to is Jesus’ grace to us: Nothing can alter it or take that joy away. < Tweet this.
Generosity - giving to the point of sacrifice
The flip side of thankfulness is generosity – our readiness to give to the point of sacrifice to fill the needs of others. “Freely you have received; freely give,” Jesus told his disciples, referring to the intangible gifts of the Spirit they received from him, not any sudden material windfall.
Jesus also watched a poor widow give a couple of pennies to the temple treasury alongside rich men who poured in great amounts of money. She gave more than they did, he said, because she gave “all she had to live on.”
What’s interesting about the two references is that neither of the people Jesus referred to had much to give in terms of tangible resources. In that same set of instructions, Jesus tells the disciples not to carry wallets or provisions. The widow’s contribution was statistically zero. What good does generosity do then?
More than money
First, the value of UGM’s supporters goes far beyond the monetary value of their donations. For staff members engaged in fighting for people’s souls, the intangible benefits of having others on their side encouraging and praying for them can be even more important than where their paychecks come from. Sometimes, it really is the thought that counts.
But of course there are always tangible needs, as our residents know only too well. And UGM functions because there are many, of all different means, who give generously to see those needs filled.
So when we consider what true generosity is, again we turn to grace, to the eternal gift for which we are already so grateful. Knowing that our eternity is unalterably established by our identity in Jesus, we can give more than we thought possible, trusting that our own deepest needs are met in his grace, not in holding our possessions close.
Placed in the hands of Jesus, that generosity, that willingness to give to the point of sacrifice, multiplies to meet and exceed the need. In the Gospels, a boy’s lunch fed more than 5,000 people and a picnic basket fed more than 4,000 when they were given to Jesus.
Here at UGM we know those stories are true, not just because we can trust the Bible but because we also watch generous gifts multiply and bless hundreds of people every day. Even if they are “only” a few pennies.
And for that, thanks be to God!
Editor's Note: Lynn is an incredibly valuable and faithful volunteer - coming in weekly to assist with writing, editing and proofing. She is generous with her time and talents, and we are thankful. Perhaps you are interested in volunteering, as well. The link below will take you to a page where you can get more information and sign up for a volunteer orientation.
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