I can easily envision people from Awakening grappling with the challenge to be generous.
I imagine young families that feel financially maxed out. It can be taxing enough trying to make ends meet in the Bay Area, without being asked to send kids to school in Haiti. The Christmas season adds kids asking for presents onto the pile, and I know the situation all too well; when I was a kid, I would spend hours and hours circling toys in holiday catalogs.
I can picture the 20-somethings and singles. Time commitments this season are already piled on with work, friends, and family. They’re already suffering from “cause fatigue” as part of a generation inundated with social justice movements and flash-in-the-pan slacktivist trends—suddenly the season of Advent is piling on the requests to serve and give and do something extra. Nonprofits try to utilize generous holiday feelings to add to their volunteer pool, and the letters and emails can pile up as organizations make their final drives to get funding.
I find some insight into this juggling act in an unlikely place. The book of I Samuel recounts the events that finally pushed Saul out of God’s favor. He disobeyed what God commanded him; tellingly, he did so by trying to perform extra sacrifices and gain favor. But Samuel says, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (I Samuel 15:22b). This speaks to our conundrums at Christmastime. When I find myself trying to assess where to put resources and navigate matters of generosity, I can easily forget that obedience is better than sacrifice.
What does this principle mean for us in practical terms? How do we decide where to give and how much? Author and Christian activist Tyler Wigg-Stevenson says this in his book, The World is Not Ours to Save: “a spiritually faithful and pragmatically sustainable activism must be seen through the limiting lens of vocation, or calling.” In other words, you can’t, and probably shouldn’t do it all. You can’t respond to every request for your time and your money. You have to weigh and assess ways that you can sustainably and obediently respond.
This isn’t an easy process, but it’s worthwhile. I want to offer an encouragement to the cash-strapped family and the over-involved 20-somethings. I’m an underemployed writer; believe me, I can get discouraged and can feel unable to be generous too. But Paul tells Timothy to charge the “rich in this present age” (I Timothy 6:17) to be generous. What if this instruction applies to many kinds of riches? Even if we aren’t rich financially, are there spiritual riches we can be generous with? Are we able to be more generous with our time or with other resources? Just because we can’t give money doesn’t prevent us from obeying the call to be generous. I hope it’s encouraging to remember that obedience is better than sacrifice. I hope and pray that it is freeing to remember that we can’t do it all, but we are called to do something.
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