I’ve never been big on using the language of “spiritual attacks,” but I think I was spiritually attacked.
The week before we moved to Arizona, we bought a bike for me. It was a beautiful red and silver bike with narrow road tires and a heck of a lot of gears. I was pretty proud of it, and on it I gracefully cruised the streets of Phoenix. It was such a great bike I didn’t even mind that I didn’t know where I was going – riding was so enjoyable taking the long way was no bother, getting lost was a pleasure.
Fast forward a few weeks. I’m reading in Luke 6, and I came across Jesus’ words.
“Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.”Luke 6:30
I was a bit struck by that. Jesus doesn’t throw in any caveats or backdoors. If you want to obey Jesus, it looks like you actually have to give to every single person who asks of you. People constantly ask me for things in town. Most folks just want a little change – last week a guy outside Walgreens asked me to help him roll a cigarette. The more I thought about this the more perplexed I became. If you want to follow Jesus, you actually don’t get to say no when people ask you for something material. And then I remembered reading that my friend Rich in NYC said he keeps gospel tracks and quarters with him so whenever someone asks he has something to give.
So that night after work I pitched my idea to Aleisha. I’ll make a real effort to keep $1 bills in my wallet. And whenever someone asks, I will have something (admittedly very small) to give them. This way, I already know before I’m asked that the answer is yes. I don’t have to evaluate or ask them what they want to spend it on – Jesus didn’t say any of those things matter. I figured, hey – I probably get hit up for cash five times a week max, and we can spare $5 a week.
Little did I know the very night I was telling Aleisha my dollar bills plan in the kitchen someone was stealing my bike! My beautiful bike! Someone walked down the steps into our complex courtyard, cut the cable bike lock holding our two bikes together, and took off with mine. Her bike remains unlocked and no one touches it, which offends her just a little.
I was pretty shocked. Of the two of us, I’m definitely the least cautious one about locking things up. I once even wrote a post about how we shouldn’t lock our cars (which I now definitely do). It jarred me that someone would bring a cable cutter and drag off my bike. I still contemplate what I would do if I saw it peddled around the neighborhood. Jesus seems to say I should just keep driving. And this brings up the question, why help people if you know they’re not going to “better themselves” with your gift? We ask this all the time. When we were back in South Carolina last weekend, it came up around the Sunday lunch table. What is our response when someone continually takes what we give them and makes bad choices? When they are handed resources and their situation does not improve?
I’m convinced the answer lies in our reason for giving. If we give away our money, our time, our resources, etc. solely because we are aiming to instigate change, we will become bitter and only begrudgingly give our gifts. If our giving (and lending) is done in a way that the wisdom of giving (or not giving) is judged by the result, we will have a very very very hard time keeping Jesus’ command in Luke 6. If we see our gifts, our helping hand, as an investment into someone else intended to pay dividends or produce results or get that person to change, we’re going to get jaded. And fast.
Our reason, I’m convinced, must be much more simple: because Jesus said to do it. With this as our why, we are no longer tied to what becomes of our gifts. We can give knowing we have done the work of God, kept the commands of Christ, pleased our Lord. And there are those who say, well what if tons and tons of people ask me for money? And I suppose that’s why it’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom – there is much more to leave behind. In this model, we don’t have to walk through life sighing and groaning about other people’s bad decisions or lack of judgement or poor investments. If we give because Christ is Lord and it’s what he has asked, our joy is not tied to the results of the gift. I think it could be argued that we are more blessed when we don’t see those results.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”Matthew 6:2-4
I believe this idea of giving and being free from worrying about the result actually applies much more broadly. In one of my classes, we studied a work by communication scholar John Durham Peters. He compared Jesus’ teaching style with that of Socrates and used the parable of the sower as an illustration. Socrates, he argued, taught with dialogue – if you’ve ever read The Republic, you remember how it’s a few guys sitting in a circle arguing about things, and Socrates is always winning them over to his point of view. It’s back and forth and Socrates doesn’t move on to the next point until the hearer is tracking with him. He doesn’t waste his words – he speaks to persuade.
Jesus did not do that. He went up on a mountain side and told confusing stories to crowds of people. He was a masterful teacher, but he didn’t always make things very clear or make sure everyone was on board with the message. Sometimes he was so cryptic that even the disciples came up to him afterwards and asked what the heck he was talking about. He sowed the seed of his word on all kinds of ground – some of it came up, and some of it did not. But Jesus was obedient to his father in proclaiming the truth to them who had ears to hear. Peters’ point is that Jesus sows indiscriminately – his love is given out – his words are often “wasted” in the sense that they don’t produce followers. Sometimes his words actually turned people away. But Jesus is about his father’s work, not about producing results and making cunning investments.
And what a freeing paradigm that is. Our work, our gifts, our time, and our lives do not have to be measured by the return they yield. Our effort does not have to be validated by the results produced. I think this is what Paul means when he says,
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”Colossians 3:23-24
If I work for the Lord, if I give because Jesus told me to, then the observable results are not how I measure my success or failure. Instead, I take joy in knowing I have been obedient. Obedience is how the kingdom of God comes to earth, not crafty investments, not high interest rates, not giving to the “right” beggars. When I get up on stage and give a speech, the crowd’s reaction has nothing to do with whether or not I was obedient. When I post this piece, whether or not any of you “like” it has nothing to do with whether or not I wrote as to the Lord. When I am honest about my taxes or when I pick up trash or return a shopping cart or lend money to that person again or share the gospel with a stranger; if my reason for doing so is because Jesus told me to, it doesn’t matter so much what happens next. Jesus, and his people, scatter freely. They refuse none who ask.
So I’m going to try to keep dollar bills in my wallet. And I’m going to try not to be resentful if I see my bike in the neighborhood. And I’m going to try to work as to the Lord.
And there lies, I think, the real freedom that Christ and his kingdom have to offer. It’s a new way of seeing the world and seeing the other.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
who conduct their affairs with justice. Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor,
their righteousness endures forever;
their horn will be lifted high in honor.