As many preachers for centuries have said, a giving spirit is one of the most vital assets of a Christian. A wise seasoned missionary, Bob Johnston, once told my husband the two most important things to teach on the mission field are; (1) Teach them to pray and (2) teach them to give. Our desire to give is one of the quickest indicators of where are heart lies.
"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Matthew 6:21
I am often convicted and conflicted by young children's desire to give totally unimpeded by selfishness. As I watch my daughter play with her little friends, I see this frequently. Yes, they like all children will bicker over the toys they want but within the same few minutes they may want to give that same friend one of their own toys, "permantely". Or they may ask to give all of their allowance to the offering or to buy gifts for others. When I hear this I am tempted to interfere, "No, no,no...that's nice but you really just want to give a little and keep the rest for yourself." But shame quickly follows as I realize this beautiful spirit that I am tempted to squelch. I strive to zip my lip and groom the giving spirit that the Lord is growing in my child. You see age can sadly wear away that open generosity children possess.
Then as many missionary wives can attest, when you move to a very poor country the ministry of giving can again become conflicted. When you live in places where the majority of the country has less money then you have even though you probably would be considered poor by most Americans your mind-set about giving can begin to be altered. Many of us live in places where people beg for a living and will do it with such force and abruptness that it leaves little room for a spring of compassion. Your heart strings can become dulled as they physically pull at you and yell in your face or jump in your car window or follow you for streets to get money from you. When people maim their children and refuse them an education so that they can go and beg for them, it can boggle your understanding of who is in "true need". And the biggest danger of all, when you live in a place where if you give too many things, unsaved people will claim to trust Christ and faithfully and happily follow your "religion" in search of what other crumbs the rich foreigner will drop. And beyond marring the chance of sincerity you rob them the privledge of growing their own faith in Christ as they bring their burdens to him and HE provides their needs. I will tell you what a beautiful, miraculous thing this is to witness and how sad I would be to withhold it from someone.
As an American this kind of culture can be extremely shocking. In a place where if you even make eye contact you will have a follower for the remainder of your shopping trip, you can't always be the American version of polite. In a place where people have no problem at all bluntly asking you to give them large sums of money, pay for their children's education or loan them money for any number of reasons you have to find a way to survive in this culture. In the beginning for me I felt like I had to turn off every sense of compassion to survive. But I was deeply conflicted over this for years. Should a Christian be someone who doesn't possess compassion?
Obviously, the answer is no. But what do I do with my compassion and how should I use it? I definitely don't want to steal someone's chance to see Christ for who He is and the salvation he brings and not just a "Rich" foreigner who bears His name. I certainly don't want to cripple their Christian life by taking any chance for them to come to Christ with their needs and build their faith. However, I would be convicted and confused as I would read verses about the poor.
Ex 23:11"But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard."
Deut 15;7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
Prov 14:21 He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.
19:17 He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.
21:13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.
28:27 He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.
Every time as I would read these verses I would begin to analyze the poor I come in contact with on a regular basis. My mind would go to thoughts that many of us have about the poor and needy that beg for money around us.
"Do they deserve help?"
"Are they truly in need?"
"Should I give?"
In the Bible it does have a lot of verses indicating people should have compassion by allowing the poor to work for money or provisions. There is also verses about how we shouldn't eat if we don't work. But then there are still so many verses stating how we will lose Gods blessings if we have no compassion on the poor. So how do I follow the Bible's teaching about the poor and have peace in my heart about my actions.
From all that I have heard from Christians in America as they are approached by homeless people requesting help or handouts the struggle for peace with our conscience is a world wide problem. We are stateside at the moment and just a couple of weeks ago some friends of my husbands from his gym were asking his advice on this very thing. They, like most of us, had been approached by someone requesting money. They declined based on the principle of not knowing if the person deserved it or needed it but was then plagued continually after from guilt. He was able to help them with this, with some of the very things the Lord had taught me through the last few years on the mission field.
I'll tell you the two things about giving that the Lord has taught me from His Word while on the mission field.
(1) Not all giving is monetary. As someone from a financially blessed country it is very tempting to think that all that giving refers to is money. But I think it's vital to remember that there is so much we can give; our time, our love, our kindness, our friendship, our prayers, our compassion, our money and best of all the gospel. We should be willing to give any and all when the Lord leads us and we should pray for direction as we are presented with each need.
(2) Follow your conscience. After many years of confusion, I finally realized that I may not be able to figure out all the details and facts but I can follow my conscience. I would rather give because I thought I should and feel at peace in my heart, then to deny giving because of confusion over accuracy and be plagued with guilt. This isn't deep or fancy. It's extremely simple and basic. But many times the best truths are.
This doesn't mean that I give to every beggar or person who requests money from me but I also don't guard my heart from having compassion to give when the Lord leads me. And you know what? I have never once felt guilty for giving when I felt the Lord burdening my heart to give. When serving in a poor country, we do strive to pray and use discernment on a daily basis. As we are surrounded by so many needs begging for attention, shouting for attention, we surely need the Lords leading on how to love, how to give and how to lead others to trust Christ in every way.
As we just went through this Christmas season, where so many of us our reminded of the greatest gift and the greatest giver, I wanted to look back and remember the lessons God has taught me about giving. I hope this has been some help, from one struggling giver to another. When the opportunity presents itself by those who request us to give, whether everyday for some of us or on those few occasions by others, let us give in every and anyway the Lord leads us and rest in a clear conscience.