“Mo, here is your offering!” my mom offered, before I could clip on my bow tie for church. From the tender age of 8, I remember my mom giving me large sums of money for the offering plate every Sabbath—enough to buy ten or more French croissants (my favorite) for an entire week. This mesmerized me, because my parents were not wealthy in any sense of term. They were missionaries in the country then known as Zaire, a land ruled by one of the most repressive regimes the African continent had seen in decades: the Mobutu regime. Yet my parents always gave joyfully, even in the midst of war, famine, and life’s more common difficulties. Honestly, I could not understand why they were so willing to give.
Growing up, I would wrestle with this question: Why are some people willing to give relentlessly, even though they have so little?
We might say the answer is simple: because they value the cause. But I believe the answer is much deeper than valuing something. Indeed, I believe it is personal.
Jonah was the prophet of the Lord, and for most of his ministry he was among a rebellious people. The northern kingdom of Israel under the leadership of Jeroboam II was not rosy. Jeroboam II continued the idolatrous sins and practices his fathers had maintained since Jeroboam I (2 Kings 14:23-28), who instead of erecting one golden calf, erected two. Defying God, he told the Israelites, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (1 Kings 12:28, NKJV). Jonah spent his time counteracting this obstreperous spirit among his people. Yet when God called him to “give more” and go to Nineveh, he said, “Enough—I’m out!”
It was not until Jonah saw the mess he had created and the dedication of the pagan sailors to save his life at the peril of their own, even though he was a stranger to them (Jonah 1:4-13) that he sensed the need to have a deeper experience with God and partake of His mercy. He realized his true condition, his selfishness. And he acknowledged that he needed God’s mercy as much as those in Nineveh.
This is the core of the ministry of giving—a conscious thankful heart. Jonah saw Nineveh as somewhat of a reflection of his own spiritual condition. He began contrasting his attitude with how God had mercifully treated him. Then Jonah dove, arose, went, and gave more.
A Prisoner’s Extravagant Gift
Giving more starts when we realize our own true condition and our utter dependence on Christ for everything. And I mean everything. As a local church pastor, I saw the answer to my childhood question illustrated in a board meeting. The church treasurer notified me that we had received a $20 donation from an inmate at one of the prisons where our church ministers. The gift is for our new church building fund.
Twenty dollars may not sound like much to you, so let me explain. In the prison system, a prisoner can make between 12 cents and 45 cents an hour. Specialists get up to $1.15 an hour, but those are few. Doing the math, this prisoner donated at least his earnings for an entire week—if not for an entire month.
As I drove home from that meeting, I could not but stop and think about the tremendous sacrifice it took that inmate to give such an amount for a church he had never seen, to a people he probably would never meet. But he still gave more than anybody expected. Not because he felt like he had to. Not because he wanted to prove to others that he changed, for nobody knows his name. He gave everything because it was personal. Christ had given everything for him—yes, just for him. How could he not be grateful and be willing to give everything he made?
Jesus illustrates this point at the feast of Simon: “You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little” (Luke 7:46-47, NKJV). Mary, unlike Simon, realized how much she was forgiven. She didn’t just love much—she gave much.
Eighteen years later, the woman in my life, my wife, tells me each Sabbath morning, “Mo, here is your offering!” before I can pick a suit or tie she will approve of for church.
But now, preparing to give our offering is different because I realize the divine privilege of giving to a God who has given everything for me and you. During my family’s decade traveling the African continent as missionaries and going through the various wars, genocides, and civil unrest we encountered at each turn, I have no memory of my family or myself ever being hungry or begging for bread. I believe it was because of God’s blessing that my parents were so willing to give more.
God is faithful. Eternity will be our witness. Let us give more—together.
(Photo: FreeImages.com/Brian Lary)