Her heart spills over with goodness and kindness, and her smile precedes encouraging words. She has walked through this life of ups and downs with me and always, always points me toward Christ. Her arms swing wide for the kind of hug that squeezes tight and tells me I matter. She opens her door to everyone, revealing even more of her generous heart. I want to be like her.
On the other hand, when I open my doors, I’m never quite sure if I have enough, so I start feeling anxious inside and feel myself wanting to micro-manage serving sizes. On the outside, I’m smiling and encouraging everyone to take as much as they want; while on the inside, I’m fretting whether there will be any left for me to enjoy. This disparity niggles at my heart.
I give to missions, but never as much as I’d like. And this bothers me. I serve in my local church and I’ve been known to do a lot of things, but is it because I want to serve or because I don’t believe anyone can do it better? Generosity gets swirled into a blender with my selfish motives, my need for recognition, my tendency to judge, and my desire to love and serve others.
I wish I were like the woman who broke her alabaster jar of perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. She had no qualms of taking her most valuable gift and pouring it on tired feet and letting it flow away. All she could see was her Savior. I wish I could see him the way she saw him. She gave him her greatest gift and it makes me wonder, what is my greatest gift? What do I hold tight and release in tiny streams rather than pouring it with abandon?
Questioning my motives
I’m a great appreciator of compliments. I like to receive them; actually, I love to receive them and feel my little heart purr every time someone gives me one. I store them up like old cards in a shoebox and pull them out on rainy days when my heart is blue and my mind stormy. I’ve been the recipient of the generous outpouring of words that healed portions of my heart, which propelled me forward into truth and life. But I forget to do the same for others when I have the chance. It comes out as an afterthought, stilted, as I question my motives. I struggle to be generous with my own words.
Too often, I find myself holding back because I’m afraid I will sound insincere. Or I’m unaware that I missed an opportunity to bless someone’s heart because I’m holding onto wrongs that need forgiving. Is my inability to give words with generosity tied, indirectly or directly, to my inability to receive the words God speaks over me? That I’m his child, his beloved, forgiven, chosen, and righteous? Do I strain his words through my own faulty understanding of myself and don’t receive the abundance he has for me? What is the difference between me and the woman of Luke 7:37-47?
This woman stood behind Jesus at his feet and washed the dirt away with her tears, dried them with her hair, and then poured her greatest treasure onto his feet and the ground. Simon, the host, condemned her, but Jesus tells him that she loves much because her many sins are forgiven. Out of this awareness of the depth and love flowed an outpouring of generosity that cost her her greatest treasure. She spent all. Do we spend all?
Examining what holds me back
If our generosity lies in direct proportion to our response to Jesus’ loving sacrifice and forgiveness, then we need to explore what holds us back from giving all. Our response is skewed because of our tendency to self-judge. We self-judge because we struggle to receive. We struggle to receive because we must make ourselves vulnerable before the God who sees all, knows all, and whose holiness and righteousness elicit bowed knees and hearts that cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord.”
Wounded hearts, self-judgement, pride, and a sliding-scale of forgiveness play into my struggles with generosity. I so want to be generous with my words. I want people to know that they can count on me to speak generous encouragement into their heart and life, but I have to be honest, it’s a struggle. I’m afraid that if I pour everything I have onto one person then there won’t be anymore for anyone else, including myself. I hold things with a tight fist, but I’m committing to opening my fist and spending it all without fear that I won’t get any words of life in return. I’m committing to not fearing my selfish motives and the scarcity mindset. If I spend it all, I know the one who can refill me. If I spend it all, I know goodness and mercy wait for me.
Finding generous overflow
Psalm 23:5 states that he anoints our heads with oil and our cups overflow. Do we duck to miss the oil? Do we hold our hands over the cup, believing that God’s abundant love and promises are not really for us? And does this attitude translate to an inability to be generous with our words and heart attitudes toward others? It’s not about running to the fountain of grace to fill up our cup and then pouring it out, but it’s about abiding in Christ’s fountain of grace. We abide and keep our cups in the upright, uncovered position and allow the overflow to spill onto others.
Our ability to be generous overflows from the abundance of what we’ve received from Christ. If we receive little—even though Christ gives us love and forgiveness above and beyond our wildest imagination—then we have little to give. Sometimes, when we’ve walked with God for a long time, we forget the depth of our need for forgiveness and we respond like the Pharisee in Luke 7 instead of the woman with the alabaster jar. We all have a great debt that needs forgiving. It’s when we treat forgiveness like a sliding scale that we begin to dim our awareness for our own deep need for forgiveness. And once we start sliding, our cups turn away from God’s abundant mercy and grace and we have little with which to be generous.
How do we develop this generosity that overflows? Let’s abide in Christ. Receive his love, mercy and grace. Respond to the Shepherd’s call. Resist self-judgement. Embrace forgiveness and the grace that empowers. Surrender and let him lead us through valleys, meadows, mountains, and to still waters. Join him at the table of abundance in the presence of our enemies and engage with the Lord who thinks wonderful thoughts toward us and loves us with an everlasting, steadfast, never-separating kind of love. It’s here where we will be able to pour generously onto others because we know where the abundance comes from.