After the benediction, we looked at the young couple in front of us, hoping to greet them, but they quickly grabbed their things and took off. Same thing from everyone else within a ten foot radius. (Picture startled birds taking off). My wife and I were disappointed, but we had come to expect it at the large, urban church we used to attend.
Several months later, we were attending a pastors and spouses retreat. After our session ended, the speaker prayed and we looked up. No one wanted to connect. We expected it at a large city church, but not here. Not from people who are called to invest their lives in others in Christ’s name.
Before it sounds like I’m getting self-righteous, let me say I’m not above this. There are definitely times where I don’t feel like caring for other people. And don’t.
But the truth is that people in the church – we – aren’t really all that giving or caring. It shows up in lots of little ways, like:
- going on and on about ourselves (my wife told me about a woman who ‘shared’ for 20 minutes straight during a small group time)
- not taking an interest in others when we talk, text or email with them
- ignoring emails
- putting off decisions or details that impact others
- failing to pray for people or doing it in a token way
The good news is that, in seeing the bad news, we begin to receive the help we need.
What We Usually Think
So what’s going on?
I think there are a number of possible causes for our tendency to be self-absorbed. One of them is our (often hidden) assumption that we can only care for others when our own lives are going reasonably well.
Not that we would say this is a good approach to life. But when something isn’t going well, we tend to feel we just don’t have enough reserve to care for others. And we tend to forget that we serve a Savior who was always giving, even in his darkest moments.
I’ve seen this in my own heart recently. For the past month, my wife has started experiencing significant, unexplained pain and fatigue. Things seem to be heading in the right direction, but I’ve struggled with fear and trusting God.
So, it’s been harder to focus on giving and caring for others. At the same time, I’ve come to see that this is the way we normally operate. We tend to focus on whatever our larger problems are and think that we really can’t care for others like Christ wants us to.
But if everything suggests that something will always be wrong, where does that leave us? What hope do we have of ever becoming the others-centered people we hope to be?
Becoming The Givers God Is Calling Us To Be
The Apostle Paul shows us how in 2 Corinthians 8:1-14. He gives us some critical insights there that help us care for the people around us no matter what we’re going through. Ready?
We can give regardless of our circumstances. In this passage, Paul talks about the Macedonian (modern-day Greece) church. They were experiencing a ‘severe test of affliction’ and ‘extreme poverty’ (verse 2). But all this ‘overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part’ (2). Let that formula sink in: really hard circumstances + no money = crazy generosity.
You and I can be generous and others-oriented even when we’re hurting. This is encouraging because it means that, no matter how bad things are, we’re not victims. We can care and give in nearly any circumstance.
We only have to give what we can. You may be going through a harder time right now that’s placing limits on what you can give. Long hours at work. Health concerns that drain your energy. Young children who require lots of time and help. A rough relationship with your boy/girlfriend or spouse.
God understands that. In our passage, Paul says that ‘if the readiness [to give] is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have’ (12). God is simply asking us to have hearts that are willing to give in accordance with the time and resources he’s provided.
I have a friend who’s going through a challenging time. His son is set to have a significant medical procedure. His startup is in a season where its success is not yet guaranteed. And he’s got a major house project going on. But he sent me a quick text the other day asking me how I’m holding up with my own challenges. He was doing exactly what Paul is talking about here, giving what he can.
Our ultimate example and motivation. Jesus’s example is something we need to come back to time and time again. ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich’ (9). Paul describes Jesus’s downwardly-mobile journey from heaven, where he was ‘rich’, to earth, where he became poor – on many levels – so that we would be blessed.
In Jesus, God really did become a man and gave up every comfort and right he had to rescue us. To get rid of everything that was keeping us from him by taking the punishment we deserve. And to make us his friends.
So giving is at the very center of belonging to Christ. If we take that into the heart of our being, that will begin to shape the little moments of our lives in ways we may not notice in the moment, but really add up and transform the lives of the people around us.
Let’s live it out: Where do you see self-absorption in your life? And, how would living out 2 Corinthians 8 begin to transform you?