Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
By Chris WittsSaturday 22 May 2021Morning Devotions with Chris WittsDevotionsReading Time: 4 minutes
What does it mean to be generous? Let’s see what the dictionary says: the quality of being kind, understanding, and not selfish; the quality of being generous; willingness to give money and other valuable things to others. There’s something very heartwarming about meeting a generous person.
It was John Bunyan who famously said: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” The amazing thing about generosity is this: the more you give, the more you get back. It doesn’t make sense until you start thinking about it. I’ve never met an unhappy generous person. Someone who thinks and acts for others is not selfish, and not unhappy. It’s a strange thing.
I prefer this definition of generosity: the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. Are you a generous person? Would you go the second or third mile for someone else?
Life is for giving
A pensioner in Auckland, New Zealand, had the unfortunate experience of his car being stolen. His wife had broken her hip and was in a nursing home. Each day he drove to visit her. But his Mazda Capella was stolen out of his garage at home and smashed into a police station. It was a total wreck. Once the story hit the local press, he was inundated with phone calls from people offering to help, and loan him a car. He was amazed. His name is John Mulligan. And he said, “I didn’t think kind people like this existed”.
The wonderful Victor Hugo novel Les Miserables keeps popping up in musicals and in film. We never seem to tire of the story, in particular the famous scene that takes place between Jean Valjean, the bishop, and the magistrate. Jean Valjean is befriended and given lodging by the bishop. Later he steals the bishop’s candlesticks. The bishop reports the theft; a magistrate is brought in and questions Jean Valjean in the bishop’s presence. As the scene unfolds, Valjean appears headed for jail.
Surprisingly, the bishop retracts his charges and offers an excuse for the missing candlesticks. Jean Valjean is stunned. When he and the bishop are alone, he asks, “Why did you do that? You know I am guilty.” The bishop replies, “Life is for giving.” That’s the spirit of generosity—an indeed a wonderful principle of generous living.
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” We read in the book of Proverbs in the Bible:
Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.” (Proverbs 11.24-25)
Learning to be generous
Learning to give is learning to sacrifice. We live in a world that teaches that we can have everything—spending everything we have without worry. But Jesus calls us to let go of our selfish needs in order to find ourselves and to make the world a better place (to leave this place better than when we arrived).
There is a story that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a solicitous hand. Yet the emperor threw him several gold coins. A courtier was astonished at his generosity and commented, “Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar’s need. Why give him gold?” Alexander responded in royal fashion, “Copper coins would suit the beggar’s need, but gold coins suit Alexander’s giving.”
In the film Schindler’s List, when the war is over Oskar Schindler and his wife are fleeing. Having saved so many Polish Jews from death, he is now hunted himself. He had spent his time purchasing workers for his factory to save them from certain death. It is the final scene that is so moving, as he is walking towards his car surrounded by the 1,100 grateful Jews whose lives he saved.
Now that it is over, he comes to the realisation that he could have done more, that he could have saved more lives. He said, “I could have sold the car. Why did I keep the car? I could have got two more people.” He pulls a gold pin from his jacket and says, “This is gold, I could have sold it, I could have got another person.”
Then Itzhak Sterne, the Jew who worked with Schindler, grabs hold of him and says: “You did so much. Look around you. Eleven-hundred people are alive because of you.” Schindler was by no means a perfect man, but what he did was heroic. He went to extraordinary lengths, risking his own life to save Jewish lives, and at the end he still knew in his heart he could have done more.
It’s true we cannot do everything and we are not as heroic as Schindler, but it would be a shame to come to the end of our lives and realise that we could have done so much more for others.
A spirit of generosity—God is generous—can reach deeply into every corner of our lives. We could practice being generous with our praise and in our words of appreciation; generous with encouraging other people.