This was printed in our conference newspaper, Reflections, but I am receiving requests for an electronic copy and the right to reprint it. If anyone wants it, here it is:
It is easy to forget why we are here. There are so many demands on our time, so many deadlines to meet, so many bills to pay, and only so many hours in the day. We work hard to make a living, and the cost of living is measured not only in dollars and cents, but in time and energy as well. If we are not careful, life becomes little more than getting through the day in order to make ends meet. Is this REALLY what we believe God intends our life to be all about?
In our American culture, we do a pretty good job with the “getting” side of life – a good education, a decent job, a home, a car, a family, and a thousand and one necessities and luxuries that make life fun and enjoyable. We struggle a bit more with the “giving” side. Recent studies show that there is a slight decline in both charitable dollars and volunteer hours adults in the United States give to church and other good causes. The top two reasons that people give for this decrease is that they are too busy and that they lack adequate resources. These are interesting answers in light of the fact that Americans have never had a higher percentage of disposable income and that hourly demands are essentially unchanged over the past 70 years. If the amounts we have to work with are the same or greater than we have had before, what’s the explanation?
Materially, people in our country have more “stuff” than at any time in history. The problem is that as much as we have, there is always more to get. No matter how much we acquire, we still feel a sense of scarcity and deprivation. Each day there is a new phone, a new computer, a new i-something, a bigger screen, a faster speed, an update, an improvement, a next generation – there is no way to have it all. But that doesn’t prevent us from trying! And all of the newest, latest, greatest, fastest, etc., consumes more time and energy. Time-wasting spent on digitally downloaded apps increased 700% between 2008 and today. Once these technologies eat up time, there is no way to get it back.
There is nothing wrong with all of this – in moderation. The true problem is that as we gain more and more, we feel less and less satisfied. Material abundance results in a scarcity of spirit and contentment. But our Christian tradition has an antidote and a way forward. Throughout the messages of the four gospels comes a fundamental truth: it is more blessed to give than to receive. Those who fill their time giving rather than getting have a much more fulfilled life than those who do not. Doing with less so that others might have more is not a path to poverty but wealth.
A recent Yale study suggests that there is more than a simple correlation between giving and satisfaction; there might be a causal link. In our culture, those who give a significant amount of time in volunteer service and give away more than ten percent of their gross income are generally happier, healthier, sleep better, and have stronger relationships than any other demographic. Giving is good for us! And to read our scriptures – both Hebrew and Christian – with a simple lens of integrity we come to a very striking conclusion: to love as God loves, we must learn to give as God gives – not conditionally or when it is convenient, but sacrificially, consistently, and abundantly.