I’m using my blog posts this year to explore a question that’s emerged from my encounter with Luke 19:42 last year: What are the things that make for peace? You can find my first post here and follow the rest of the series as it unfolds.
Here’s a confession: I am stingy. I’m not so much stingy with money as I am with time and with myself. I often find the world exhausting. One of my deepest and greatest fears is that, unless I do everything I can to arm myself, the world will swallow me alive. So I hoard: my time, my emotions, my energy, my affection… In short, I’m always worried there won’t be enough of me to go around. 
There are some good things that come with my predilection – I’m very self-aware. I’m good at paying attention. I think things through and make well-calculated decisions. I know how to make a little bit stretch a long way. I don’t tend to overcomplicate my life with too much stuff. I don’t tend to overcommit myself to too many things.
However, there’s one really big problem for a Christian struggling with stinginess: When I’m stingy, I don’t trust God.
When I’m stingy, I live in a world of scarcity. My starting point is, “Okay, we all know there’s not enough to go around, right? So how do I make the most of it?”
The most challenging, and liberating, story in the Gospels for me right now is Jesus feeding the 5,000 (Matt 14:31-21). Jesus is grieving as this story begins. John the Baptist, his cousin, is dead. Jesus just wants to slip away for a while to pray, to grieve, to be by himself with God.
Before you know it, all these people start crowding around Jesus. I just want to shoo them away: “Come back later! Jesus doesn’t have anything to offer you right now!”
But Jesus does have something to offer them. He has compassion on the crowds. He spends all day with them! He proclaims the Kingdom of God to them – and in that Kingdom, there is always enough to go around.
At the end of the day, the disciples come to Jesus and say, “Send these people away. We don’t have enough food to feed them all.” You know the rest of the story: five loaves and two fish. Blessed. Broken. Shared. Everyone has enough to eat. Satisfied. Filled. Twelve baskets left over.
So I find myself pushed by this story to resist my innate stinginess with intentional acts of generosity.
A recent example:
A friend at church busted his knee playing soccer. He’s a young dad with two kids at home, and his injury created additional stress for his family. My wife and I are headed to their part of town to watch a play and we decide to bring them some dinner on our way. Our plan is this: pick up their dinner, drop off their dinner, go out for OUR dinner, go to the play, go home. Simple enough.
My not-really-that-good Plan A for where to pick up their dinner doesn’t work out, so we call in an order to a nearby restaurant. “Come pick it up in 20 minutes,” they say. Now we’re running behind schedule, and I’m not sure we’ll have enough time for our own dinner before the play. We pick up the dinner, and the cost of the meal is more expensive than I anticipated.
We drop off the dinner and spend a little time visiting, and as we start to leave to get our dinner, I’m thinking, “If we don’t have enough time to eat, I won’t enjoy it because I’m going to be fixated on the clock counting down.” But interrupting my mental calculations, the family insists that we stay and eat with them. “Are you sure?” I ask. “Will there be enough food?” I think. We didn’t think we were ordering for four adults…
But we stay. And, of course, there is enough. We have a wonderful, unanticipated dinner with friends. We enjoy delicious food. Our dinner is filled with the laughter of children and easy conversation. We end up paying for one meal instead of two. Everyone gets enough food to eat, and we have more than enough time to enjoy it.
Generosity, I’m learning, is one of those things that makes for peace. Generosity creates space for us to receive the Kingdom. The strange math of generosity is this: it always equals more than the sum of its parts. 1 + 1 = 3. The Kingdom of God mysteriously slips into the equation.
So we live this choice: Will we choose to live with the illusion of scarcity? Or will we embrace the abundance in Jesus’s proclamation of the Kingdom of God?
A few days ago, I’m at the gas station around the corner from church. One of our homeless neighbors is also there eating some ribs. He begins talking to me as I fill up. I am trying to get somewhere, but I think, “What if I had enough time to talk my neighbor today?” So I walk over to him. We introduce ourselves, and he tells me about how he’s having a hard time finding work, how grateful he is that someone gave him these ribs, and how he’s having trouble finding a room for the night. He also tells me how God takes care of him on the streets, but it sure is hard sometimes. He doesn’t ask me for anything, but I have five dollars in my pocket and I give it to him and tell him I hope it might help a little towards finding a bed tonight.
He expresses his gratitude. He tells me, “You know, a woman was here earlier who needed a quarter to use a phone. I had a quarter and she needed it, so I gave it to her. And now you’re here giving me five dollars. Ain’t it something how God takes care of us?”
It sure is. It’s something I feel I’m just beginning to learn.
P.S. If you are discovering the things that make for peace in your life, ministry, and community and have a story you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear it. Shoot me an e-mail at [email protected].