The generosity experiment

If Simon Peter’s brother, Andrew, had found an adult with a lunch of five barley loaves and two fish, instead of a young boy, I’m not sure the 5000 would have been fed that day.

“My little lunch is not even going to make a dent in the need of this crowd.  Why bother?”

“How do I know he’s not going to trade the loaves and fishes for some wine?”

“If these people were responsible, they’d have planned ahead and brought lunch for their own family.”

“What am I going to eat?  Will there be any left for me?”

I imagine these responses because I’ve thought them myself.

He’d likely have held tight to what’s his.  No miracle.  No glimpse of the kingdom.  No radical abundance of God.  Just a man alone in a crowd, listening to the Teacher, but not hearing; still hungry from too small a meal, the smell of sardines on his breath.

Fortunately it was a boy Andrew found.  A child.

It was Day 25 of the Generosity Experiment. Only five days left.  The end was in sight!

Thirty days of saying ‘yes’ to any request for money that came along.  Cookie dough fundraiser, Salvation Army bell ringer (who mistakenly got one of my silver earrings), Thanksgiving basket collection, fundraising lunch, youth Christmas tree sale, Meals on Wheels silent auction, hunger relief in Africa, sponsored child’s Christmas gift, end of year charity requests, tip jar at the coffee shop.  It’s exhausting.  And then hurricane relief… in November…  Seriously?!

It can be overwhelming when you think about it, all the needs around us.  It’s easy to want to shut down.  But Jesus didn’t see needs; he saw people… with needs, and had compassion.

It’s not that I’m a cheapskate.  But until I committed to say yes, I didn’t realize how often I said no.  Perhaps the opposite of generosity is not stinginess, it’s apathy.

By Day 20 I was beginning to learn that generosity is not about the needs; it’s about me.  I knew something was different on Day 20 because I tossed the Food Bank hunger relief box into my cart at Food Lion without even thinking about it.  I always think about it.  (I’m not heartless…)  There’s just usually a debate in my head about how I could buy the contents of the box for less than the $5.99 price (which I can’t) or how it would be better for me to give a donation straight to the Food Bank (which I don’t), and I leave satisfied that I’ve at least wrestled with this great moral and economic question… while kids in my community are still hungry.

The truth is, I’ve never known a hunger that is ever-present, or the fear of not being able to feed my children.  But when I grabbed the food box without thinking about it, I knew a habit was forming.  They say we become what we do most often (a sobering thought).  After 20 days, yes was becoming a habit.

I was pretty pleased with my spiritual and charitable progress.  Being two-thirds of the way in to the Generosity Experiment, it felt like I was in the homestretch.

We were out of town on Day 25, and heard a young mother give a testimony in worship.  She was driving with her twin four year old daughters when the girls spotted a man holding a sign on the side of the road.  They desperately told their mother that the man needed their help, and convinced a weary mom to go to the store and return to the man with groceries in hand.

“A four year old,” she said, “sees without prejudice and gives without worry about the cost.”

As my family and I headed back to Wilmington, we pulled off the highway at Exit 312.  It’s a familiar exit to us, but this day there was an unfamiliar sight – a man, weary and cold, holding a sign.  “Homeless.  Anything will help.”

If my commitment to the Generosity Experiment was not enough, there was a 12 year old in the back seat of my car who’d been paying attention during church, staring intently and purely at the man through the window.  She didn’t say a thing.  She didn’t have to.

We went and put five loaves and two fishes on a gift card at Wendy’s.  And that’s when I realized that generosity has nothing to do with money.

God-shaped generosity is about how I see the world and the people in it.  It is compassionate and merciful and unconditional, like a child.  It’s about how I hold the resources I’ve been entrusted to hold – with a clenched fist or an open hand.  Turns out my knuckles were pretty white.

God-shaped generosity “sees without prejudice and gives without worry about the cost.”  It affirms the abundance of creation and trusts that there is enough.  It responds with faith, not with fear; faith that God will not leave you empty-handed.

Take the Generosity Experiment.  Thirty days of saying yes.

It is the spiritual practice of unclenching your hand.  It is training a muscle memory in your heart that is more open than self-protective.  God will not ask you to give more than you have, but you will surely discover you have more than you think.

He may even use the ‘yes’ of your meager sack lunch to make the kingdom of God beautifully visible… to you.

Jayne Davis

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About the Author
Jayne Davis is Minister of Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C. She is part of the Hopeful Imagination ministry team, encouraging churches and church leaders in a changing world. Jayne is co-author of the book Hopeful Imagination and posts on Facebook at Spiritual Formation - Along the Way and is trying to learn to Tweet, though, being from the Bronx, is paranoid about people following her.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1259857730 Bill Wilson

    Thanks for your generous words and wisdom.