Messiah Jesus came, giving himself away, not only to pay for our sins but to radically change us, altering our brokenness with his own presence. In response to the Lord’s generous giving of himself, at Christmas time I ponder my own generosity.
Am I following in his steps? Am I giving myself away? To discover this, I must know: What does true generosity look like? With what is God concerned?In response to the Lord's generous giving of himself, I ponder my own generosity. Am I following in His steps? Am I giving myself away? What does true generosity looks like? With what is God concerned? #bgbg2 Click To Tweet
The people of Isaiah’s day asked the same questions. They had humbled themselves. They had fasted. They had prayed. Yet, their prayers weren’t answered. They wondered why. Where was God while they were performing these religious duties? They wanted to know.
God responded with hard words. All the while his people had fasted and prayed, they had been neglecting the poor and oppressing their workers.
During their fasting, they had been quarreling, fighting, and refusing to forgive one another. Their actions had been wicked.
And so, God said, “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high” (Isaiah 58:4b ESV).
Well, surely we would never do what they were doing. We take a quick inventory, certain that we’re not doing any of those things. Whenever we feel like this as we’re studying the Word, we should just stop and repent, because the next revelation will be that we’re probably, actually, habitually doing these very things.
Here’s the Lord’s response to our belief that we’re already doing all we should be doing. The Lord prescribes a fast of action, repentance, and transformation.
“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail” (Isaiah 58:6-11 ESV).
I want all of those blessings! But, if you’re like me, you flinched at verses 7 and 10. Much more is required of me than I am giving. The idea of bringing home a beggar from the street corner is outside my western comfort zone. Like them, I don’t want to give quite as much of myself to my fellow human beings as is required here.
“It’s our duty to love our neighbour, daily. The concept of neighbour is broader than the people living in the house next door in Christianity. The powerful aspect of this message, and what makes it highly relevant in today’s culture is that our duty to love our neighbour is not determined by our desires but by our neighbour’s needs” (Edna Davidsen)."Our duty to love our neighbour is not determined by our desires but by our neighbour's needs" (Edna Davidsen) @EdnaDavidsen Click To Tweet
What are our neighbor’s needs? How do we miss recognizing these and caring for them? How did the righteous do what they were supposed to be doing to take care of their neighbors?
They saw the need, and they acted, driven by their love for Jesus.
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40 NIV)."The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25:40 NIV). Do we see? Do we recognize Jesus in the people around us? #bgbg2 Click To Tweet
Do we see? Do we recognize Jesus in the people around us?
My mind travels to images of poverty from novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and by Charles Dickens, thus reminding me of Ebenezer Scrooge’s cold and dismissive Christmas-time statements about the poor that demonstrated his inability to see:
“Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?”
Next I consider Les Miserables and Jean Valjean’s destruction over a loaf of bread. His culture couldn’t see the simple need of a young man to provide food for his family. He was redeemed through an act of kindness, forgiveness, and generosity by one priest who saw him as a child of God, not as a former convict.
The stab of conviction deepens. I fall short. I fall very short indeed. I am often blind.
What am I to do? What about you?
As we experience these days of meditating on Christ’s birth, his incarnation, and his giving of himself in utter sacrifice – for this is why he came, we humble ourselves before him, asking him to show us how to see. We ask him to empower us for action.
Anne Mackie-Morelli wrote this about why Jesus turned to speak and to affirm an outcast woman. “It was, and is, about showing us how to turn and see the isolated, the marginalized, the outcast, and the broken-hearted. Being willing to draw in close to the hurting. Willing to lean into the hard and brutal and broken spaces in each other’s lives.”
Like Jesus, can we at least turn to see, to speak, and perhaps to heal or to help the needy? Can we do more?Like Jesus, can we at least turn to see, to speak, and perhaps to heal or to help the needy? We can't do it in our own strength. No one can. Our empathy is severely limited. Holy Spirit, lead and direct us. #bgbg2 Click To Tweet
We can’t do it in our own strength. That’s obvious. No one can. Our empathy is severely limited. Holy Spirit, please lead and direct us.
What will we do? Will we rely on the Lord to bring this change in us?
I struggle with this sometimes too… how to be extravagantly generous when it could potentially harm me. For instance, I often feel a nudge to help a hitchhiker, yet I have NEVER ONCE stopped for one because I have heard so many horror stories about women who do! I strive to be selfless even though I often care far too much for self. It’s an ongoing battle for me. Thank you for this!
It definitely is an ongoing battle, Jessica! I have never brought anyone home that I met in a shelter or on the street. We see the need. We want to help, but at the same time we see the risk. We try to be wise.
The time the Lord moved me to help a large gay man dressed in chiffon who was begging downtown, I made immediate eye contact with him, and he walked right up to me to ask for my help. I gave him my lunch and bought him a bus ticket home to see his mother. All of this occurred on a busy sidewalk with many eyewitnesses. It felt safe.
When I had done all I could, he asked if he could give me a gift. He recited a passage of Scripture from Romans to me. I asked if he was a Christian. He had received Christ as a young man, but life had taken him another way. We hugged and said goodbye. I urged him to go back to church when he got home. I drove home knowing the Lord would use this somehow. So many times in prison ministry, God also worked personal miracles. I think these interactions are rare, but God led.
Sigh – such a convicting post. Especially, “Being willing to draw in close to the hurting. Willing to lean into the hard and brutal and broken spaces in each other’s lives.”
“Being willing” is the key to actually allowing the Holy Spirit to lead. He will lead us when we are yielded and willing. Being used by the Lord in those moments are life altering for the other, but also for us. Can we pause for a moment to be kind? Can we yield to the Holy Spirit and act! It’s a challenge!
Ouch. But such an important message especially this time of year. I remember seeing Christmas ads on TV announcing that we should buy ourselves Christmas presents just because we deserve it. Instead of breaking the bank buying extravagant gifts, we need to give more to God. Thanks Melinda.
Giving more to God by giving to those in need would be such a pleasing turn of heart to the Lord, definitely a better choice than buying ourselves even more stuff! I agree, Yvonne! Breaking the bank is never a good strategy unless it involves emptying out the coffers to give to the poor, the needy, the missionary far from home, or the refugee.
Yeah… we totally fall short. But God sees the “want to,” and at the end of the day, it’s all grace.
Great point, Lisa! God does indeed see the “want to,” and he is aware of our circumstances, our culture, and our need to be wise and safe. It is indeed all grace, for none of us do this perfectly.
I pray my eyes and ears and heart will always be open to those in need. I want to help whenever I can. Sometimes a smile, a listening ear, and a hug will brighten the day. Thank you for the reminder to always be alert to share His love.
That’s a wise strategy, eyes and ears open, aware of needs and ready to help, to listen, to contribute, or to carry out whatever deed is needed to help the other. This all comes from a kind heart!
May we act on the “want to” by giving to credible, effective ministries and following the Spirit at every turn. We need His eyes and ears. Thanks for this convicting message!
That’s so true, Nancy! Act on the “want to” and follow the Lord’s leading to help those in need!
Melinda, I fall short. The passage in Matthew 25 has always had a convicting affect on my heart. I often reflect when I see homeless people holding signs, about the story behind each face. I try to remember to ask the Holy Spirit to speak to me if I should turn around and go back to offer help (whatever that may look like). Thank you!
Thank you, Karen! I also fall short. It’s a constant challenge to be ready to respond to the needs we see all around us like Jesus would have done when he walked the earth. We have OT admonitions to be ready, and we have NT admonitions. These are great reminders of the awareness and lovingkindness the Holy Spirit wants to spark in us to use for good when we follow in Christ’s footsteps.