It is more blessed to give than to receive
If Jesus said, as recorded by Luke in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” then we in The Salvation Army ministry must be among the most blessed in the land. We receive huge sums from donors that we carefully cultivate, from foundations that we successfully interest in sharing their wealth with us, and from government bureaucrats that we painstakingly meet their requirements to receive grants. Then, we have the privilege of giving it away in the various programs and services we offer. We receive the blessing while the guests in our shelters, members in the congregation and participants in our services receive the goods that we offer but what about their blessing?
How do the poor and needy receive their blessing? We are set up to be in the role of the giver, the blessed ones. How can they also participate in God’s blessing by becoming givers?
When we see Jesus in the Gospels, and only look at how he came to give us abundant and eternal life, then I believe we are seeing only a part of the whole. When we see the Gospel centered on “For God so loved the world that he gave…” and only understand God’s role in salvation is to give, then we do not see the full truth that includes our participation in our relationship with God. Jesus came to invite us to participate with him in our salvation and his ministry.
There are many stories in the Gospel where Jesus invited those he encountered to participate with him in their solutions, their spiritual journey, or their physical and material well-being. Let’s be reminded by a few of these stories…
Think of the woman at the well that is recorded in John – Chapter 4. Jesus seemed to be very tired from his journey, sat down by the well, and finding a woman who had come to get water, he started his conversation with her by asking for her help in providing him with a drink. This opened wide the door for her participation in the conversation that led to great benefit for her.
Think of the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool that is recorded in John Chapter 5. There were a great number of individuals who were disabled, including the one with whom Jesus engaged in conversation, by first asking, “Do you want to be well?” Again this invitation to participate in the dialogue and the experience with Jesus led to great benefit for the paralyzed man.
Another story concerns the salvation of Zacchaeus that is recorded in Luke Chapter 19. At first, Zacchaeus was only interested in getting an advantageous spot to see Jesus as he passed by. But Jesus, in looking for opportunities to involve others, asked Zacchaeus if he could go to his house to stay for the night. Jesus made himself vulnerable to those with whom he became involved. Zacchaeus participated in a deeper understanding that led to his salvation.
We come back to the question of this article Is it more blessed to give than to receive? Do we really find greater benefit in making the effort to share with another out of our wealth? Or is it simply a catchy “PR phrase” to motivate people to give? I would suggest that when people are invited to participate and open themselves up to dialogue, and to give from what they have, it is bound to be life-affirming, rewarding, and an opportunity for real growth in a person’s life.
When we look at this principle applied to our ministry, where so often we as officers, or staff, or Salvationists are engaged in the giving part of the equation, we rob the recipients from great blessing by not providing opportunities for them to participate and give from the wealth and the gifts that they have, however obscure that may be.
But this opens up real challenges for us in ministry. Can we really offer residents of our shelters an opportunity to share from their gifts? Or do we deny that they have assets that they can give? Perhaps they can be involved in meal preparation, housekeeping, entertaining of other residents, or helping with the process of admitting new individuals and orientating them to the residence.
How about children coming to after-school clubs? Can we utilize them, or their parents/guardians, in providing help in these programs? Or do we simply find it too time-consuming, and too hard, so that we hire individuals to provide programs to children after school?
What about members of our congregations who regularly come and only sit on Sunday morning to soak in worship, and are not invited to participate in ministry. Are there those occasions where we don’t see those individuals as having gifts to bring? Or are we looking for opportunities to involve them, and invite them to participate in ministry areas in which they have gifts?
Again, how about family service recipients? Perhaps we are overwhelmed by the numbers who come to us looking for the gifts or the handouts that we provide. It would require real organizational skills, and somehow finding the time to engage those individuals in
conversations, and to ask the questions that allow them to open up and to participate in giving from the wealth and the gifts that they have, to others in their neighborhood and community.
I recently read a document from The Salvation Army’s International Headquarters on Human Capacity Development, that states, “There is an urgent need expressed by people involved in local responses…for a listening approach by organizations instead of an interventionist approach, which seems to be dominant and present.”
I would suggest that those of us involved in Salvation Army ministry in North America today find it far easier to intervene in the life of an individual who is obviously in need, and to provide solutions both material and spiritual. However, it would appear from Jesus’ example of engaging in ministry, that he took time to open up dialogue, to allow individuals to participate with him in their own discovery of faith, of health, and of building relationships.
It is far easier in our world to be the faceless person behind a desk, or the volunteer engaged in providing leadership to a program, or to deliver that which we have crafted for the individuals, rather than invite them to participate with us in a journey of discovery and an opportunity to discover the role or the gifts that they may share in ministry. We effectively rob them of the blessing of giving from their wealth.