One of my more peculiar hobbies is reading sermons from the 1700s by John Wesley. The positive side of this hobby is that his sermons were brilliant. The lives of Christians from any tradition would be deeply enriched by reading them. The negative side of this hobby is that his sermons were long and boring. Christians from any tradition would fall asleep while reading them. Apparently good jokes weren't seen as an essential part of sermon preparation in 18th century England. From my perspective, the value of the brilliance of the sermons outweighs the challenge of drudging through them, because of those times when I come across something that's highly beneficial. This happened a couple of years ago as I was working my way through his series on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. In the sermon [not so very creatively] titled, "Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, Discourse Three," Wesley responds to Jesus' statement, "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" with three very simple, but very helpful guidelines. They apply just as well in our day as in his.
- Carefully avoid being in debt to anyone. Wesley makes the point that if we have debts, the things we give to help others are not our own to give, but they belong to someone else. Debt was a big problem in Wesley's day (his father, a priest, spent time in debtor's prison), and it is a huge problem for us today. Perhaps debt is more complex and sophisticated for us today than it was three hundred years ago, but principle is still clear: We are freest to do good for others with our resources when we owe nothing to anyone.
- Take care of your own household. Wesley instructs us not even to consider things our own that are required for the physical and spiritual well-being of those in our own families. Caring for them is as much of a duty to God as anything else we do.
- Then, give everything that remains, day by day and year by year for the good of others. He also notes that it will be impossible to address all of the needs in the world with the limitations we all have on how we can give of ourselves and our resources, so we should consider first the needs of "the household of faith," our brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever they may be.
Certainly this plan, written so long ago, doesn't spell out every detail of how we should handle giving for others today. But it is a serious call to deny ourselves and follow Jesus through giving, and as we consider this week Jesus' words that we're given each Lent, "When you give...,"we should reflect on how we can each best apply these three guidelines. (Perhaps a needed Lenten decision for some of us is to apply these things in more detail, and an excellent plan for our day is contained in Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps and Financial Peace University.)
A Prayer for the Day:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.*
A Prayer for the Week:
Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.*
*From The Book of Common Prayer
[This is part of 40 Days of Prayer: Daily Emails for Lent]