One of my heroes was an old Texas oilman named Chester. Chester was a grandfather figure to me growing up, and he was one for whom giving was deeply ingrained as a habit. It’s likely that the majority of people who ever knew Chester have some story of his giving which few others know about, and after Chester's death it was fun to hear some of those stories surface even decades after they happened. His wife once mentioned to me that years ago Chester had a young man working with him on one of his oil rigs. Chester found out about the young guy’s desire to go to college. Rather than just wishing him luck and getting back to work, Chester told the boy, “I’ll put you through school.”
Then he did.
Chester didn’t flaunt his generosity, so I won't tell more stories of it here, but generosity was a habit for him, something that was ingrained in him deeply enough that it wasn’t at all difficult for him to give for the good of others.
Some of the moments with Chester that I’ll always cherish the most were in the last years of his life, when even though his health was declining, it gave me more chances than I’d had ever had before to just sit with him and hear stories of his life. One story from his childhood helped me to understand where his generosity came from:
He said that as a boy he was walking to town with his father one day. His father always kept a dollar bill folded up in his shirt pocket. As they were walking, a man came up to them saying that he was hungry and needed help and didn’t have any money to buy food, so Chester's father took the dollar bill from his pocket and gave it to the man.
As they kept walking, Chester said that he asked his father why he did that since it was the only dollar they had with them, and his father told him that the man asked for help, and he could help, so he gave the dollar.
Later in the day, as they made their walk back home, they walked past a saloon and saw the man to whom they’d given the dollar inside the saloon drinking. Chester said that he got angry and pointed the man out to his dad. His father’s response was, “That’s okay, son. If you give a dollar to a hundred people, ninety-nine of them might go do something like that. But think of the difference you’d make to the one who really needed it.”
I know some who have decided to give to agencies rather than giving money to individuals, but regardless of how each of us decides to approach this, it's clear that as generosity should be one of our marks as Jesus' followers. In his kingdom, we have no reason to fear being taken advantage of, so we are free to pursue being generous. We often try to make ourselves into generous people, then we just revert back to being as we always were. But with people like Chester, to whom–by the time I knew him–it was more natural to be generous than to be stingy, he never had to grit his teeth and make himself give to others while he really wanted to keep things for himself. No, his generosity began with a story like this that was deeply ingrained in him, then that story shaped his own habits throughout his life so that by the time I came along, giving to others was so deeply ingrained in him that it was a natural part of who he was.
A Prayer for the Day:
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; 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]