Apparently some of us are wired to be big spenders, while others of us are over-savers. Regardless of which side of that spectrum you may lean toward, we can all become a third type of person: someone who lives in contentment and generosity. Yet contentment and generosity don't become ours by accident. In a world like the one you and I live in, they have to be cultivated. Studies say that we receive an average of 600 advertising messages every day, and it's safe to say that every one of those is pulling us toward being a big spender (You have to buy your wife this big diamond or she may not kiss you any more), an over-saver (You need to invest now in gold, because the entire economy could collapse around us–then at least if it did...well, you would own some gold). I have yet to see any advertisement whose point is, Be content with what you have so that you can be more generous to others.
So if contentment and generosity are qualities we desire for ourselves, we need to pursue them resolutely. As Jesus indicated several verses after he said "When you give...," the way that we pursue these things is by seeking God's kingdom.
But what in the world does that mean, how are we supposed to do it, and how does it help us become content and generous?
Perhaps the simplest summary of the meaning of God's kingdom is what God is doing in our world. If God is king in any meaningful sense, surely he has say over some things and is active in some way. So when we seek God's kingdom, we seek to understand what God is doing–in our own lives, around the world, and in all of creation throughout history.
To do this, we pay attention to the same three areas that we constantly develop as Jesus' followers: our minds, our habits, and our relationships.
Then, once we begin taking next steps in each of those areas (which usually make themselves obvious to us when we start looking for them), over time we will notice something: characteristics like contentment and generosity are no longer things that we have to grit our teeth and try to force. Rather, they begin to come naturally. We might even be surprised at how easy they become, all because we've begun to learn to live in God's kingdom.
In God's kingdom, we become convinced of the truth of those opening words of Psalm 23: God is our shepherd, and therefore we will not lack anything. We no longer need to over-spend on clothes to get people to think of us in the right way. We no longer need to over-save, as if our futures were in our own hands rather than in God's. No, when we train ourselves to notice how abundantly generous God is–each day–toward us, then our fears begin to be laid aside and our big spending and over-saving naturally become transformed into contentment and generosity.
A Prayer for the Day:
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; 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]