We have been learning how to pray from the famous prayer mistakenly attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. It is a kind of prayer called a formation prayer – because praying the prayer invites God to transform us to be more like the Lord Jesus Christ. We come to the end of the prayer this week with these words.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Last we thought about our ATTITUDES – not looking to have our own needs met the whole time but instead to meet the needs of others.
Grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
Last time was about attitudes – this time we are thinking about our ACTIONS.
For it is in giving that we receive;
Last summer in our morning services we looked at the eight beatitudes Matthew records in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, Jesus gave at least 9 Beatitudes – but the ninth is recorded not in the Gospels but in the Book of Acts and in the farewell sermon of the apostle Paul to the Elders at Ephesus.
Acts 20:33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: `It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
It is more blessed to give than to receive
Matthew 10:8 Freely you have received, freely give.
We live in a world that is shaped by getting – enslaved to consumerism – ruled by greed.
Prayer helps us to break free from the chains of materialism. We need to learn how to give freely, as we have freely received. Richard J. Foster, Money, Sex & Power: “Giving with glad and generous hearts has a way of routing out the tough old miser within us. Even the poor need to know that they can give. Just the very act of letting go of money, or some other treasure, does something within us. It destroys the demon greed.”
Lu 14:12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
2Co 9:6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures for ever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta
“God loves a cheerful giver. He who gives cheerfully, gives better. … We impatiently await God’s paradise, but we have in our hands the power to be in paradise right here and now. Being happy with God means this: to love as He loves, to help as He helps, to give as He gives, to serve as He serves.”
Sometimes it can be easy to give money out of our abundance –
Mother Teresa also said, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t giving.”
God calls us to give generously, and sacrificially of our time and our talents as well as of our treasures! The song has it right – it is “in giving OF OURSELVES that we receive”
It is especially appropriate to think about giving to others who have so much less of the world’s resources than we do. In Jesus’s parable about the last judgement, the parable of the sheep and the goats we read this:
Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ … `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
A poem based on that parable is very challenging.
“I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seem so close to God; but I am still very hungry, and lonely, and cold.”
You can give without loving but you cannot love without giving
It is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
Matt 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Let’s just remind ourselves how God’s kind of forgiveness works. We can usually manage to forgive people when they come and apologise to us. This it important. This is good. But it isn’t God’s kind of forgiveness. The heart of the gospel of GRACE, the heart of Christian forgiveness is that God forgives us BEFORE we repent. “It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8) As Jackie Pullinger puts it, “Jesus didn’t wait for me to make good before he died for me.” The Father is out looking waiting for the prodigal to return BEFORE the prodigal comes to his senses and returns to his Father and confesses and repents. (Luke 15) The paralysed man in Mark 2:5 is told “Your sins are forgiven” before he repents. The woman caught in adultery in John 8:11 is told “Neither do I condemn you” BEFORE she repents. God takes the initiative. It is God’s gift of His Son Jesus Christ dying for our sins which prompts our repentance, NOT our repentance which prompts God to forgive us.
So our repentance and faith are the necessary channel by which we come to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness. Only those who receive God’s forgiveness by repentance enjoy the blessings of salvation. But God’s forgiveness is UNILATERAL – originating from within God’s merciful character and made possible through the death of Christ on the cross.
So often in human forgiveness there are three steps:
1. The guilty person acknowledges their sin and apologises
2. the injured party forgives
3. the two are reconciled
With God’s unilateral forgiveness the order is changed.
1. God takes the initiative and makes a way through Christ for sinners to be forgiven
2. this prompts sinners to confess and repent
3. so sinners are reconciled to God
Let’s look at it another way:
I have here a £20 note. I could wait for you to come up to me and ask for the money and
then I would give it to you. That’s like human forgiveness – the forgiveness is prompted by the request. That’s how people usually forgive each other.
Or I could just leave the £20 note on the table here so anybody who wants it can come forward and take it. The gift is already given – but you still need to come forward to receive it. That’s like God’s free gift of forgiveness. Repentance is the way that we receive the forgiveness, but God’s forgiveness is not in response to our repentance – it comes from the generosity of God.
Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
God’s forgiveness is unilateral – God offers forgiveness BEFORE we repent. So we should forgive each other in the same way. We don’t have to wait for the other person to come and apologise before we forgive them. We should forgive them BEFORE they apologise! That’s God’s kind of forgiveness. And as Jesus commands us, we should forgive not just once or twice or seven times but seventy times seven times!
“He that demands mercy, and shows none, ruins the bridge over which he himself is to pass.” Thomas Adams (1612–1653)
If we want God to change us to be more like Jesus Christ, we need to learn to forgive. If we want to make progress in prayer, we need to learn to forgive as God forgives us.
It is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Luke 9:23 Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?
The famous words of the 20th Century martyr in South America, Jim Elliot. “That man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
We don’t here much nowadays about sacrifice. Christians (in the West at least) are not always prepared for TRUE sacrifice – to lay down their lives for Christ. In John 12 we find the parable of the grain of wheat.
John 12:23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
24 I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Here is the seed principle – the principle of the cycle of life, life through death. If we want a harvest next year we must sacrifice the grain to be seed this year. A missionary facing a dangerous assignment, was asked if she was afraid to go. She replied, “I am afraid only of one thing — that I should become a grain of wheat unwilling to die.”
We need to rediscover what it means to take up the cross and follow Christ.
Revelation 12 10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.
The last verse of Stuart Townend’s hymn, “WITH A PRAYER You fed the hungry,” says this.
I will feed the poor and hungry, I will stand up for the truth;
I will take my cross and follow To the corners of the earth.
And I ask that You so fill me With Your peace, Your power, Your breath,
That I never love my life so much To shrink from facing death.
Love incarnate, love divine, Captivate this heart of mine Till all I do speaks of You.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
The prayer which I have mistakenly attributed to Richard of Chichester when in fact it comes from Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits:
Lord give us the grace to serve you as you deserve:
To give and not to count the cost;
To toil and not to seek for rest;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To labour and not to ask for any reward
Except that of knowing that we are doing your will.