Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Generous Heart

For the past few years I’ve been using a Chronological Bible broken down into daily readings.  I love it because it helps me to see things in context.  Reading Psalm 51 after the narrative of David’s adultery adds depth to his cry “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”  Reading all the ‘minor’ prophets within the context of the two kingdoms and captivity helps make sense of their angry words.  Reading all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ time in Gethsemane, His arrest, trials, and crucifixion is grueling and exhausting.  And then the Resurrection stories one after another are like a sudden burst of sun through the clouds. 
Right now I’m in Exodus, in the desert.  Moses has called for gold, silver, spices, etc., so that Bezalel and Oholiab can build and furnish the tabernacle to God’s exact specifications (Exodus 25-31).  The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, their lives regulated and controlled by the Egyptians, all the way to having to kill their own sons.  They certainly would not have had a huge stock of precious stones and fine linen. 
How did they get all this stuff in the desert?  When God delivered them from Egypt, Moses told the Israelites to ask their captors for clothing and gold and silver.  In fear, the Egyptians virtually throw all their wealth at them (Exodus 12:35-36).  So, now the former slaves are asked to give up some of this bounty. 
As I read these chapters today, what jumped out at me was this:  Even though these treasures are only in the Israelites’ hands because of His intervention, God does not demand the gifts to be brought.  Instead He tells Moses to accept from those who are willing.  In the NLT it says those with ‘generous hearts’ (Exodus 35:4). 
Just a few chapters earlier the Israelites had given up gold for a different purpose, the making of a golden calf (Exodus 32).  Aaron didn’t ask for those who were willing.  Instead, he tells the people to strip earrings from their wives and kids (Exodus 32:2).  God, who had every right to demand, does not.  Aaron, with no rights, does.  Despite their sinfulness, God desires gifts given from willing hearts. 
What does that tell me?  First of all, like the Israelites, I am reminded that without God’s intervention I was a slave with nothing to offer Him.  Through His power, I have been freed and given every good gift through the Holy Spirit.  How generous is my heart in how I use them in His service?  Do I willingly offer, or am I stingy, not wanting to give to the point of inconvenience?  Jesus did not stop giving until He was completely poured out for our sakes.  God did not stop His gift until He descended into hell, breaking the power of death over us.    
The Israelites gave and gave and gave (Exodus 35:20-21).  It is humbling to see that these messed up, sinful Israelites gave such an abundance.  This was, of course, before Jesus came and demonstrated His perfect sacrifice.  How much more generous should my heart be, on this side of the cross?    
The outpouring of gifts was so great that Moses actually had to tell them to stop bringing things (Exodus 36:6-7).  I think this means there was plenty left over for the Israelites to enjoy.  It is counter-intuitive, but when I worry about how much I can afford to give, there never seems to be enough.  When I recall that nothing I have was actually mine to begin with, I can loosen the tight grip I have on my stuff, my time, my life. 
I want to be generous, not just in my giving, but in the way my heart sees the world.  I’ve got a long, long way to go.  I’m so thankful that God, in His infinite generosity, is so patient!  Open my eyes, open my hands, open my heart!!  May I give my everything, because in that giving, I will find I have everything!

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