The Importance of Vision

July 24, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Consider this verse.

A generous person will prosper;  whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. Prov 11:25

Now maybe you are thinking, that’s crazy. How can giving stuff away be a good thing? How could that be a bright idea? Won’t that diminish me? If you are thinking that you are in very good company. However it a biblical truth and it is a universal truth. It is also found in the writings of sages, philosophers, wise men and women and religions throughout the ages.

There is a recent secular book called ‘The Paradox of Generosity: Giving we receive, Grasping we lose’, by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. the paradox of generositySmith leads the Science of Generosity Initiative at the University of Notre Dame in the U.S and Davidson has close involvement in the work. The study draws attention to the paradoxical, counter-intuitive nature of generosity. Here is the essence of it:

‘Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward greater flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching, it is a sociological fact.’

This is a book worth buying. It is based on two thousand surveys followed up with sixty focussed interviews with real people, Americans, some generous and some and some self admittedly far less so.

They examined generosity over five dimensions.

  • Giving money away.
  • Volunteering
  • Being generous in personal relationships
  • Being a good neighbour and friend
  • Personally valuing generosity

A life of generosity is a life where you are a giver not a taker, you are open-hearted with an open wallet. The result: generous people were happier, healthier, had more purpose in life, more friends, less depression, more opportunities and experienced more personal growth. And what’s more, the relationship of generosity with blessings was causal. Generosity was not just associated with blessing; it actually caused it. This point, being controversial, was examined in some detail.

The authors stress that the positive effects of generosity flow to those who value generosity and make it a habit of life. Making a one-off gift in some emergency, performing some incidental community service like giving blood on occasion just doesn’t cut it. The blessing of generosity accumulates to those who have internalized generosity so it is part of their DNA. Consequently it cannot be faked and does not accrue to those who give in order to get or to acquire some perceived advantage. Generosity is more like love: the more you give it away the more abundant it becomes.

They also examined the effect in the negative: the effect of lack of generosity on those who kept things for themselves.

The ultimate opposite is the miser. I certainly don’t want to be thought a miser. The miser hoards, grasps, doesn’t give, doesn’t share. Misers are not just careful with money but tight, skinflint, cheapskate. The miser is not happy.  Our word ‘miserable’ and the word ‘miser’ have the same basic meaning. They both come from the Latin root that means ‘wretched’.

The Paradox of Generosity study found that generous people were happier, healthier, had more friends, enjoyed more benefits, were more prosperous, thrived in life. The ungenerous ones were poorer in spirit and often financially, had less purpose, lived for themselves, were sicker and lonelier.

Jesus  said’ It is more blessed to give than to receive’ and it is obvious he knew what he was talking about.

To investigate this topic further see my book Giving Generously: Resourcing local church ministry.   https://givinggenerously.com/

So here is my point from the scripture, tradition and reinforced by modern sociology

Be generous. It’s good for you. It will give you great joy. It will bless others and the bible adds that it will give God glory (2 Cor 9:11).

The Importance of Vision

January 2, 2018Inline Text Rod Irvine

Recently I attended a church service for Volunteer Sunday. On this day the minister suspended the normal preaching programme to design a service and preach a sermon celebrating the many volunteers who week in week out exercised a faithful and fruitful ministry in the church and on behalf of the church in the community. I had been to such services before and with the writing of this post in mind I was especially looking forward to this service.  I was not disappointed. This church goes all out. It is never a half- hearted afterthought such as: ‘Hello everybody thanks for your ministry. Now let’s return to normal business’.

On the day the church and foyer were festooned in a celebratory atmosphere. The service and sermon had a theme of ‘hundreds and thousands’. This was meant to embody the idea of hundreds of volunteers ministering to thousands of people. Fairy bread covered with ‘hundreds and thousands’ were distributed in the foyer after the service.
volunteers-hundreds-thousands

The preacher used a very, very large adhesive board and to it, attached dozens of coloured dots which represented people in ministry and reinforced the theme. The bible passage was Romans 16 where the apostle Paul greets a galaxy of otherwise unheralded ministry friends. These are people who were highly significant in Paul’s ministry and had laboured long, diligently and effectively in gospel work but don’t get the attention that we naturally pay to figures like Peter, Paul, James and John.

The connection is easy to make. Congregations are naturally aware of the ministry of the preacher, the music director or people who pray, lead singing or read the bible. Their ministry is prominent and visible. Volunteer Sunday gives the opportunity to thank not only the prominent people but also those who humbly and faithfully serve behind the scenes. At Figtree Anglican Church, where I ministered for many years, there was an unobtrusive lady who had been folding the church bulletins, midweek, since the 1940s! What fantastic devotion and how appropriate it is to thank such a servant.

During the sermon the preacher invited people in the various ministry groups , pastoral care, missions, service, children, youth, mentoring, men’s women’s ministries to come onto the platform where he prayed for them and the congregation celebrated their service with acclamation. Many hundreds came forward and crowded the front. They were invited to stick a coloured dot to the adhesive board indicating their ministry and giving them a tangible participation in the message. Apart from the virtue of thanking God for his goodness and thanking his people for their ministry the celebrating of volunteers has other benefits in the life of the church.

First, it introduces a sense of real joy. The entire atmosphere of the service was one of delight in the Lord and his goodness. This congregation loves their church and this service is just one reason why. Second, Volunteer Sunday always acknowledges the vision and mission of the church. The ministry is not being done as a chore but for the glory of God. Celebrated leadership author Peter Drucker says that ‘Volunteers work for a cause’. Volunteer Sunday gives ample opportunity to remind everyone of the gospel imperative by which we live.

Third, it makes raising money so much easier. I discuss in detail raising money for ministry in my book, Giving Generously. It is a simple fact that people who serve in the ministry of the church in a practical way also give more money to that ministry. Volunteers are involved, invested and they are committed and are consequently more likely to be generous regular donors and respond to special appeals for financial support.

The church I refer to is a large, healthy church of very generous givers. It has over 1000 volunteers in ministry and given the way the church thanks them and celebrates their ministry, it is easy to see why.

You can find the sermon “Volunteer Sunday” by Andrew Sercombe from Gateway Baptist Church here.

The Importance of Vision

November 9, 2017Inline Text Rod Irvine

In August 2017, 53 year old Massachusetts hospital worker Mavis Wanczyk won the biggest undivided lottery jackpot in history, a massive $US 758.7 million. She immediately quit her clerical job and looks forward to her new life. Will it be a happy one? For her sake I certainly hope so. However the odds aren’t necessarily in her favour. It is not just that lottery winners can get preyed on by hungry friends and family or even worse criminal elements; It is that lottery winners don’t report getting much happier after the initial buzz wears off. In fact one classic study reported on marginally more happiness with the enjoyment of everyday life experiences than people who had suffered catastrophic accidents.
happy-money-giving

Part of the problem is that we tend not to spend money wisely. Generally the new house, new car, extra gadgets or luxury lifestyle on which lottery winners and others who came into money indulge themselves very soon pall and lose their lustre.

I read recently a fascinating book by authors Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton called ‘Happy Money’.  Its thesis is that there are ways that we can spend money that will bring increased happiness.  They list five.

  1. Buying an experience that we can anticipate share and reflect on later. I can think of a number of wonderful  holidays whose memories still give me pleasure.
  2. Treating yourself with small pleasures, such as a trip to the movies a dinner out.
  3. Buying time. I am not very handy and  recently hired a tradesman to construct some shelves in the garage. In a fraction of the time I would have spent he erected shelves far better than I could have imagined. Every time I look at them I feel a glow of pleasure and think, ‘happy money’.
  4. Paying for an item or service ahead of time as opposed to putting it on credit. There is a pleasure in anticipation rather than the groaning associated with debt.
  5. Investing in others. This is giving to someone or a worthy cause outside yourself. God’s people don’t find this surprising. Jesus said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35. This is probably best understood as meaning giving rather than accumulating.

The follower of Jesus has a cause and a kingdom to invest in that will not only be a blessing now but will count for eternity (Luke 19:9). This is why ministers of the gospel should never be timid in asking people to give to Christian ministry. Not only is it godly to give, if the request is made boldly and sensitively people will respond to the appeal and enjoy doing it, and joy will not fade.

It is too early to tell how much joy Mavis Wancyk is deriving from her windfall, but I do hope she avoids predators, reads ‘Happy Money’ and invests in worthy causes that will benefit others and glorify God.