This morning I had the song "He owns the cattle on a thousand hills" running through my mind because tomorrow I will be preaching on giving. The song references Psalm 50:
That verse raises the question "Why do we give? After all, it's not like God needs my money!" By extension, we could also expand that question to "Why do we serve? After all, it's not like God needs my help in doing His work in this world!"
The short answer (and a perfectly legitimate answer) is "Because God commanded it!" But that answer is not sufficient, since Paul, in 2 Corinthians 9:7, tells us that we must not give "under compulsion." And fulfilment of a command is a compulsion, or responsibility.
Why do we give? Why do we serve? Because God is doing a great and wonderful work in this world, and we delight to be part of that work. Further, because He is our Father, He delights to have us join in that work with Him.
I have a three year old daughter who likes to draw with me. She'll come down to my office where I'm working and say to me, "Daddy, draw a picture with me!" So I'll pull out my art supplies, sit her in my lap, and we'll begin.
"What should we draw?" I'll ask.
"A silly creature!"
She will begin telling me what the silly creature should look like. Four arms, seven heads, three horns, and on the list goes. She laughs as I draw, and I smile as I listen to her next instruction.
When the picture is drawn, we take colored pencils in hand and work side by side on it. When the picture is complete, we sit back and admire it, and she takes it upstairs to show mama.
Here's what we all know about this activity: I don't need my daughter's help when it comes to drawing silly creatures (or anything else, for that matter). I'm perfectly capable of doing it on my own. So why do I involve her in the process? Because she's my daughter, and I delight to work side by side with her.
And why does she want to draw pictures with me? Because I am her father, so it is also her delight.
So it is with us and God. He is our Father. It is our delight, and His, to work side by side in the wonderful work He is doing in this world. Not out of compulsion, but cheerfully, for the sheer joy of working with our Heavenly Father.
When I was a teenager, I painted a picture of a snowy scene with trees in the foreground and a farmhouse in the background. It was not a masterpiece, but even today when I look at it, I'm surprised at how good it was for a teenaged dabbler!
It was painted on canvas board, and on the back of it I wrote my name. I gave it to my grandparents as a Christmas gift one year. Fast forward about 20 years to when my grandfather had passed away, and my grandmother needed to downsize - that painting came back to me.
Around that time, I had some students who were trying to raise money for a missions trip. They were doing a yard sale, and were looking for donations of items to sell. I had just received this painting back, and thought, "Well, they might be able to get some money for it." So I gave them the painting. They sold it, and that was the end of the story...or so I thought.
A few years later I got a phone call from an elderly lady, and the call went something like this:
Her: "Is this Douglas?"
Her: "Are you an artist?"
Me: "Well, I wouldn't call myself an artist, but I do dabble in drawing and painting. Why?"
Her: "I think I have a painting of yours here." (She then went on to describe the painting, which I recognized as the winter scene)
Me: "Yes, that sounds like one of mine."
The conversation got a little odd at that point; the woman suggested that I might like to buy the painting from her. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on, but eventually she admitted that she goes around to yard sales looking for local artwork, figuring that the artist might be interested in buying their artwork back from her. Apparently she made some decent money doing this. I assured her that I had already given the painting away twice, so I wasn't exactly attached to it, and I was perfectly happy to have her keep it.
At that point, she decided that since she wasn't going to make any money off the painting, and she hadn't purchased it to display in her home, she might as well just give it back to me. So we arranged for me to pick it up the next day when I was passing by her home.
So now that picture, like a boomerang, has returned to me twice. It is now displayed in my office where I see it on a regular basis. Not because it's a masterpiece, but because it serves me as an object lesson of a verse in Ecclesiastes 11:
This is generally regarded as a symbolic picture of sowing seed; the word "bread" used here is a word which is also used for seed, and seed was often broadcast into the soil during the flooding season in low-lying areas. Thus, the meaning becomes, "Liberally toss seed, and you will be rewarded with a harvest."
I wonder if Jesus was thinking of this verse in Ecclesiastes when he said:
I'm not going to pretend that it always works like I described above; we can't expect that if we give object X away, we will get that exact thing returned to us, but it serves as a reminder to me that God treasures our generosity, and rewards it.
A couple verses later in Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon writes:
Understanding this to be a follow-up to verse one, we recognize that, if we watch too closely our own life circumstances, those circumstances may prevent us from the kind of generosity God desires. The picture is of generosity that is reckless and confident. Reckless because it takes no thought of our own circumstances, and confident because of our faith that God our provider is taking thought for our circumstances.