Thursday October 19, 2023 From Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving
The Old Life and the New Life “You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire.
. . . So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in a wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. . . . And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”
— Colossians 3:9, 12, 14, The Message
Vines, branches, seedtime, harvest, soils, vineyards, trees, fruits—the Bible is replete with stories that lift high the notion that God expects us to use what we have received to make a positive difference in the world around us. Fruitfulness points us toward the result, the impact, and the outcome of our work for God’s purposes and saves us from merely congratulating ourselves on our efforts, our hard work, or our input.
But as any gardener knows, the biblical stories of plants and seeds and growth and vines and branches are incomplete without the idea of pruning. Some things must go. Some ministries are no longer fruitful and some programs have served their time and are no longer relevant or effective. Fruitfulness reminds us to ask ourselves, “Do our ministries really change lives and transform the world?”
Peter Drucker, the organizational expert who focused much of his professional energy on churches and non-profits in the later years of his career, offers this as one of his top lessons for church leaders: Practice planned abandonment. Planned abandonment involves intentionally closing down work that no longer contributes to the mission.
According to Drucker, the purpose of any non-profit organization is the changed life. If we are doing work and offering ministries that are no longer shaping lives in significant ways, perhaps we should stop doing them. As we initiate new ministries, create more effective mission projects, and plan how to better reach people, are there also services, activities, and outreach ministries that we need to reduce? How do we redirect our time, energy, and financial resources toward the ministries that most help us fulfill our mission? These are tough questions, but they are questions of stewardship. Jesus says, “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:9). If it’s no longer bearing kingdom fruit, stop doing it.
Notions of fruitfulness and pruning also apply as we reflect on attitudes and behaviors in ourselves. In order for us to nurture the interior fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—we must leave behind enmity, anger, dissensions, and things like these (Galatians 5:19-23).
If we desire to become more generous, as I believe God would want for us, we will have to make some practical decisions that cause us to leave some behaviors behind. To give more to God may mean reprioritizing and spending less on other things that do not lend life and build us up. We may have to prune some expenses and change some spending habits to nurture greater generosity.
No one tithes accidentally. No one happens to have enough money left over at the end of the month to be truly generous. Extravagant Generosity requires intentionality. Tithing results from deep commitment, but also from carefully planning. We do it willingly, and willfully, or we never do it at all. We have to think about it, pray about it, talk it over, and plan for it. It’s a major decision involving everyone in the household. It requires us to change, and to begin to seek God’s priorities instead of merely our own.
The apostle Paul uses another image beside fruitfulness and pruning to describe the change that God works within us by the Holy Spirit when we follow Christ. He says that new life in Christ is like getting rid of old ill-fitting clothing and putting on new clothes that God has picked out for us (see above, from Colossians 3). Elsewhere Paul writes, “Everything . . . connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you” (Ephesians 4:23-24, The Message).