I may or may not have stopped a man from doing a good turn daily. Watching over a group of young scouts as they carefully ran band saw blades through their blocks of wood – with their dads also hovering close by – I turned to the owner of the woodshop with this casual, well-intended remark:
“I think it’s great that you open your shop to all these scouts to work on their derby cars. In this modern age of people so eager to sue one another, it’s an incredible risk you’re taking on. But it sure is appreciated!”
That was the last year that my friend generously opened up his woodshop to our scouts. I never learned whether my comment was at the root of his decision, but I can only imagine that I placed a fear in his heart: that he could lose everything he had worked his adult life to create, should an accident befall a child or parent on his property.
When we receive a “ping” in our hearts to help another, any reluctance to act that follows is often Devil-whispered fear. His aim is to intimidate us into passivity; after all, the inaction of not doing something good can’t be nearly as wrong as the act of doing something not good, can it?
But when we hear God’s call upon us to be generous, we can also hear His teachings on how to overcome our lie-informed reluctance. Here are some strategies to break through fear and widen our capacity for generosity:
- We can think past the fear: God gave us a keen intellect, to puzzle our way past our irrational fear to find a true perspective on what we experience. Think through to the root cause of the matter and your fear. With that new, more accurate understanding of reality, you can then think through how you should act in accordance with God’s will. “… but test everything; hold fast to what is good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21
Worried that the street-corner beggar will just drink away the cash that you would give to him? Maybe so, but think past that fear. First, understand that just like you, that man is an image-bearer of God, with inherent dignity. Second, instead of giving cash – which is corruptible – consider crafting a plan to always have a bottle of water, a granola bar, or a pair of new socks, in order to help and not harm.
- We should pray past the fear: Jesus so dreaded the imminent torture, hatred, scorn, and betrayal that He would soon receive during His passion, that He shed blood as sweat during His Garden of Gethsemane prayers. Yet it was only through that prayer that He found the strength to take on all of the sins of our fallen world and sacrifice Himself that we might live.
When the Bible tells us to “fear not!”, it’s hardly ever to tell us to not fear evil or harmful things; rather, sometimes it is God or His angels telling us to not fear their presence. More often, it is counsel to follow His direction – despite our fears, because of His abiding presence. Just as Jesus was mortally afraid of the cup that He was called to bear – but prayed through it – so, too, should we pray past our fears of whatever lesser cup of generosity we are asked to bear.
- We must act past the fear: Joseph of Arimathea had much to lose in removing Jesus from the cross, shrouding Him in linen cloths, and foregoing his own tomb for his King. As a wealthy member of society and a supposed leader in the Jewish temple, his risks were financial, positional, cultural – and in the face of a riot-busting Roman empire, perhaps even existential. And yet he is depicted as a man of action in his generosity toward the slain Savior. Some pings that call upon us to be generous might require time in contemplation; many just require a compassionate response, promptly.
When I reflect on my own generosity – more often, on the limits on it – I’m struck by how often my own personal fears have been a factor in decisions that I did, or didn’t make … on actions that I did or did not take. As a work in progress, I humbly look to think and to pray whenever I feel called to help and to give, so that increasingly I will act more, and with more good cheer, than I have ever imagined I could.
The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.