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Learning to live a generous life

How many times have you been on a mission trip and the people you’re visiting invite you into their home and give you a wonderful meal that they can’t afford? That kind of generous living never fails to humble me – it’s counter-intuitive. Most poor people tend to hoard what little they have…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
How many times have you been on a mission trip and the people
you’re visiting invite you into their home and give you a wonderful meal
that they can’t afford? That kind of generous living never fails to humble me – it’s counter-intuitive. Most poor people tend to hoard what little they have. Giving your time and money away is unnatural behavior.
Jesus wanted his disciples to see this and to understand how to live a generous life. His disciples were like we are – thinking of themselves first.
He saw the example he needed – a poor old widow. What a contrast with the rich people! Pointing her out, Jesus made an observation that may be true of some of us: “They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
My friend John Cutts works in West Papua with Indian tribes so remote, it takes three days to find them. He wrote me, describing their generosity in the midst of their poverty.
I just arrived in the village of Puluk today, far off the beaten path and home to the Wano tribes people.  The only way in presently is either a two or three day trek or by chopper.  
Although they are hungry due to months of rain which impacts their sweet potato gardens, they somehow find the energy to work a bit. I was touched to be given 5 very small cooked sweet potatoes by the pastor when food is so scarce.  I ate 2 of the smallest ones as a gesture to show how grateful I was and then returned the others to him.  After arguing that they were for me, he finally ate the remaining three.  
I realized he had given all his food to me, knowing that if I ate them all, he would be hungry.  What humbling generosity I find even in these tough times.  His generosity is a way of life, I discover.
He recounts how 8 out of his 11 children have died while he has worked as a pastor, often in remote villages like Puluk, where no medical help is available.  I am struck with how insignificant my “trials” are compared to those faced by these bigger-than-life examples of sacrifice and dedication.
Frankly, folks, I have a hard time relating to someone so saintly. I have five children. I can’t imagine losing four of them and continuing to serve God. I’d want to just give up on life; it would just be too much. The Puluk Pastor’s example is like that of the poor old widow – overwhelming generous. He’s learned a secret that Jesus wants to share with you and me.
Have you ever been overwhelmed by a poor person’s generosity? How did you feel? How did you respond?

Comments (7)

  • While walking down a Romanian street I spotted a very old woman who was shuffling along the street with her back bent over far down. She spotted us and saw we were American and came over and started speaking the best english she knew how. She said something about market and I caught a, “stay here” and she shuffled away. She came back a half an hour later with the largest most delicious loaf of bread. She handed it to us and told us to keep it and enjoy. I was so touched she would do that for us… she walked all the way to the market bent over and bought the bread for us. My heart knew what I needed to learn and ever since I’ve been asking God to show me everyday how to be… like the old Romanian woman.

  • Everywhere I go I find that the people you think have the least to give, are the ones who give the most generously. It’s a crazy and wonderful phenomenon!

  • Back in August of this year, I went to Jardines, a remote village in Honduras for a clean water project. We went to tap a spring and run PVC pipe to 25 homes. We worked in project teams and each of our 10 Americanos were teamed up with 2-3 Honduran workers. We developed relationships over the course of the week and they each invited us to their homes to meet their families.

    One of my campaneros, Jose, lived in a 20 x 10 “house” made of small trees that were cut and stuck in the ground to make walls with a few sheets of tin as a roof. In this small house he lived with his wife and 5 children. On the fourth day of work, we were digging trench to bury the pipe that brought clean water next to his house. When we arrived at his home that morning, he brought me a 20oz bottled Coke. I didn’t want to take it, but I knew from my overseas travels that I could not refuse it. So I thanked him and and shared it with him and my other campanero.

    This gesture from a man with great need impacted me deeply. I am always humbled by the generosity of those with nothing. Once again, I returned to the states once again with a paradigm reminder.

  • This is so obvious to me each time I’m with my congolese refugee friends here in america. They are struggling to get by, to figure out this culture and living with very little oftentimes. But they ALWAYS feed me, offer me a drink, and have even made me traditional congolese dresses. I walk away regularly feeling blessed beyond measure. They offer all.

  • How I wish to see God’s people having the very heart of God.People who give everything out of nothing.This is the real unconditional love.People who give not because they expect something in return, yet they give because they express their true love because they foresee Christ’s return.They are a blessed people who gave up the practices of “give me” but live in the practices of “give you”.

  • Hmm, good Word! Two examples come to mind…
    Visiting a river village in Peru on a short-term trip, the pastor and his wife gave a precious sheep as an expression of their generosity to our team. While we normally wouldn’t have considered it the “tastiest” meal, it was a stunning example of generosity in poverty.

    I also just received a precious gift from an 11-year-old girl in CA who found me through my blog. This gift is such a beautiful expression of generosity and her heart to support the work of God in Colombia. I was moved!

  • I see this in practice every year, Seth, when I hold my donation-only garage sale in my driveway…on a busy thoroughfare in town (these facts included to point out that many people of all walks of life stop at my sales).
    By now, without the sign stating so, a number know that a large portion (around 80%) of the sale goes to the local food bank.
    In the five-plus years I have been doing this, I have repeatedly witnessed people of means (enough at least to drive up in a nice car) pick out an item or more and put a pittance in the donation box.
    While the poorest (by my observation) will take something small and basically worthless in any other venue and put either all the money they have in the box or a five, ten, or even twenty dollar bill!
    Sometimes I literally try to talk them out of paying so much…I kid you not!
    “No…no…I want to help…it’s for a good cause.”
    One year a woman rode up on a bicycle, which I learned was her only transportation. After conversation with me about the purpose of the sale, she wanted to know if she could donate some items to help the poor…then she bicycled home and hauled back a load of old clothes in the basket on her bike!
    I have been touched by such generosity of heart from those with the least every time it occurs.
    And within my limited observation I have come to believe that the poor, who know what it is to do without, have compassion and empathy for others in the same plight.
    That the “haves” with means and a comfortable existence do not.

    Much love,

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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