Bishop Sam Jacobs urges all to be generous because the Lord is generous to us . . .
God has blessed each one of us in ways beyond our comprehension or expectation. The proper response to blessings received is heartfelt gratitude. We know that we can never equalize the many blessings of God because his blessings are constant, continual and overabundant.
Furthermore, our gratitude is limited to what he has already given us. Our mind, our will, our voice, our body and our material goods all came from God. It’s like a person receiving a cake from someone and, in turn, giving that person a slice of the cake in gratitude. What have we received that is not from God?
In a sense, it’s not so much what we give back to God as much as the attitude with which the gift is made. If a child coming home from school plucks a wild flower from a field and brings it home to his mother, the flower will likely be wilted by the time the exchange is made. The mother doesn’t see a wilted flower but the child’s sincere love. The amount is not what the Lord sees but the attitude of the heart. The widow’s mite in the Gospel is a clear example of this.
No matter what we return to God, we can never outdo his generosity. Many years ago, a ministry I was part of had a substantial debt with the diocese. Our team was determined to eliminate the debt as quickly as possible. One night on the way to an event, I heard God challenge me to step out in faith with boldness when I made the love offering appeal. I heard in my heart to ask some people to give $5,000, $1,000 or whatever they could to defray this debt. I could do that.
Then God pushed me further. I felt him saying in my heart to tell the people that if they gave $5,000, they would get it back in a month — and if they didn’t, I would give it back to them. I literally did a double-take when I heard this. Was that God, or was that me? After prayer, I decided that it was God. So I made the appeal as given to me. Three people each gave $5,000, and within the month they received that and more from God. We don’t give to receive. But if we give to God, we will receive more than we gave in different ways besides monetarily.
The Word of God confirms this. Paul writes: “Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Cor 9: 8-10).
Sometimes we become a little more conservative or guarded in our generosity during difficult economic times. This puts us in a paradoxical position. We want God to help us get through the difficult times, but we hold back in being the good stewards we were in good times. Is it because we lack trust in God to provide for us in dire moments? Instead, we want to see what God will do before we respond in generosity. What if God waited for us to be good stewards even before seeing what he will do for us?
The attitude God is looking for in our hearts is that of the three young men in the Old Testament who refused to worship anything but God alone. In a final threat to dissuade them in their refusal, the king said, “What god can save you from the fiery furnace I am about to throw you into if you do not worship the golden statue?” Their answer was to the point: “We know God can save us. But whether he does or not, we will not worship anyone but God alone.” They were thrown into the furnace but remained unscathed by the fire.
Whether God will provide for us or not, we are called to be faithful to our commitment of gratitude through the stewardship of time, talent and treasure. Our generosity is not only if God blesses us at this moment, but whether he blesses us now or not, he has already blessed us. As a result we cannot be grateful enough.
Who can pay God back for the gift of physical life? For the gift of eternal life? For the forgiveness of our many sins — even those of the future? For his everlasting love? For his manifold blessings? For good health? For the freedoms we enjoy? There is no end to his blessings. There should be no end to our generosity in thanksgiving.
This is really the capstone: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Lk 12: 48). It is better to err on the side of generosity than on the side of holding back, especially when we will one day have to give an account of our lives.
Bishop Sam Jacobs is Legatus’ international chaplain and the ordinary of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, La.