Giving without holding anything back

Proverbs 21

We have entered birthday party season.

That’s when school is in swing and the invitations start coming home rapid fire, weekend after weekend.  With my three girls all in school now, birthday party season has become a significant family investment.

We now have ground rules.

My kids announce the latest invitation before the minivan door even closes at the end of the school day, and I ask this all-important question:

Is this a real, actual, true friend?

This isn’t just a peripheral acquaintance whose last name you don’t know.  This isn’t the kind of ‘friend’ who sits across the room from you, one you never play with on the playground, and someone you’ve never actually seen eat lunch.

This is an actual friend.  You can tell me her full name, her likes and dislikes and something she might have in her lunchbox.

Once we’ve passed the true friend test and the calendar test (does this even remotely work with our crazy schedule), we’re on to planning a gift.

My kids love picking gifts for their friends.

Now, they sometimes lose a little perspective.  It happens.  We scan the aisles of the local Wal-Mart and they pick out gifts in the $50 range.

I re-direct them until we finally find IT: the perfect gift for the true friend.  Into the cart it goes and we tote it home with excitement.

Then, my kids spend the next week gazing longingly at this present as it sits on my dresser waiting to be wrapped.

It’s a good present.

In fact, it’s now exactly what they themselves would like for Christmas (hint, hint, hint).

My youngest daughter asks me, “Mom, did you happen to buy two of those?”

Now, I know full well my Mom-intentions.  I will surely buy this same prize gift, wrap it up for her and set it under the tree for Christmas morning.

But she doesn’t know that…and I don’t promise her that.

Maybe I want her to be surprised.

But maybe also this—I want her to give away the very best without knowing if she’ll get it back.

Sometimes we’re reluctant gift-givers.

We give out of excess.  We give from confident positions of wealth and security.  We give what we know we can do without.

We clear out cabinets of unwanted canned food during food drives and sometimes we don’t even look at the expiration date.

We clean out closets and send on clothes that are worn, outdated, faded, and even stained.

Yet, our offerings to God and our gifts to others should require sacrifice, not just out of our more-than-enough; we should give our best gifts to a God who has given His ALL to us.

And when we give, we let go.

We don’t hang on tight, trying to dictate how our gift is used, making sure God makes the most of it, making sure the sacrifice was worth it, making sure we’ll get it back.

I read this week what God asked His people to give:

You are to give them the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first wool from the shearing of your sheep (Deuteronomy 18:4 NIV).

I’ve always thought about their sacrifices to God needing to be unblemished, needing to be pure, needing to be worthy.

But what God asked here was for the gift of the first: the first grain, wine, oil, and the first wool from a newly sheared sheep.

In her book Scouting the Divine, Margaret Feinberg describes how the first shearing is a once-in-a-lifetime offering:

Each sheep’s best wool comes only for its first-ever haircut, with every subsequent shearing decreasing in value.  I was intrigued by the idea that God asked for…a shearing that could never be recovered.”

They had to give God what they knew they would never ever get back from Him.  They had to trust that He’d care for and provide for them anyway.

We also have to give and trust God with the results.

For me, it means giving God my best writing and not telling Him what to do with it.  Just laying it down and leaving the results up to Him.

As a mom, it means skipping sleep and sometimes missing meals, certainly giving up moments of peace and my own personal agenda (and so much more).

We sacrifice as wives, as friends, as moms, as leaders, as teachers, as caregivers.

We give and give and give and give.  We pour out.  We take our greatest gifts, the very best of our offering, and we lay it right down, and we sacrifice without knowing if we’ll get anything back.

Because this is our offering to God: Not just the gifts themselves, but how we trust Him to care for us even when we’ve given our best away.

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2015 Heather King

Not Perfect, But All

It’s beautiful.

Not perfect, but beautiful.

The stitches aren’t tightly even, each one the same and pulled taut against the next in one long continuous line of knitted row after knitted row.  There are mistakes.  There are corrections.

There is learning.

But the beauty is there, unmistakable, the beauty of a gift, of an offering that took sacrifice and thoughtfulness and care.

Why else would an eight-year-old devote so much of her summer vacation to discovering the favorite colors of others and knitting them hand-made scarves to suit?yarn heart

As she knits, she learns.  Each scarf goes faster.  Each row becomes more even.

Less mistakes.  Less dropped stitches.  Less recovery and fewer requests: “Mom, can you help me?”  At first, I’m checking almost every row, periodically unraveling stitches to reach the start of all the trouble.

Two steps forward, one step back.  Sometimes more.

Now, though, her needles fly and she doesn’t carry me mistakes to fix; she brings me finished work with pride, with joy in the making and joy in the giving.

She hasn’t made a single scarf for herself.  Only for others.  Even her sisters line up stuffed animals who (clearly) need mini-scarves for the fall and winter season, and she knits a special order for a toy monkey and toy cat.

But those first scarves, like the wobbly steps of a weak-kneed toddler, aren’t perfect.

Still she gives.

And they are still beautiful.

I look up on a Sunday morning from my place at the piano keys to see one of the recipients on the church stage, draped with a yellow scarf,  a handmade gift from my daughter.

She wears the present with joy and I’m struck by the beauty—the beauty of one who cherishes the treasured offering of another without criticism, complaint, or the impossible standards of hostage-holding perfection.

And I’m struck by the beauty of my daughter, who gives not to show off, but to show love.

Perfectionism paralyzes….

We hoard and we hide because our offerings aren’t perfect.

She’s more capable, more talented, more equipped, more recognized…

He’s more educated, more bold, more articulate….

We compare, we fret, we worry, we feel so insufficient, and so we don’t offer any gift at all for fear of the failing.

My daughter knitted this summer.

I edited, proofread, wrote.

I sat in front of a word processor staring at the final draft of my book, tasked with proofing the text for the very last time, looking for spelling errors, for periods out of place, and for missing words.

My impulse was to hold on.

It’s been over two years since I finished writing that book, and now looking back I want to tinker and adjust, alter and amend.   I want to patch this here and fix that there.

But at some point, I had to attach the file to an email and hit send.  Off it goes, out of my hands, into the hands of the editor and on to the printer.  It’s done and I can’t go back anymore.

Perfectionism screams, “There’s always more to do.  Don’t ever offer up what isn’t absolutely right.”

But then there would be no offering.

Not now.  Not ever.  I’d wake up one day long from now and realize that I never gave because what I had was never good enough.

Better to offer as my daughter does: 

Giving with passion…

Giving with love…

Giving out of hard work and effort and time…

Growing, learning, improving, but only through the doing and the giving….  That is, after all, how we learn, not with the giving up or the hiding away, not with the wishing for more or the lost opportunities.

We learn through the mistakes, through the process, through the work itself and through the handing it over, an offering to God, a gift to others.

God didn’t call perfect people or those already equipped.

He called those willing to go and do.

Like the prophet, Amos, we know our own weaknesses, but we give anyway:

Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’ (Amos 7:14-15 NIV)

A shepherd.  A fig-grower.  That’s what he was.

God called

He obeyed.

God used.

God received the glory.

Thus, we lay down our gifts all full of holes and mistakes, with corrections and revisions, ones that aren’t perfect but ones that we labored over long.  We place them down on the altar and offer them up for His use, for His glory, for His name.

And then we go back and strive again, never for ourselves, always to give anew.

Never giving perfect.  Instead, giving all.

Heather King is a busy-but-blessed wife and mom, a Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Devotions from my Garden—Sacrificing Violets

Just over eight years ago, my husband and I packed a UHaul with our belongings and made the long drive from New Jersey to Virginia, settling into our new home.

At the time, a towering oak tree stood in front of our house with English ivy spilling over the roots and along the base.  It was a sad day when they told us the tree had to come down; too close to the house, too close to the septic system, too dangerous in a hurricane.

Such a lovely, stately tree.  Such quaint and romantic English ivy.

But we made the sacrifice to avert future disaster and the tree company hauled its branches down and then the trunk itself.  But they left the stump in place, which still sits even now as the centerpiece for my front garden.

Over time, I realized that the tree had produced offspring before the men attacked it with their chainsaws.  On the corner of my front garden grew a baby oak, not a tiny sapling easily yanked out by bare hands.  A thick sprout of a tree with roots down deep.

It was ugly there.  It was off-center and inconvenient.  After each rain it seemed to grow exponentially overnight, overshadowing the blooms of nearby calla lilies and violets.

It annoyed me.

I tried pulling it up, but I’m no Goliath.  I couldn’t even budge the stubborn baby oak an inch.  So, I compromised, cutting it down every few weeks so it was slightly less conspicuous and ugly than before, but never fully uprooting it.

Today, I stared at the towering leaves of my garden enemy once again in disgust and frustration—and determination.  It just had to come out!

I attacked it with my shovel, digging deeper than I ever had tried before and hurting my back while yanking and twisting its roots every few minutes.

Then I realized the sad truth.  In order to dig down to disengage the tree’s roots, I had to dig up my sweet violets growing nearby.

I had to make another sacrifice in order to accomplish the work.  After a tiny moment of sadness, I sunk the shovel deep once again and finally heard the roots snap before I pulled the tree free from the ground.

It took me about five years of battle with stems, roots and offshoots, but I finally won the day and victory was sweet.

Despite all the assertions to the contrary, the Christian life is and should be a life of sacrifice. It’s not a guarantee of abundance or comfort, coziness or material success, health, wealth, prosperity and all the trappings of “the good life.”  Jesus never promised the American Dream.

Of course, the sacrifices we make are almost always greater than digging up violets in order to oust an inconvenient tree.  Yet, they do often involve uprooting and turning over our hearts.

That’s what sacrifice does—it demands that nothing else at all matters more to us than God–not sin, not personal comfort.  Sacrifice ensures that we can give any of that up, even if it’s painful and difficult, for the sake of His name.  It’s a way of knocking over the idols and false gods that take precedence in our time, resources, and priorities.

It’s acknowledging that He is God alone.

But it only happens when the sacrifice is truly sacrificial, when it actually costs something.  Anyone can give to God out of our abundance and excess and we might feel an ugly sort of righteous pride about it.  Look what we did for God.  Look how generous we are.

Yet, when King David longed to build an altar and give an offering to God, he searched for land on which to build.  The owner of the chosen plot, eager to help out the king, promised the land as a free gift to David.

David refused, saying,

“No, I insist on buying it from you for a price, for I will not offer to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing”  (2 Samuel 24:24—HCSB).

In the same way, after rich and powerful men paraded into the temple and loudly plopped their tithe into the box, looking for praise and accolades from the bystanders, a widow walked behind them.

Without showiness or shame, she gave her offering of two coins and Jesus noticed.  Others fawned after the wealthy who had done little more than give to God what was leftover after they paid their dues to the country club.

Jesus said, “she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on” (Mark 12:44).

This isn’t a devotional about money.  Sacrifice isn’t limited to cash and coin.

This is about giving to God every part of us, every stronghold, every dream, every luxury, every need and trusting Him with it.

Maybe it’s how we spend our time.  Maybe it is about money.  Maybe it’s about what we watch, read, and download onto our iPod.  Maybe it’s being willing to lay a dream at His feet and walk away, leaving it in His hands instead of your own.

How are we giving to God in a way that costs us?

After all, Christ gave His very life to us.  Surely we can give more than violets in return.  Surely we can refuse to sacrifice to God an offering that costs us nothing.

More Devotions From My Garden:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 06/02/2012

Hiding the Word:

It’s a season of celebration.

Our family is celebrating graduations and the end of the school year, ballet recitals, concerts, plays, birthdays, and the 50th wedding anniversary for my husbands’ parents.

So, on a bright and beautiful day like today, a morning of sunshine and cool breezes on the day after torrential downpour and tornadoes hit our area, it seems fitting to meditate on a Psalm of celebration.

Our verse for the week is:

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
    let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
    you cover him with favor as with a shield (Psalm 5:11-12 ESV).

Last night after my daughters’ ballet recital, families hovered under umbrellas and still arrived soaking wet to their cars.  One man stayed long after most others had left, offering to walk people to their vehicles if they didn’t have an umbrella, holding his over their heads so they could escape some of the drenching.  

I can imagine God covering us with “favor as with a shield” in a similar way.  How it’s all about his grace and kindness to us. How it’s self-sacrificing.  How it offers us more perfect protection than any umbrella off the shelves of Wal-Mart.

Now that’s something to celebrate!

Weekend Rerun:

My Two Cents

Originally posted on May 9, 2011

 

With beach season approaching, I’ve been thinking . . . I’d like thinner legs.
While I’m placing orders, I’d also love to have wavy hair with no streaks of gray in it.
No glasses would be nice, too.
Yes, then I’d look really great . . . not at all like me, but great.

Fortunately, I don’t really like the beach, so I don’t dwell on these issues for long.  It’s dangerous really to look around at other people and compare ourselves to them, not just physically, but spiritually, too.  While I’m baring the deepest, darkest parts of my soul with you, I might as well honestly admit that I struggle with this at times.

For me, the trap comes primarily when I’m reading.  As a lover of words, I tend to fill every available minute with reading of some kind, even if it’s just five minutes while standing in a line.  And as I read, there are moments when I think, “If I could just change myself in this way or that way, I’d be better able to serve God.”

I don’t have the impact of this woman, the poetic mastery of language like another, the scholarly education like her, the testimony of this woman or the vast Scripture memorization like another . . . When it comes to spiritual matters, I confess I sometimes want to swap out parts of me for what looks better, not really out of jealousy or pride, but just because I long to give to God the best offering possible.

For most of us, our deep down motives are pure and true.  Out of a desire to worship and give glory, though, sometimes we glance to our sides at the offerings of others and feel we fall short.

What about you?  Have you ever looked around and wished you prayed like her, knew exactly what God called you to do like him, knew Scripture as well as she did, or had the same spiritual gift as a friend?

The eye in the Body of Christ wants to be the foot or the hand wants to be the mouth.  Imagine the Body of Christ as a Mr. Potato Head—now how silly would we look?  Unfortunately, when we eyes spend all our time trying to be feet, the Body of Christ is blind and clumsy, tripping all over itself.

“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20). 

Your gifting, your passion, your past, your experiences are all uniquely packaged together by God to form you and mold you into the vessel of His choosing.

And all He asks is that we raise our hands to release what He has already given to us:
the fullness of the talents He has bestowed
and the passions He has stirred up deep in the fires of our hearts
the issues that make us raise our voices as we step onto soapboxes
the service that we wake in the morning excited to perform
the experiences from our past that soften our hearts and make us tender to those hurting in our midst.

Our arms heavy-laden with all that we have received from Him, we then lift it all back up in worship.

We’re the only ones at times looking around to compare the gift we bring to the presents of the other worshipers.  God isn’t sifting through the gift table, shaking packages and estimating value or peeking at the cards looking for the names of the gift-bearers.

It’s just us—watching the gift table and shifting our gaze with embarrassment when another attendee brings in a cumbersome package wrapped in paper all silver and topped with a ribbon so fancy.  Then another lays on the table a gift bag filled to overflowing, tissue paper barely covering the treasures inside and we want to take our gift back.  It’s not enough.  Not for a King so worthy.  Not for a God we adore.

The widow in the temple, though, knew that true worship simply meant giving all that she had, sacrificially placing her “two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents” as an offering to God (Mark 12:42).

Others had given more, even ostentatiously so.  “Many rich people had thrown in large amounts” (Mark 12:41).  She could have watched from the corners of the temple in shame at the earthly value of what others gave and walked away clutching her cent pieces, confident that God would despise a gift so meager.

And yet, she didn’t.   And nor did He.

She gave.  He noticed.

He called His disciples over to learn from her.  Men who would eventually be asked to give up everything—even their very lives—-learning how to give sacrificially from a pauper widow almost lost in a crowd of those richer and more important than her.  All because she “put in everything” when she gave to God.

What two cents are you laying at the altar?  Your spiritual gift, your ministry, your service to your church, your sacrifice for your family, your care for another, your laying aside of personal dreams, your causes, your secret encouragement for a friend.  It’s being a hand when He made you to be a hand and being an eye when He asked you to be the eye in a body of Christ that is so dependent on every organ.

Your two cents is a gift precious to God; He only asks us to give what we ourselves have been given.

As I finish up today, I’m listening to Paul Baloche sing Offering.  I hope you take a moment to worship with me.

Offering
by Paul Baloche

I bring an offering of worship to my King
No one on earth deserves the praises that I sing
Jesus may You receive the honor that You’re due
O Lord I bring an offering to You
I bring an offering to You

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Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King