While working in counseling practice, I accepted many, many Medicaid clients. And I met hundreds of people, over the years, who were not working for a variety of reasons. Most of them wanted to work, but for whatever reason, were not able to. For example, I met people who were disabled. I met people who couldn’t find work. I met some drug addicts who couldn’t hold a job, even though they tried. And so on. I also noticed that it didn’t matter what the reason for their unemployment, they were generally more depressed, more anxious and more unhappy than those clients who were productive in some way.
There was an exception to that, however. And it’s important, I think, to understand the difference. The people who were unemployed, but still had some way to contribute in some way tended to be happier and more positive. As an example, I met a man who was disabled from a traumatic brain injury. He used to own a large construction firm, but could no longer focus well enough to do that work any longer. I asked him, as we were talking, what he did to pass his time now. He said that all winter he worked in a homeless shelter as a volunteer. And then, to balance his life out, in the summer, he traveled around the country camping in public campgrounds – something he loved to do. While he was in the same campground I was in, I noticed he took several day hikes and found interesting things to do for himself. He could no longer hold a job, but he found a way to help others less fortunate and a way to enjoy his life without a lot of money. The point I want to make from his example is that it’s not necessary to make money from work – only to be productive and useful in some way. He found that in working in the homeless shelter. His life was definitely easier than the lives of many I have met who were not productive for whatever reason. I can imagine what his life would be like if he just gave up and sat around in his small house, or his apartment, all the time with nothing to do.
This presentation, then, is about making a contribution to those around us. This way makes life easier than a non-giving lifestyle. Notice also that, as promised, this topic is not one of those things we hear associated with ease. People tend to think work is hard, rather than easy. So, we’ll take a look at the psychology and the spirituality behind contributing to someone or something outside ourselves in this presentation.
Let’s look first at the psychological information. There’s a mountain of it. We can’t cover it all, but some interesting things. One of the things I learned is that giving is generally considered good for us – among most peoples. A quote here from Saint Francis of Assisi: “For it is in giving that we receive.” Leo Tolstoy: “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get and we make a life by what we give.” Here’s one: “Giving back is as good for you as it is for those you are helping, because giving gives you purpose.” “When you have a purpose-driven life, you’re a happier person.” You know who said that? Goldie Hahn. Good for her!
Let’s talk about the fact that giving feels good. Here’s something from one of the Websites I read on this topic: “And so we learn early it is better to give than to receive. The venerable aphorism is drummed into our heads from our first slice of shared birthday cake. But is there a deeper truth behind this truism? The resounding answer is, ‘Yes!’ Scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Through FMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex – feel good parts. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hard-wired into the brain and it’s pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier, but also healthier, wealthier, more productive and meaningful.” Quite a quote!
So, this research supports statements that I and others have made regarding God’s creation of man. He made us with the capacity to be like Him. Let’s look at Ephesians 2:10, where Paul said:
Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
When we look at the psychological literature, there are some different ways that psychologists view giving and why we tend toward it. One of them they call the evolutionary viewpoint. And that says that we give to perpetuate our genetics – you know, it’s an evolutionary thing. The second one they call egoistic. That’s giving for the intrinsic good feeling that we get from it or for some external reward. I think that we can see that, since giving, helping and contributing can produce positive feelings in us, sometimes we give to others for that reason – but not always. A third one I ran across was called altruism. This is more the way God teaches us – to help others – because it’s good for everybody.
They also talk a little bit about – sort of a cautionary thing – giving judiciously. No matter the reason, everyone seems to agree that helping others is good for us, as long as we give judiciously. Well, what does that mean? I got an email from a friend once who told me he was in Europe. His luggage, including his boarding passes for home, were stolen and he needed X number of dollars to get a new ticket and get some food. So, I felt sorry for him until I started thinking about it. You probably know that I was being phished. Someone had gotten our emails and was trying to get money from me dishonestly. They might have even sent one to him from me. I don’t know. But, giving in that case is not a judicious use of funds. I think we can agree. Have you ever offered to buy a meal for someone standing at a stop light with a sign. They don’t want food. They want money. Why do you suppose? Well, we don’t know. Sometimes it goes to drugs or other things that we wouldn’t condone – something that wouldn’t be helpful to that person really.
I learned quickly in counseling that there are any number of people who present themselves to be fixed – they want me to do the work. I can never help those people, unless I can get them off that position and to realize that they need to do the work. And most of the time, I’m not able to do that. So, I made a rule for myself – not just for counseling, but for life: Help people do what they cannot do for themselves. God wants us to do what we can for ourselves. And helping people do what they could do for themselves actually enables dependence and learned helplessness. Plus, I actually learned that people appreciate it when you help them do things they can’t do for themselves, and they take it for granted when you’re doing things for them that they could have done by their own effort. Following that rule helps me help more people who will benefit, and so it makes my life more productive. It wasn’t until I figured this out for myself that I happened to run across the psychological support for that position. And I always knew that the Bible says and show us the same. “Answer not a fool according to his folly.” Don’t go with the problem.
Since I mentioned the Bible, let’s see what the Bible shows us about the subject. God couches the process of giving within the attitude of love. Let’s look at Matthew 22, starting in verse 37, where Jesus said to His disciples:
Matthew 22:37 – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.
So, he was to people in the New Testament and using the Old Testament law – pointing to the core of it – as what we should do. Be moved to compassion for those in dire need.
1 John 3:16-18 – By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. We need to be active in loving others, like Jesus was active in loving us – to the point of laying down His own life for us. And then John says in verse 17: But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. So, if you see something that needs to be done, do it!
There’s also another concept that broadens the discussion in the biblical term good works. We heard that term earlier. There are many, many ways to make contributions to others. Here’s something to take note of: Anyone can do good works. Picking up a piece of trash is a good work. Everyone benefits. We all like random acts of kindness – very popular term that really kind of spells it out.
I think about the value that is the basis for LifeResource Ministries. We founded this organization to help children – all children – develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. We know that God does this first through parents, and then through those in the congregation who are sensitized to their responsibility to other people’s children. That would include the ministers and their wives.
What are the needs that children have in the development of their relationship with God? They need the rest of the congregation to provide a spiritually safe secure congregational environment for them. When we listen to those who have left the faith, they talk generally about three things: defective parental example and treatment, congregational discord and instability, and exclusion. Safety would include inclusion at a developmentally appropriate level. Safety would include a congregation full of people who know that unity is good and division is bad, and who will swallow pride to be unified. That means turf wars between adults inhibit the inclusion of others. What’s a turf war? Well, “I’m the one who makes the coffee around here!” Can you hear it? It’s staked out, right? No room to include children in that activity.
For years, the church I was in spent a lot money and time producing activities for young people. It’s what we knew to do, sad to say. What they really needed was to encounter adults in their congregation who knew their names and wanted to talk to them. What they really needed was a congregation that included in adult activities – social and work – instead of producing isolated activities for them. What they really needed was a minister who made an effort to be accessible to them when he spoke – to keep the whole audience in mind. Winston Churchill said that when he spoke, when he prepared his speeches for Parliament, he attempted to speak to people who were at a five-year-old level. He said that when he did that, the adults called it clarity. So, what kids really need is somebody that will consider that when he talks to the whole group. They should be included in the mind of the speaker. All these efforts are an aspect of the good works Paul and the rest spoke of in the New Testament.
In Bible times, there was no social category called teenage. Children, at about thirteen, started doing the things adults did with adults. You can’t learn how to fit in as an adult from other young people. It’s interesting that, at twelve years old, Jesus was in the temple teaching. And He could do that because culturally, by that age, He was accepted as a man at temple. It’s interesting that, after saying all this, most people who live in Western culture will still consider efforts with children as kind of a side light and give less weight to it. Jesus didn’t. Look in Matthew 18:6. He said to His disciples:
Matthew 18:6 – …but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. That’s some pretty direct talk!
Let’s also notice that inclusion is not just something for children. We all need to find a way to fit in and to include others. Jesus said that there are many mansions – many places in the government – that He’s going to bring to the earth, and that they need to be filled – and will be filled – by us. There’s going to be a place for everyone. And contributing is one of the most important ways that we can belong now.
Let’s look at an example in the Bible. It’s in Mark 12:41.
Mark 12:42 – And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. So, you can see them. He’s opposite – somewhere away from it – but He can see what’s going on. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
We find ourselves in a state of weakness or lack, and we don’t see how we can make a difference. Remember how God looks at weakness and start looking around for some small thing that needs doing. God doesn’t need our help. He lets us help, because it’s good for us. So, it doesn’t matter to Him. He can do everything Himself, if He wanted to. It doesn’t matter to Him. What He wants from us is the attitude. And we show that by our words and our deeds. He tells us not to despise the day of small things. He always starts every project small and gets bigger. So some small thing – to do good for someone – is what’s needed. Every good work contributes to the whole. Remember picking up the piece of trash? Like that. So, it helps the group, and it helps us with our faith.
I knew a man once who was not well-educated. He was not wealthy. He was not gifted with the ability to speak publicly. He wasn’t the most well-dressed person in our congregation – which was a rural group. Yet he was extremely necessary to our congregation. He had a very important place in it, because of his willingness to help, and because he was gifted with the humility to do anything. I saw him once, standing in the men’s room at church, holding a toilet plunger. And I said, “Are we having trouble with the plumbing?” And he said, “Not yet, but they guys are telling me the drain is slowing down. So, I’m ready for it.” I mean, what can you say about that? Vital, right?
At my first pastorate in Jonesboro, Arkansas, there was an elderly woman, who, I think, was semi-disabled. I believe it was with arthritis. This was a long time ago now – forty years or so. I hope you cut me some slack on her name. She would get a school photo of the children in our small congregation – people might wince at that a little bit today, but it was a very small tight group. Everybody knew that she would never do anything to hurt any of our children. She would take those photos and lay them out on her bed every day and pray for each one of them by name. She would also, from time to time, bring them small gifts that delighted them – little toys, snacks, cards – and she would talk to them at church. She didn’t monopolize their whole time, but they knew that she knew they were around. So, she had, in her old age and disabled – found a way to make our congregation more inclusive for children – not to mention all the praying she was doing them. Even though I can’t remember he name, he good works still come to my mind as an example to me and to our congregation of how to treat children.
We can always pray for other people. We can be old. We can be sick. We can be isolated. Jesus’ words show us that God honors those acts – an maybe more than larger financial donations even. All human groups do need to eat and find space, etcetera, so money, more often than not, needed. But there’s more to giving than contributing money. There’s personal involvement. There are good works.
When God struck Saul blind on the Damascus Road, and called him, He asked Paul a question. And that was: “Why must you always kick against the goads, Paul? Why do you always take the hard way? Why do you resist Me so much?” That was the implication of what he was asking him. In those days, they would put sharp goads on the front of their wagons so the donkeys or horses would not be so apt to kick the wagon and knock it to pieces, and also to keep them calmed down. And Saul, in his headlong rush to persecute Christians, was completely out of step with God’s will for him, and he was making life harder on himself. That’s what God was telling him. Now, we know that Paul suffered a lot in doing God’s work, but what we’re talking about here is Paul’s eternal life. And his efforts to attain that were much more difficult while he was kicking against the goads. Anytime we can get in step with God – contributing being one of them – our life is going to be easier. If we make an effort to make a contribution, wherever we go, then we are aligning ourselves with God. And life gets easier when we do that in all its forms.
If you are just coming in on this series, by the way, it’s called Making Life Easier. You can go to our Website to hear or read the other presentations in the series that we’ve completed so far. Just go to liferesource.org, look for the “Presentations” button in the menu at the top and that will take you there.