In stores pressed by consumer holiday shopping, a couple got separated. The wife was getting worried so she called her husband on his phone. "Where are you?" In a quiet voice he said, “Do you remember the jewelers we went to about 5 years ago, where you fell in love with that diamond necklace that we couldn’t afford, but I said I’d get it for you some day?” The wife choked up and started to cry, “Yes I do remember that shop.” He replied, “Well I’m in the pub next door.”
We don't always value the same things.
In 2002, I was in Eastern Congo. The reports of genocide and critical food shortages were true. Rebels had systematically destroyed crops and resorted to gang-raping women as their weapon of choice. No grain seed remained to plant the fields. We distributed 100 lbs of seed to each family. Many of the farmers had tears in their eyes as they sowed their seed. Their children had very little food to eat, and in their hands was food that they were choosing to plant instead.
Three months later we returned to hear the outcome from the villagers. A man with one arm stood. He said, "When I lost my arm, my wife's friends told her to divorce me. They said she would never have a new dress; that I was now useless, and that she was destined to poverty if she stayed with me. I took the seed you gave and planted it. I had a significant harvest. I've kept some grain for seed and food. I also sold some and took my wife to the store and bought her a new dress."
Psalm 126 brings back that memory with vivid clarity. Vs.5-6 “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”
This isn’t ordinary giving. This is a decision people at times must make between choosing their own happiness in the moment or delaying it for something more important. This is hard giving because it costs you something. It isn’t given from surplus. When you give it, you have to give up something else you want.
If you don’t understand farming, this verse may not at first be easy to understand. For most, we go to the grocery store and buy our food. But there was a day when our ancestors’ source of food was the food they could grow and hunt. If they didn’t plant seed, they didn’t eat in the winter.
Before Monsanto, when you harvest the seed, it was critically important to leave enough seed to plant in the Spring. The rest of the seed would then be sold or traded for other things you needed, or, it was kept for food. What you never did was eat seed that was meant for planting.
There are times God gives us seed to eat and there are times when God gives us seed to plant into the lives of others.
Psalm 126:5-6“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.”
I have learned:
You know how much you trust God by how tightly you hold onto your cash. There is such a debate about how much cash people should give the local church. How much should we give to charities? How much is mine and what belongs to God? You know, in one sense, I don’t care.
I have learned:
No one argues against the tithe (giving 10% of what they make) so that they can give more. When you come to Christ you are called to be generous. You can give and not love, but you cannot love and not give. As you learn to handle what you’ve been given, you will be given more. If you do not give when you have little, you will not give when you have much. (Luke 16:10-12)
Jesus said, 10“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
When Nancy and I were part of another congregation that met in a High School. One particular year we had a pretty big deficit and we wanted to believe together that with God’s help we could clear it by the end of the year. So we planned to have a Sunday when we would hold a celebration offering. We knew about it a month in advance and we were challenged to trust God to give us cash; cash we didn’t know we had, so that we could give something in that offering. We weren’t a wealthy congregation.
Nancy and I both wanted to be part of that. We wanted to be able to give more than we had at that point. We were pretty well tapped out. So I told Holy Spirit, “If you give me cash that I wasn’t expecting at all, I will give 100% of that in the celebration offering.” That week I got letter from City Hall saying that I had overpaid on my property taxes the year before and enclosed was a check for $500. Who gets a cash reimbursement check from City Hall? Have any of you ever heard of that?
I started thinking, “This is great! I can now give a couple of hundred $ to the Celebration offering. I can pay some bills. We might even be able to squeak a date out of that.”
Holy Spirit said, “That wasn’t the deal.” I said, “What wasn’t the deal?” He said, “The check.”
“What about the check?”
“You said, you’d give it all.”
“Ya but I didn’t think it’d be $500!”
Holy Spirit said one more thing. We don’t have time to explain it if you don’t know the story, but he said, “Ananias and Sapphira.” And I said, “Okay Lord. $500 it is.”
I have learned:
God cares about your heart. Do not pretend that what you do with your money is not important to God. An idol is anything you have to check with before you say “yes” to God.
Will you trust him to give you enough seed to both eat and to plant? The seed he places in your hand isn’t just money. Everything you have falls into one category or the other. Is it meant to be enjoyed now or is it meant to be invested for later.
Your time (Do you spend your time on things that only gratify now, or do you also use some of your time to invest in others?) Are you familiar with the story of Job? In many ways it is a tragic story of Satan wreaking havoc on a man’s life. In the last chapter of the book of Job (42:10), verse 10 says, “After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.”
Job’s life had been a train wreck. And finally God meets with him and what does God ask him to do? Pray for his friends. Even in the misery of his physical condition, Job chooses to invest in his friends before himself because God had directed him to. He planted seed in others instead of eating seed himself. After he planted that seed we read how God prospered him.
How do you handle your relationships? What do you do with people who have wronged you? When you forgive them, you are planting seed. Those who stay in resentment and anger simply eat the seed of bitterness and there is no restoration in a harvest that’s coming.
What about your thought life, your habits? Many struggle with lust. It shows up in numerous ways. Pornography is fairly common in households today. When men and women eat the seed of immediate gratification, they are destroying seed that was meant for planting. The thoughts they consume become the standards they compare their spouse to. And no spouse can live up to fantasy. A diet of pornography gives immediate gratification but it starves intimacy in relationship which often ends broken and destroyed.
Each time you pray you are putting seed in the ground that will germinate and produce food. You can plant a lot of seed in one week.
There are times Holy Spirit will nudge you to do something, and it wont be convenient. He doesn’t make you do it, but it’s an offer that will produce dividends for you at a later time. Will you plant the seed by your obedience, or will you eat it by continuing to do what you were doing? When we do that, we consume all the pleasure now with nothing coming at a later point in time?
I have learned:
When you do what you can, God will do more.