Honest generosity comes from encounters with a generous God

Written by A.E. Thorimbert

A student I mentored once shared that generosity had been poisoned for him by the leaders of his local church. Their brand of generosity had been full of emotional landmines marked by shame and manipulation. A sign of misguided shepherds, wouldn’t you say? You shall know them by their fruit.

For this student, to be asked to give came with experiences that left a bitter taste in his mouth. He told me all this after we had witnessed a community in Tijuana share the history of their fellowship. Their church had been robbed multiple times. Yet still they sought to give what they could. To each other. To those who came in through their doors. The more that was taken from them, the more they gave. But it wasn’t because of any nifty vision-casting. No leader had to say anything at all.

This student didn’t know what to do with what he had grown up around and what this community had storied for him. He felt drawn to their stories and yet he couldn’t help but distrust them and what they required of him.

What do any of us do when the narratives we’ve lived within come into contrast with a reality that is more noble? Old wine always trembles in new wineskins. It must. I wonder if this generation will discover how to give with a pure heart. Such almsgiving, to use an old word, is birthed out of encounters with communities embodying Christ through their whole lives. This sounds more poetic than reality, but poetry can be prophetic.

Last November, a student agreed to cover half the cost of our weekly dinner gatherings. I knew he had been discerning this for some time, but this contribution was more than I expected. When asked how he had made this decision, he paused, then said, “This is how I show I’m committed to this community, that I’m committed to what we are trying to do to help others see God.” I think this is what it looks like to give with a pure heart. And it is difficult to do well.

To do anything with a pure heart—with deep congruence between thought and deed and emotions—is a miracle of character and virtue.

We are woven together by a loving Creator, and yet the thousands of threads of what we are made of do not always get along. Human beings are sketched inside with battle lines between the different factions of ourselves. Factions formed of trauma. Factions formed by our circles of influences and relationships. Factions competing to say who we are.

How foolish it is that we urge each other to follow our hearts. Which part of my heart do I follow? Which ventricle or atrium gets to rule? Let any who think they are so singular, so unified within themselves, examine themselves until they find the place where they are lying to themselves. For there are a thousand ways we can lie to ourselves.

And our charity is not exempt from the influences of these little deceits. So, how do we give with integrity? A wise teacher once said that those pure in heart are those who see God. I think this suggests a way forward. Honest generosity is born out of encounters with a generous God.

This is when humans surprise us and make beautiful choices of sacrifice far less influenced by any selfish or shame-driven motives. This requires that we engage in repenting of any ulterior motives, and this process always comes by the way of the cross. We must bring our deceits to be put to death with Christ.  

That is what this student did. He listened and prayed for several months. He began wrestling with his need to be in control of his life. And I waited for him. This is often the task of a good mentor—to wait and pray, as the one learning under you works out with what faithfulness requires.

The pure of heart encounter God through their lifestyle of confession and their receiving of Christ’s forgiveness. Such it has always been. And such is the generosity given to us, and also required of us. Let us call it cruciform goodness.

A.E. Thorimbert would like to be a wise hermit living in a forest. But really, he is just another hipster who enjoys coffee. He ministers to university students in Victoria. He is a guest columnist for Digging Deeper.