Authored by T.M.
Money was scarce when I was growing up. I never lacked for anything vital, but I never had so much that I could casually give something away without feeling a pinch.
Once, when I was 17, a homeless person approached me and asked me for some money. From a very young age my parents had taught me that giving brought good things back to you, so I mentally calculated how much money I needed to catch my train home, and then gave him what I had left—around ¥500 or roughly US$7. I hate to admit it, but it was difficult giving away my last bit of pocket money. But, while I can’t say that because of that $7 I gave I got X dollars in return, I do know that over the years I’ve received back enough to come to firmly believe in the “law of returns.”
The law of returns is expressed in Luke 6:38: “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”1
Notice how it doesn’t say “the amount you give will equal the amount you get back.” It says it will “determine” the amount. Because, often, when you give, you get back above the amount you gave.
Here’s a story you probably know: stranger/prophet/man approaches starving widow, and asks for a meal. At first the lady balks. She says, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.”2
The prophet replies: “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!”3
The widow now has a choice to make—either to believe God’s promises or go by what she logically understands to be true: If I give this man my food, I will have none left. I’m going to interrupt this story and say that I think this is often at the heart of that hesitation you feel when a person, or circumstance, is asking something of you. It’s easy to think, If I give this—money, time, last piece of cake, or whatever it is—away, I will have nothing left. It feels risky—going into the business of giving, but you don’t go there alone. You give with the safety of God’s promises. Here are a few verses from the Bible that highlight the law of returns:
“Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and [whosoever] sows generously will also reap generously.”4
“A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”5
“God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”6
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”7
Growing up hearing this account many times, it’s easy for me to look at the story of the Widow of Zarephath and feel that it’s a given that she would give her last meal away. But, still, it was a choice she had to make. And in the end she made the choice that got her the promised “return:” “There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers to last the whole famine, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.”8
One of the joys I’ve experienced in my life has been discovering a blessing as a result of something I gave. The giving didn’t need to be huge, and it didn’t need to be money; it didn’t need to be to a homeless man or to an obviously destitute person. It might have been to a friend, a coworker, or a member of my family. The key was that it needed to be heartfelt. The return? Well, that’s where God gets to be creative.
Maybe you’d like a few extra blessings. Give something away and see what God will bring into your life in return. Yes, it will feel risky, scary even, but you don’t need to start big. Even little things when given from the heart are great things.
Where to start? Well, what do you have? I like the account about the boy who gave his lunch of five loaves and two fish to Jesus.9 It shows that giving can be a very practical thing, because Jesus wasn’t asking the boy to give what he didn’t have. There was a need: 5,000 people who were hungry; and then there was the boy’s offering: five loaves, two fishes. So what do you have? It could be time, compassion, a material item, or a talent. Look around, find a need, and then ask yourself, “What’s my ‘fish’?”
I have a nephew who likes to give me his food. Doesn’t matter what he’s eating—he wants me to taste it. “Taaa,” he says (as that’s what he calls me), and he’ll offer up whatever happens to be on his plate. This is nice if he happens to be eating something I like, and not so nice when it’s whatever he hasn’t been able to eat at dinner.
It’s not that he doesn’t like his food—of all my nephews, he seems to love eating best. But when he gives me his food, sometimes down to the last chip or bite of ice-cream, he does it with such joy—he does it as if he’s sure that there’s more where that came from, so the giving is easy. I think that while some of us start off like this, as we leave toddlerhood, we learn that physical things do run out, and that’s when we begin to hold on to what we have, and find it more difficult to give.
Running out and depleting your store of whatever is a natural concern. It’s at such times, though—when you feel like you’re down to your last crumb of goodness, compassion, time, or whatever it is that you could give—that you need to remember that God has more where that came from, and He isn’t worried about running out. He promises, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”10
1 New Living Translation.
2 1 Kings 17:12 NLT.
3 1 Kings 17:13, 14 NLT.
4 2 Corinthians 9:6 NIV.
5 Proverbs 11:25 NIV.
6 Hebrews 6:10 NIV.
7 Ecclesiastes 11:1 NIV.
8 1 Kings 17:15, 16 NLT.
9 John 6:5–15.
10 Ecclesiastes 11:1 NIV.
Read by Stephen Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International