It was a cold and clear Sunday morning last winter in Portland. We exited our church building having just heard a great sermon which touched on themes of social justice and generosity. On the sidewalk at the foot of the church steps was a Central American woman with four young children, and a sign that said “Hungry – please help.”

What a set up! Having just heard the sermon, sung songs and prayed prayers, we were confronted with a real, live, opportunity to immediately respond to a hurting family. What would each one of us actually do? Give her money? Buy her some groceries? Take her family out to lunch? Make a gift to the church benevolence fund so the church could dole out the money in a more controlled fashion? I honestly don’t think our pastors “planted” this woman outside the church doors on that Sunday just to see what people would do – maybe Jesus did – either way, we had been “set up” and put to the test. And I think she probably received a significant sum of money that day.

One of Jesus’s primary tasks was to help His disciples learn how to become generous givers. But how did He do it? Jesus occasionally “set up” His disciples to help them learn generosity. The miracle story of Jesus feeding of the 5,000 is one such example.

Imagine the scene. Days before, He had sent them out in pairs to proclaim the kingdom of God in the surrounding villages. They had no cash, not even a spare change of clothes, but their instructions were to: “Heal the sick, cure the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.”

Jesus wanted them to learn how to “freely give” and people responded so enthusiastically that the crowds became uncontrollable and the disciples had no time to even eat. So, Jesus suggested that they escape the crowd and get away to a quiet place. Little did the disciples know that this retreat was a “set up” to experience generosity in a very unexpected way.

I’m sure you know the story. The crowds followed the disciples to their wilderness retreat and got hungry. Jesus asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. (John 6:5.)

That question was the test. The disciples were still trapped in a mindset of limitations and scarcity. So Jesus told His disciples, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples answered Him, “Eight months wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” They wanted to send the crowds away to scavenge on their own.

Just then a generous boy showed up with five loaves and two fish – the real hero of the story. The disciples brought the food to Jesus who blessed it, multiplied it and fed the crowd, thus demonstrating the abundance and power of God.

Once the crowd was dispersed that evening or the next day, I’m sure Jesus had a teaching time with His disciples about what had just happened. He wanted His disciples to see themselves as agents of abundance in God’s kingdom. He demonstrated what His instructions to “freely give” really meant. He reframed generosity as a lifestyle that freely flows into action – day after day in both big and small ways. I believe this is what grows the hearts of givers. It takes practice.

Growing a generous heart is really not about how we see others, but how we see ourselves. When Jesus said “YOU give them something to eat” He really meant it. He wanted His disciples to see themselves as a channel of blessing to others because that’s the only way to grow a giver’s heart. It’s awfully hard to help others grow in generosity until you become a joyful giver yourself. And it’s impossible to grow the heart of a giver if they don’t have a vision to become a generous person.

What would it be like to wake up every morning with the conviction that God wants to demonstrate the abundance of His kingdom through you, if only you were willing to “freely give” like the boy with the five loaves and two fish? What if you started each day thinking about how you are going to give?

As ministry leaders and fundraisers, we must personally experience the abundance of God’s kingdom through our own generosity. And then, like the boy in the story, we can work with givers to help them become a channel for God’s blessing as well.

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