Sitting in a doctor's office (one of many) a few years ago, I came across the following quote and inconspicuously attempted to tear the page out of the magazine without calling attention to the ripping of the page. It reminded me of trying to open a cough drop wrapper in church – could anything be louder when it’s not supposed to be? Well, after the deed was done my conscience got the better of me and I approached the receptionist, asking sheepishly if I could keep the page I had already torn out. I mean, really, what was I going to do if she said 'no'? Re-bind it? Go buy another magazine? It was a periodical from about six months prior! She graciously agreed to let me keep it – I think she may have misinterpreted the chemo-induced hot flash I was having for actual fear that I had committed a crime. The quote read simply,“The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles.”
As a Christian, I have a unique privilege to share this concept - by my lifestyle - many times a day with my family and those whose path I cross. My neighbors, friends, and even strangers who deal with struggling marriages, wayward kids, diagnoses of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, elderly parents who require time and energy, businesses that have gone under, stocks that have tanked, homes lost, lives devastated, and unexpected deaths. How has this little nugget impacted the way I filter what I do, how I do it, what I say, how I say it, and what the Scriptural truths are behind this anonymous quote?
“Pouring of Compassion”. Compassion is defined as a deep awareness of and sympathy for the suffering of another; the humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it; a human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, this feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s pain or suffering.
The Old Testament is packed full of references to compassion, most often referring to God having compassion over us. It is an active verb that indicates God is doing something towards us and on our behalf. One of the most memorable acts of compassion among humanity is told in I Kings. You may remember this story of two women – prostitutes actually - who were brought before King Solomon. They were roommates, both pregnant at the same time, and delivered their infant sons within three days of each other. One woman’s baby died during the night – Scripture says the mother actually smothered him in her sleep, and so, in her grief she took the other woman’s baby as her own. In the morning, as the other woman prepared to nurse her new son, she realized not only that the infant beside her was dead but that it wasn’t even hers!
A quick sidebar to this story is the incredible realization that from the moment of birth we know our children. This is true throughout all of the animal kingdom and with human nature as well. I remember my first son’s birth over 21 years ago. Back then, all the babies went to the nursery – they didn’t have a “rooming in” plan like they do now. The following morning, this cute little candy striped volunteer showed up in my room with a perfect bundle of joy all swaddled up and sporting the blue knit cap they put on all the newborn boys – girls of course get a pink one. She brought him over to the bed and laid him in my arms. I took one look at him and felt sick to my stomach. I knew instantly that this wasn’t my baby I was holding. As the panic rose, I hesitated for just a millisecond wondering if I had lost my mind during the night and then said to her, “this isn’t my baby!” She quickly went out into the hall where three other bassinets of babies were waiting to be delivered to their moms on the same hall and came back in with another baby. She looked almost as panicked as I and said, “I’m so sorry! I looked at the wrong card on the bassinet! Is this one yours?” She was now asking me if we had the right baby! A huge flood of relief swept through me as I instantly recognized my precious baby boy. She begged me not to tell her supervisor and disappeared down the hall. I remember being shocked that I, in less than 24 hours, knew my son.
So here sits King Solomon on his throne listening to these two women ferociously argue back and forth about whose baby has died and whose baby was there with them, still living. King Solomon makes what appears to be a violent, irrational decision when he orders that a sword be brought out and the baby cut in two! “Give them each a half”, he callously renders judgment. And immediately – immediately – the mother of the living child responds. Scripture says in verse 26 of chapter 3 that she was “filled with compassion for her son” and shouted out to the King, “no! Give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” This young mother’s compassion prompted an action to save her baby even if it meant giving him up. To another woman. A fellow prostitute. Her room-mate! And King Solomon had his answer.
“Gifts and Generosity” – what do they have in common? And how do we most effectively mix them? Gifts are defined this way: Something that is bestowed voluntarily and without compensation; a purchase which, when given, omits key information - including the price paid for the item! Generosity is defined as liberality in giving or willingness to give; the trait of being willing to give your money or time; and (I love this one) freedom from meanness or smallness of mind and character. Let me attempt to illustrate.
When my daughter Rachel was about 5, her favorite thing to do was invite people over for apple pie. She loves my apple pie with ice cream and she would regularly call either or both sets of grandparents on the phone and invite them over for dessert. The conversation would go something like this:
“Mimi (or Honey)? Can you and Papaw (or Granddaddy) come over for apple pie? And ice cream, too? Mommy! Do we have apple pie?” You see, she felt absolutely free to give and give generously – without regard to anything but the heart with which it was given. Including whether or not we even had apple pie! All motivated by love. In the tender heart of my 5-year-old daughter, Mommy's apple pie was the grandest thing she had to offer.
Esther illustrates this concept of gifts in a beautiful way. After Esther was taken into the king’s harem at the citadel of Susa, she immediately won the favor of the king’s eunuch, Hegai. When the time came after a year’s worth of beauty treatments for her to go before the king she asked Hegai, who probably knew the king better than anyone, what she should take with her. Esther was a wise woman, very aware that this moment – this one night – could be the beginning or the end for her. She sought wise counsel and she listened to it. She set herself up to succeed. Well, it worked! The king was so pleased with Esther that he placed a crown on her head and named her queen.
Chapter 2, verse 18 says, “And the king gave a great banquet, Esther's banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.” Royal liberality! Now that’s a party I want to get in on! Her desire to please him resulted in his desire to honor her. There is great bounty to be had from the heart of a happy king, especially when he’s not looking at the price tag.
II Corinthians 9 offers another illustration of this concept. II Corinthians is actually Paul’s fourth letter to the church at Corinth, and his response to Titus’ report on the condition of the church there. Addressing their giving Paul reminds them that he has bragged on them to other churches for their eagerness to give and then cautions them to check their motives for giving. “…not out of regret or necessity…” Then he blesses them with this charge in verse 11, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
The generosity we offer from every area of our lives, not just our wallets, results in others offering thanksgiving to God! Think of it: we have an opportunity to be the catalyst for someone else giving thanks! Paul is reminding the church here that rich in every way means literally every way – rich in time, talents, energy, wisdom, vision, and yes money. And as we have opportunity to be generous on every occasion – whatever the occasion calls for – the results are that those around us offer their thanksgiving to God. And I think you will all agree with me, that is a win-win.
“Serving Miracles”. How exactly do you serve a miracle?
A miracle is defined as any amazing or wonderful occurrence; an event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God; even the Qu’ran defines a miracle as a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings. Certainly, God performed miracles numerous times on behalf of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. The records of Jesus’ miracles in the New Testament are probably, to use a classic Greek term, just a 'smidgen' of what He actually did as He walked among us. And yes, there are records of what we call modern day miracles that are clearly an intervention of God’s power and presence in the lives of humanity.
But within the context of this train of thought, maybe we can look at miracles in a slightly different manner. Is it possible that ‘serving miracles’ is simply the end result of pouring compassion and mixing gifts and generosity? Again, an illustration...
About 12 years ago, Richard and I had gone through a particularly traumatic time in our lives, mostly at the hands of another believer who had taken advantage of us financially. I had a very dear, very elderly friend who was quite concerned about me because I had pulled away from her and became increasingly isolated. We had been sharing a weekly prayer time together for almost two years and she had mentored me specifically in the area of my prayer life. The stress we were under had taken its toll physically. I wasn’t sleeping; I had lost a lot of weight and generally looked every bit of what we were going through. Miss Dottie called me several times on the telephone; I didn’t return the favor. She finally showed up at my doorstep one afternoon and announced quite emphatically, “Dawn darling, you look like flesh draped over bones! Your eyes are dead – there’s no life in you! You’re coming to my house right now and we are having tea!” Well, tea at Miss Dottie’s house meant we were going to talk. I surrendered my vacuum cleaner to the middle of the living room floor and followed her to the car. A few minutes later at her home, as her fragile hands poured a cup of freshly steeped hot tea into a delicate little china cup, adding just the right amount of milk and honey, she looked me in the eye and said, “Honey, every time I pray for you the Lord lays on my heart the word ‘betrayed’. Has someone betrayed you?”
Well, I began to break. For the next two hours I literally laid my head in her lap and cried as she gently stroked my hair and prayed over me. That afternoon, Miss Dottie poured compassion over me; she gave me both gift and generosity. The gift of a wise, loving, discerning friend; the generosity of time set free and prayers unhindered. And I realized later that night that only God could have laid that particular word – betrayed - on her heart. That afternoon, in fact, was a miracle: a supernatural intervention of God in my life through the life of another one of His children. I’ll never forget how deeply I was touched and the many times since then I’ve thanked God for serving the miracle of that afternoon.
Compassion is choosing to act, respond, and reach out; a gift is a gift because it is not motivated to seek its own reward; generosity is freedom from predetermined limitations and boundaries; and miracles? Miracles, I believe, are very often simply witnessing the presence of God in an active, living, here-and-now kind of way. It is the driving force behind our desire to be more like Him - and that may very well be the greatest miracle of all.
So I ask you: how have compassion, gifts, generosity, and miracles marked your life in the past or in the present? Is you pitcher filled with compassion? Are you pouring out of the fullness of your own life? Are gifts and generosity fighting for their place like oil and water? Or do they blend together undetected, perfectly seasoning our lives like sugar and salt? Are you feasting at a table of miracles? Are those around you enjoying God’s goodness, love, mercy, forgiveness, and joy served from your life?
The pouring of compassion, combined with the mixing of gifts and generosity, blend together to serve miracles.
My friends, let us serve well today.