Giving your all

Welcome to day 19 of the Living Advent Calendar. Every day we open a door to discover an inspirational life. Today my dear friend Andy Flannagan, fellow Northern Irish exile, Executive Director of Christians in Politics, author of ‘Those who Show Up’ and incredible singer songwriter, shares a story of a woman whose life has impacted him recently. Over to Andy to tell us more…

‘There is a woman who opened up a door of understanding for me this Advent. You may know her story. These words are taken from the Bible in Mark chapter 12.

“41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

It’s the percentage that seems to matter to Jesus.

And it’s also the motive rather than the end product that seems to matter to Jesus. After all “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7) Or to put it another way, social media judges by the number of ‘Likes’ you have on display. God judges by what’s not on display.

To underline the point about motive, it’s worth pointing out that no-one’s giving is buying Jesus’ favour here, whether with a huge cheque or a few pence. He isn’t awarding salvation credits. He is simply pointing out that from his perspective, ‘more’ is a calculation he makes based on the internal rather than the external. You don’t count coins to work out who has given ‘more’. You don’t count Twitter followers to work out who is ‘more’ significant. You don’t count church members to see which pastors are ‘more’ effective.

But we do.

And it gets worse. What if the widow’s mite story is speaking to me not just about my wallet but my whole life? What if it was about every gift that I’ve been given?

With that framing I started to imagine Jesus asking me and asking our culture some probing questions like these…

Why do you applaud and idolise the elite athlete who was given so much natural talent, yet ignore the child giving every ounce to make it onto the B team?

Why do you celebrate the authors and musicians bestowed with incredible gifts, yet walk on past the parent curating beautiful, creative, playful activities for their children?

Why do you laud the preachers and teachers endowed with excellent communication skills but ignore those ‘normal people’ who are just blessing their neighbours with conversation that persuades them of the kingdom?

How could we start rating the world with Jesus’ system rather than ours? Sadly my metric in social settings often involves these unspoken questions –

Is that person worth talking to?
How could they benefit me?
Why might they be useful to know?

We genuflect to those who may grant us favours. Spend any time at drinks receptions in business, media, politics or the arts and you will see everyone hovering in the vicinity of the ‘power people’. The school playground is no different.

So I believe this story is about more than money. But it is also still about money. To get specific, studies bear out the truth that those with less give more (in relative terms). As a percentage, people with less money, give more of it away to charitable causes then those with more. Jesus is affirming this beautiful reality, but why is it so?

We hail the great philanthropists as if they are on a higher moral and spiritual plane. We applaud the person who is able to comfortably give once they have made their fortune. It seems like Jesus is more excited about the person who can give while they are still working to make their fortune, or who know they never will.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not critiquing those who give incredible amounts of money to great causes. I am glad they do. I probably wouldn’t have had a few of my jobs if they didn’t. I am critiquing our infatuation with those people to the detriment of affirming and encouraging those who will never make any headlines or attend any fancy fundraising dinners.

There is a beautiful phrase in Luke’s telling of the story. Jesus says that the widow “gave out of her poverty”. Perhaps the most toxic thing that arises from our infatuation (for reference – see the prosperity dream sold by Donald J. Trump that seems to blind people to everything else!) is that we start to believe that we own things, and are able to ‘give from our riches’. As mere stewards of this incredible creation we are always giving from poverty, as we categorically do not own anything that we are giving away. It is all God’s. It is all gift.

By his genius he knows we live healthier and more open-handedly when we have less to hold, and he therefore doesn’t allow us to theologically own anything. If we all could acknowledge that we are giving from poverty, it might change our mind-set, not just on our financial giving, but on the way we offer our lives. Could we live more simply to enable us to work less? Could it create more time for family and community? But specifically in our present context, could it help to release the grip that finances and status have on our sense of who we are?

The more we worship at the altar of productivity and end product, the harder it is to hear the voice of a downwardly mobile God, whispering to us that it’s about means as much as ends.

We have to actively choose to honour this God-man called Jesus, this ‘less-productive-than-he-could-have-been-with-the-right-management’ kind of guy, who to be honest will mess up our careers and prospects with his trajectory.

For he is like the widow. He didn’t just offer a percentage of his life. He gave all of it.’

To continue to be inspired and challenged by Andy you can find his truly brilliant book and album by following the links below.


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