Monday, May 26, 2008

Gift of Encouragement

When my friend handed me a card recently I was dumbfounded, even more, I was embarrassed. Inside the card were six one hundred dollar bills. When I asked why, he said that he and his wife had been praying about giving a financial gift to people who had invested in their lives and Sandy and I were one of those they wanted honor with a gift. Speechless, I finally squeaked out, “Well, thanks.” My response sounded so wimpy. How do you say to one of your closest friends in the world, “Hey, I know you guys love and respect us, but you don’t have to give us money to show your affection.” But I didn’t, and “thanks” was the best I could do and sheepishly put the card in my pocket. When I asked him if he wanted me to deposit through my organization so he could deduct the gift from his taxes he said no, “Just use it anyway you want.”

People give gifts for a whole host of reasons. This past week we sent a check to a family members daughter who graduated from high school. We hardly know the girl, but out of respect to the family we gave a gift. Some people give out of duty. I know some dear old people who go to church every Sunday just so they can pay their tithe. Some people give because out of guilt, others out of deep gratitude. For others giving is a business transaction and they seek those who offer the best ROI.

Paul, wrote this note to a donor church while he was in prison,

As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News….No other church did this….I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness (Phil. 4:15 – 17.

Paul saw the generosity of this congregation as an act of kindness, but more than anything else, he saw their deed of charity as a vote of confidence…an act of encouragement. I can only imagine the emotional and spiritual valleys Paul must have experienced; alone in prison, wondering if all this suffering was necessary. And then he receives a message, perhaps not a Hallmark card, but a note from a group of people who believed in him. Other churches had received the Good News from Paul’s preaching, but it was just this Philippian congregation who took up a collection for his physical needs. Paul said he didn’t need it, but he accepted it because he wanted them to receive a reward for their kindness.

I know there are many missionaries who read this blog. They, like myself, know that with every gift they receive it is more than just dollars for their ministry. Each donation is a symbol of encouragement. So, in spite of the awkwardness, even at times the distastefulness of receiving monetary support, at the end of each month I look at the list of those who have given financially and, though I see the dollar amount, I am more aware of those who have sent a vote of confidence. My prayer is that (a) I betray not that confidence and (b) God will richly reward their kindness.