Friday 11 May 2012


Can joy come out of giving? Wouldn’t it be better to be on the receiving end instead? 


jobless man, who was broke, desperately wanted to buy a present for his son. All the children in the neighborhood had presents for Christmas. He could almost imagine his boy squealing with delight upon unwrapping the present, so much so that he decided to rob someone to buy the gift. While the robbery certainly cannot be condoned, what shines through here is the father’s heart — one that finds joy in giving.

Many people have discovered that giving — not necessarily in the form of money or material goods — can be very fulfilling. For example, childless couples and single ladies have adopted children in order to be able to share their love and nurture them.

                                                        Feel good flush

In fact, modern science confirms that certain areas of the brain register heightened activity when we give.This increased dopamine activity, evident when we give, happens similarly when we feel loved or enjoy delicious food. It seems our brains have been hard-wired to experience the “feel good” flush when we give.

The billionaire investor and philanthropist, the late Sir John Templeton, devoted millions toward increasing our knowledge of unlimited love through scientific research and education. Agape, he says, is “love that gives you joy and helps you grow by giving love. You don’t grow much by getting love; most growth in life is by giving love.”

Everyone, Templeton adds, should give more thought to how to be more loving. He honours Mother Teresa, the first winner of the Templeton Prize in 1973, as the greatest example of lifetime love.


                                                    Jesus, our example

Come December, the trappings of commercial Christmas attract our attention — Santa, jingles, decorative lights and trees bedecked with gifts. They assail our senses, often leaving us in a daze as to the true meaning of Christmas.

But Christmas is about a God who gave of himself. He loved us so much that he became man and died on the cross for our sins. To those who believe in him, he offers a new life — our sins forgiven, the right to become a child of God and a secured place in heaven when we die.

What made Jesus choose the shameful death at the cross? It’s because of the “joy that was set before him.” He envisioned the day when many will enjoy restored relationships with God through his death That’s what motivated him to choose this path of self-denial (Hebrews12:2, Isaiah 53:11).


It takes self-denial to give of ourselves to others. It may involve our time, talents or resources. But as we give, we experience a sense of fulfilment, knowing our efforts have made a difference in the life of others.

Translating the Bible into the language of minority ethnic groups is painstaking. It may involve living with the people for years, learning their culture and the nuances of their language. But joy comes when the Word transforms lives. As these people groups embrace God’s Word for the first time in their own native language, joy is written on their faces. Both the worker and recipient rejoice. “Those who sow with tears will reap with joy.”

                                                     Overcoming with joy

Peter, when approached by a cripple on his way to the temple, proclaimed with gung ho: “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give to you” (Acts 3: 6). What he had was the spiritual power from the Holy Spirit that enabled the lame man to walk again.

The apostle Paul was selfless in his attitude of giving. Writing letters from prison to encourage those in the church, he shrugged off depressing circumstances: “Rejoice always and I say to you again, rejoice “(Philippians 4:4). His indomitable spirit and infectious zeal testified to God’s empowering. He even witnessed to the prison guards. Nothing could get him down.

One way a depressed person can experience joy is to serve others who face bleaker circumstances. Simple acts of love, like cooking a meal or just being there for others, can lift away the cloud of depression. As one gives, self-pity takes a back-seat as one realises how fortunate one is compared to the recipient.

                                                      A right attitude

Recently, I joined members from 10 different churches as they gathered for a reunion. They had returned from a disaster relief mission in cyclone-ravaged Myanmar. As individual members shared their experiences, I could sense the simple joy they radiated. Their working together to bring food, clothes and the needy testified to the amazing unity and love that transcended denominational barriers.

Everyone has the capacity to give; each has been endowed with a unique set of talents and resources. Is it necessary to give a lot to make an impact? No. The widow’s mite and the boy’s five loaves and two fishes illustrate that it is the right attitude in giving that matters. Nevertheless, “to whom much has been given, much is required.” And if we want a greater portion of God’s blessings, we have to give using shovels and not scoops (Luke 12:48, Luke 6:38).

In a “what’s in it for me” culture, where people like to be fed, blessed and entertained, a giving mentality is often lacking. We should be asking ourselves how much we can contribute for the common good rather than how much we can get — something akin to John F. Kennedy’s famous saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

But what if someone says, “I do not know how to give of myself. I am an introvert, I tend to mind my own business?” Well, he can start by praying for a new heart; he can learn from various role models how to be more sensitive to others’ needs. Even by observing those who are already initiated, he can learn the ropes on how to give.

Is it overflowing joy within that makes people want to give or is joy the by-product of giving? Often it is both. May we discover afresh what community means — that joy when shared is doubled and sorrow when shared is halved.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive. For God loves a cheerful giver.”    


Freely You Have Received, Freely Give

1 comment:

  1. The above article was first published in Asian Beacon magazine, December 2008, issue 40.6