Rule of Life: sent to give

Called to pray, read and learn. Sent to tell, serve and give.

In his book “Arabian Sands”, an account of his travels among the Bedu (Bedouin), the nomadic people of what is now Saudi Arabia, Wilfrid Thesiger tells the following story:

Two days later an old man came into our camp. He was limping, and even by Bedu standards he looked poor… [My companions] pressed forward to greet him: “Long life to you, uncle. Welcome – welcome a hundred times.”

I wondered at the warmth of their greetings. The old man lowered himself upon the rug they had spread for him… while they hurried to blow up the fire and to make coffee. I thought, “He looks a proper old beggar. I bet he asks for something”.
Later in the evening he did and I gave him five riyals, but by then I had changed my opinion. Bin Kabina said to me: “He is of the tribe of the Bait Imani, and famous”.
I asked, “What for?” and he answered, “His generosity”. I said, “I should not have thought he owned anything to be generous with”, and bin Kabina said, “He hasn’t now. He hasn’t got a single camel. Once he was one of the richest men in the tribe, now he has nothing except a few goats”.
I asked: “What happened to his camels? Did raiders take them, or did they die of disease?” and bin Kabina answered, “No. His generosity ruined him. No one ever came to his tents but he killed a camel to feed them. By God, he is generous!”
I could hear the envy in his voice.

The capacity to give without reserve is not common, even among people like the Bedu who value giving. How much more difficult is it to be a person of generosity in a culture where giving is not valued; where increasing what you have is valued more. In 2016 when Hillary Clinton said that her Republican rival Donald Trump had paid no federal income tax in some years, Trump didn’t deny it. He said: “That makes me smart.” He was elected for many reasons, but his generosity was not one of them.

In our Rule of Life we believe that God calls us to pray, and read, and learn; and sends us to tell, and serve, and give. We want to live that way. On the inner and the outer journey each and all of the six dimensions is important, And “sent to give” may be last, but it is not least.

A generous lifestyle is profoundly counter-cultural and gospel-centred, in the spirit of the Lord Jesus: “Although he was rich, he became poor for our sakes, so that you could become rich through his poverty.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) Our Rule of Life reaches into every aspect of our lives, including the use of our time, our talents and our money – and giving each and all of these is not least in our Rule.

It is important not to avoid the reality of the call to be generous, nor the call to establish a culture in the Church where generosity is valued as highly as it was among the Bedu in Thesiger’s story. The phrase “time, talents and money” recalls many a stewardship campaign, and catches well the breadth of the giving we are sent to perform. But holding all these three aspects together is the generous life, as a response to our generous God. We are sent to give; in other words giving is part of our mission. It does us good to give since it detaches us from an addiction to “our” time or talents or money. And it does the world good if we give these things, in the service of the common good.

At the beginning of this brief series I asked you to embrace the life of prayer and to begin each Lord’s Prayer by saying in your heart: “Together with all disciples in the Diocese of Liverpool, as our Saviour taught us so we pray…”. In the same way now I ask you to embrace the generous life, and when you give your time or your skills or your resources, to say in your heart: “Together with all disciples in the Diocese of Liverpool, I thank God for what I have received, and I offer it for the needs of the world God loves”.

As my brief introductory reflections on the Rule of Life come to a close, let me repeat again that in the next few months we will be offering resources for those who need them, in this area of giving as much as in any other of our six areas.

In the meantime, please keep things simple. Align your life with the purposes of our Diocese within the framework of your parish, or school, or fresh expression, or chaplaincy. And may God bless you as together with the 60,000+ people in our Diocesan family you make this Rule your own. You are called to an inner journey; called to pray, read and learn. You are sent on an outer journey; sent to tell, serve and give. May God bless you as you set out on these journeys once again.