Why? Just a small 3 letter word. Why? It is perhaps the shortest question that we ever ask but it is arguably the most frequent and important question that we ask.
Consciously or unconsciously the question ‘why?’ goes through our head with every action that we take. There are the simple questions, a child asks, ‘why do I have to brush my teeth?’ and as adults we know the answer that if you don’t brush your teeth then they will go rotten. But then there are the more profound questions of ‘why?’ Why do we exist? Why am I here?
The question ‘Why?’ drives our actions and I have been on numerous management courses which always seem to conclude with the same advice on how to motivate a colleague or myself – ‘You need to ensure that the ‘Why?’ is big enough’.
If you want someone to do something for you or if you want to do something for yourself, then the ‘Why?’ has to be big enough. We need to know – Why should we it? What is in it for me? What are the benefits?
And it is true! From my experience, when colleagues haven’t been on board with an idea, I have then reflected and thought, yes, I didn’t explain the ‘why?’. Why it was important and why it was important to make it a priority over other things.
And it is the same for the Holy Habits that we are preaching on in this four week series. We need to think about why we want to practise the Holy Habits in the series. If we don’t believe that the ‘why?’ is big enough then we will struggle to make these things habitual.
Today we are focusing on the Holy Habits of ‘Giving and serving gladly and generously’ from the book written by Andrew Roberts and we will focus on the ‘why?’.
The book is completely written around the short extract from the book of Acts chapter 2 verses 42-47 and today we are focusing on verses 44-46.
Acts 2: 44-46
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
We are going to first look at this passage and understand, what is the Holy Habit of ‘Giving and serving gladly and generously’?
Secondly we’ll look at the ‘Why?’ Why should we? Why should we make this a habit? And then, only once we understand the why (otherwise we simply wouldn’t do it) we will look at ‘how’. How we can make this part of our diary routine, a habit, a Holy Habit of ‘Giving and serving gladly and generously’.
Giving is the first word of this habit. What do we know about the nature of God? Well, giving is a key part of his nature and it is possible to read the Bible as a book all about giving.
In Genesis we see God gifting creation to humanity to take care of and to enjoy. Wisdom, teaching and prophecy are given to guide and assist us in how we live. And then we have the greatest gift of all, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ Even when this gift is rejected, God keeps on giving and on Pentecost we received the gift of the Spirit.
So when it comes to thinking about the holy habit of ‘giving’, we need to start by thinking about that generous, extravagant, persistent giving of God.
Many of us may practise the giving of tithes and offerings that are outlined in the Old Testament and these practise can and do give resources to the Church and to the Circuit to help in our Christian mission.
According to the author of Holy Habits, Jesus talked about money more than any other subject but he never did so in a legalistic, percentage based or prescriptive way. Rather he used stories and examples to point people to the divine impulse of generous giving. Examples such as the Widow’s mite, that we heard earlier. She gave despite her poverty.
So often it is those who have the least financially who are the most generous with their giving. I have seen that repeatedly during my Christian Aid collections. I have knocked on certain doors where I have been embarrassed to ask for help but it is often at those doors where I have been greeted with a smile and with a donation to help those even worse off than themselves.
So now to the why. Why do we give? Why do we give of our time, our money and our resources? The widow in the gospel reading gave because of the divine impulse of generous giving.
We give in response to the generosity of God and, giving at its best, is about offering the best we can in return.
We give in response to the generosity of God and as proverbs reminds us, ‘Honour the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce’.
Giving should be a first thought, a first act, not a reluctant afterthought or begrudged gesture. Giving at its best is about offering the best we can in return.
The same is true of our giving to others. Giving is expressed in many forms. Obviously giving can be financial. In the book of Acts we read about early Christian communities and how they shared their goods and possessions. Think about a modern day equivalent of parents that foster and adopt children. People that give their home, their time, their love to create a little bit of heaven to those children.
Of all of the Holy Habits presented by Luke in the book of Acts, giving is probably the most challenging. Not least because it directly challenges our selfish behaviours. But giving, when practised and lived out, is truly transformative and expresses the very essence of God.
Earlier in the service we experienced and felt the joyfulness of giving as we gifted the flowers and shared a joke. We learnt that the most important thing was our involvement, our behaviour.
Giving, when practised and lived out, is truly transformative and expresses the very essence of God. So, through our involvement in the Holy Habit of giving, we can play our part of making the Kingdom of God a reality here on earth.
The second word in the habit to focus on is service. What are examples of service?
Well an example is the Street Angels in Halifax. When most of us are snuggling under our duvets, dedicated disciples of Jesus are venturing out into the streets of our town to serve those who may find themselves in need of help. They make themselves available to people who may be vulnerable, lonely or afraid after a night out that has not ended as they would have hoped.
They make themselves available. Again, just like the call to ‘give’, the most important thing is our involvement.
Service is a Christ-like way of living. Jesus himself told us that he came ‘not to be served, but to serve’. But how, as Christians, is our service distinctive to all the other wonderful examples of generous service in the community?
The difference is Christ. His presence forms us, helps us and guides us as we serve in God’s mission. It is the presence of Jesus which is distinctive in the service we offer.
I often quote the saying, ‘preach the gospel always and if necessary use words’ because the gospel is all about service to God and to each other. It is in our action of serving others that people are able to encounter the risen Jesus for themselves and consider his call to follow. Christ in us, sharing the very essence of God himself.
The giving, gladness and generosity of the Acts community was not confined to the fellowship of believers. They didn’t just serve one another. Service spilt out onto the streets in acts of kindness and healing. No wonder then that we read that the church enjoyed the Lord adding to their numbers day by day.
Now to the ‘Why?’. Why serve?
There is a purpose for every church to be a faith-sharing community. If we are not sharing our faith then why are we here? We are to be engaged in our community just like Jesus got involved first hand in this world.
Have you ever read The Message translation of John 1? It memorably translates verse 14 as ‘The Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood’.
Jesus is our model. He got involved, walked the streets, sat in the market place, spent time in people’s homes. He got his hands dirty and offered the life-changing touch of holiness.
He brought heaven down to earth and so can we through service to God and to one another. Service spilling out into the street and into the neighbourhood.
Gladness and Generosity
So we have considered ‘giving’ and ‘serving’ but our giving and service needs to be done with gladness and generosity.
Luke, in Acts, notes that the early Christian communities had glad and generous hearts. Their holy habits of giving and service weren’t done begrudgingly. They embodied that wonderful, extravagantly generous heart of God himself. In a world of greed and adversity they shone out. People saw through them a glimpse of God himself.
And we are reminded in 2 Corinthians 9 to give cheerfully! From verse 7 ‘Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’
Today, people can see a glimpse of the loving and generous God through the way in which we practise our holy habits of giving and service. Gladness and generosity that goes that extra mile.
How do we go that extra mile? Perhaps next time you phone someone or text them, pause to thank them or express support and encouragement; we can make people truly welcome into our homes; and perhaps the most generous gift we can ever give someone is forgiveness.
Forgiveness and reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel message and perhaps it is the most challenging yet generous gift we have to offer.
We have looked at the Holy Habit of ‘Giving and serving gladly and generously’, considered the ‘why?’ we want to practise this holy habit and now we need to reflect on the how.
How are you, not anyone else, how are you in your wonderful God given uniqueness, with God given gifts are able to give and serve gladly and generously? What is God saying to you right here, right now? Has God placed a specific idea or action into your mind on how you can give and serve gladly and generously?
If so, I have a friend Janet Jones who is a coach and describes herself as the Happiness Millionaire. She helps coach people through the journey of reaching their full potential and towards the goal, for which we are all striving for, of happiness.
She, and many others believe, that if you repeat something 21 times, then a new behaviour becomes automatic. It becomes a habit.
It may take longer but if the why is big enough then it could even be shorter. Think about the habit of taking a course of antibiotics. We may not take tablets on a regular basis but when we have an illness that can only be cured by a course of antibiotics then it is amazing how quickly we can train our minds to remember to take those tablets 4 times a day.
So I have created a 21 day Holy Habit challenge chart for you all.
As you can see I have tailored it to list the Holy Habits series but I used something similar to this when I was on Janet’s course to break a habit rather than creating a new one. So it can be used for both types – creating a habit or breaking a habit.
If the theory is correct, if you work out what Holy Habit you want to commit to and repeat it every day for 21 days, then that new behaviour becomes automatic. It becomes a habit, a Holy Habit.
What is going through your mind at the moment? Is there a holy habit that God wants you to undertake? If so, you need to set yourself a measureable goal. What are you going to do to demonstrate that Holy Habit? When you get home, write it down next to the habit in the second column.
But don’t forget to also write down in the third column the all-important ‘Why?’. The reminder of why you are doing it. Why it is so important that you want to make it habitual. Otherwise it won’t happen or it may do, but begrudgingly.
Use this 21 day habit chart to tick off each day or time you do that new holy habit, that new behaviour, and see how the routine can become as automatic as the habit of brushing our teeth every day.
If this isn’t for you, then why not simply remember what God has instructed us to do by remembering the title of the habit itself. It is not by accident that we have had responsive readings today. It is not by accident that I have repeatedly said throughout this sermon the title of the holy habit of ‘Giving and serving gladly and generously’. Say it once, say it twice, say it three times and we may finally remember the title of the habit that we are desiring to undertake and it can become second nature in our everyday lives.
We are to give and serve gladly and generously, if for no other reason than for the world to witness through us a glimpse of our extravagantly generous and loving God who loved the world so much that he gave us his son; a son who came to serve and not to be served; a son who gave his life as a ransom for many. Amen