At the start of 2017, I took a deep breath and sent a message out to ten people who have known me for at least ten years. While that may not sound like a big deal, the reason it required a deep breath is because I asked those ten people to tell me the first three words that come to mind when they think of me.
At the time, it felt like a huge risk, not because my close friends and family members are mean, angry people, but because I gave them permission to share whatever came to mind — don't hold back. I figured they'd be charitable, but I also knew they'd be honest. And sometimes the truth hurts.
As their responses started trickling in, I was encouraged, challenged, affirmed, embarrassed, rebuked. Honestly, I experienced a whole range of emotions, from fear, because I didn't know what they'd say, to deep gladness, because what they said was so meaningful to me. It was a great exercise, very revealing, and something I plan to do again in the future.
One thing I learned is that generous is not one of the first three words that come to mind when people think of me. Only one person mentioned it. The other nine didn't. Does that mean I'm not generous? Not necessarily. It just means I've still got work to do.
There's a streak of selfishness that runs through all of us, and it can be a challenge to uproot it. That's where the Holy Spirit comes in.
One of the things God's really good at is moving us away from self-centeredness, towards self-giving love. How do I know this? Well, according to Paul, God's committed to helping us become more like His Son. His goal is to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).
As He shapes our lives to look more like the life of Christ, at least two things start happening:
- We grow in our awareness that generosity matters to God — it's a manifestation of His presence in our lives.
- We become more generous people — a family resemblance begins to take shape.
Grace does that to people — it changes us. It goes to work on the inside and over time we look more and more like Jesus. We think, act, and talk like Him. An ungenerous Christian is an oxymoron, because generosity is a familial trait. It's an intrinsic part of what it means to be a son or daughter of God.
Growing up I would often hear, “Tommy, you look so much like your dad.” Whenever someone would say that, I never really knew how to respond. I figured it was an adult way of trying to make small talk with a child. A long, awkward pause would usually ensue, and I would manage to mutter something along the lines of “Thank you.” or “Okay.” (As a kid, one or two word answers were my specialty.)
Looking back, I'm pretty sure everyone who ever said that to me was being complimentary. It wasn't a slight. They were just commenting on what they noticed. And when I looked in the mirror, I saw the same thing: a strong, family resemblance.As children of God, shouldn't the family resemblance be unmistakable? When people look at us, do they think of the Father, do they see the Son? I ask, not to burden you with guilt, but to invite you to think of generosity as a familial trait, something that grows in us as we surrender to Him.