Kingdom People – Small Change
I have a habit. Whether it is a good or bad habit is a matter of perspective. I pick up pennies.
Alright, I don’t just pick up pennies. I scavenge in parking lots where cars are pulling in and out. And I do well. Hardly a day goes by I don’t pick up a penny during my morning minute mart stop. Occasionally, I find a dime or a nickel, and once in a blue moon, a quarter.
Several years ago I was running near my in-laws home in the heat of summer. I was well into my run when I developed some signs of minor dehydration. Unfortunately, I had no money, but I did have a strategy. Five minutes later, after two passes through a local car wash and a few loops around a gas station, I had enough change to buy a bottle of water. Please know that finding money on the ground isn’t a very good plan for avoiding dehydration. But that day, it worked for me.
Small change adds up, especially when it is all we have.
One day, Jesus did a little people watching near the treasury in the temple. The temple treasury, presumably in the Court of Women, consisted of 13 trumpet-shaped receptacles where people placed offerings for ministry. As Jesus watched, a poor widow came and placed two small coins, all that she had, in the treasury. Then Jesus shared this truth with His disciples: “This poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:3-4)
I used to hold this event in Jesus’ ministry at arm’s length. While it is true it teaches a critical stewardship principle in dramatic fashion, I failed to grasp its full significance. If the widow was already poor, what were two small coins? How could such a meager amount make any difference in her life had she kept it? I know this perspective seems cold, and do I appreciate the widow’s heart. But the amount of her gift, the “all she had” of it, seemed less important than her motivation. In fact, most lessons and sermons I have heard about her have said as much.
Then I travelled to India. I discovered just how hard it is for poor people to acquire the smallest resources. Drawing water and gathering wood involves a half-day’s journey, if it can be found. It literally takes everything one has to survive.
This helped me realize the widow Jesus saw didn’t just give all she had. She likely gave all she had after she worked her fingers to the bone for little to nothing. Her two coins weren’t from a pension check or a government program. There were no such things in Jesus’ day. The coins represented the widow’s blood, sweat and tears, and she would have to work even harder after her contribution to the treasury to keep from starving. Had she lived in our affluent society I could have shown her where to pick up some coins, but people in her day didn’t drop money on the ground and leave it there.
I don’t believe the widow’s gift was a spontaneous, last-minute act. I think she calculated how much she could give, how much she could make, and how long she could go without her next meal. She must have known there were people who gave much more, and was probably also aware some of those who had more to give gave a smaller percentage. But I doubt she was the kind of person who spent much time thinking about such things. She wanted to support the work of the temple, and she had a plan. She also had an unsinkable trust in God.
Trusting God is the lesson.
Those who give out of their abundance without sacrifice, rob themselves of the opportunity to grow in trust. There are two ways of calculating what we share for the work of the kingdom. One way is to decide how much we need to maintain our lifestyles, and give God the rest. The other way is to decide how we can give more to the work of the Lord and adjust our lifestyle accordingly. The first method is philanthropy. The second is sacrifice. And sacrifice always requires trust.
Aside from the standard principle of the tithe (giving 10% of our income to the Lord’s work), the bible doesn’t command us to give everything we have away. There was one occasion where Jesus challenged a rich young ruler to do so to save him from himself. But we have great latitude, for the most part, when it comes to what we keep and what we give.
Yet, the command of scripture isn’t the issue. Trust is the issue. Do we trust God can do more with our resources than the department store down the street? Do we believe He has blessed us so we can bless others? And do we believe God will bring us to a place of fulfillment if we put Him first?
Our perspective changes when we trust God. Do you think the widow shuffled into the Court of Women with her head down and quickly dropped her coins in the treasury so no one would see? I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. But is it possible she walked in with joy on her face, carrying herself with a confident countenance? I know this isn’t the image we have of her, but who can say for certain? Sure, she might have looked a little worn down by life. I am only saying I wish I had been there to see her expression. I think she smiled. Seeing what God does with the small change in our lives always makes us smile.