The encouragement of Ecclesiastes is to accept and enjoy the fruits of your labor as a gift from God. For me to not enjoy what I have does nothing for my neighbor who has less. The world needs more enjoyment, more celebration of what is good.
With that in mind, 2 Corinthians 9 is very clear about giving willingly and joyfully, and I wholeheartedly believe in that. I think Christians ought to take the pain of the world very seriously. Consider these lines from Derek Webb's song This Too Shall Be Made Right:
"I don't know the suffering of people outside my front door / And I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore / I'm trading comfort for human life / And that's not just murder, it's suicide / And this too shall be made right..."
At the same time, "taking the pain of the world seriously" does not always mean simply throwing money at it. We can give and invest ourselves in many other ways, some of them much deeper than direct financial aid.
In Dissident Discipleship, David Augsburger makes a distinction between "simple" service and "strategic" service. They're both good and legitimate ways to serve, they're just different.
- Simple service is frontal, direct, raw: children in Haiti need food - let's send money to this organization that is trying to feed them. Strategic service is more thoughtful and takes in the big picture.
- Simple service asks: are we contributing all we have? Strategic service asks: how do we contribute what we have and invest ourselves into the world in ways that will have lasting and far-reaching effects?
- Simple service offers the five loaves and two fish. Strategic service invests the five talents to earn five more.
This is not to exalt pragmatism, but rather to suggest some thought and deliberation before we rush headlong and burn ourselves out. We have only one life to live, and we want it to count. There's some wisdom to be learned from the man who says "Give me six hours to cut down a tree, and I'll spend the first four sharpening my axe."
It's counter-intuitive, but investing ourselves in the people around us, even if their needs aren't as dramatic as those of children in Africa, may often be more consistent with our calling as disciples in the Kingdom. Deepening our understanding of the world and developing our communication to the world ought to be high priorities also, especially for those of us who have inherited a love of language and letters. This allows us to engage the world with truth and meaning, which, alongside the simple love of a cup of cold water, changes lives and redeems human resources for the service of Christ.
These are some of the reasons I am unapologetically building a library and seeking to learn all I can about the world and how to develop my voice within it. The books and music that I buy - and the backpacks and hiking boots too - are means of exploring and understanding the world, so I can then write, speak, sing, and give with greater knowledge, greater appreciation, and greater relevance.
"And the pain of the world is a burden / And it's my cross to bear / And I stumble under all the weight / And I know you're Simon standing there..."-Caedmon's Call, Long Line Of Leavers, "Love Alone"
Image courtesy of fotosearch.com