Monday, March 17, 2008

A Time of Giving

Right in the middle of our weekly worship service there is a little section that is listed in the bulletin as "A Time of Giving". That's all it says.

Until very recently, that part of the bulletin said something like:

Prayer of Dedication

Recently, the worship planning committee took a hard look at that little list. Did we need to write all that out? The congregation would not be confused if we condensed it; most of them know the drill, and those who are new to our church may very possibly not even know what those "church-y" terms really meant. Losing them would not hurt anything. In fact, to an unchurched visitor, it might be less intimidating if we just collapsed all that into the simple title "A Time of Giving".

So, what exactly is supposed to happen at that point on Sunday morning? There is one woman I know who's husband's favorite excuse for staying away from church is all about "A Time of Giving". "See," he says, "there they are with their hands out for money again! That's all churches ever want, is to empty our pockets!" He's not the only person I've heard of that thinks that way.

But that little nugget of time is so important to each of us spiritually! It's not at all about enriching the church, and, though we certainly care for the needs of the world, it's not even really much about that. It's actually about acting in the opposite spirit of greed. When we give, we defeat the human tendency to hang on to it all for our own perceived good, and behave in a way that more closely resembles the unlimited generosity of God toward us.

First, we sing some sort of song that offers thanks and praise to God -a doxology.

Then, we pray, telling God that we recognize His goodness to us, and we want to honor him by returning something that can be used to work out his will here on earth.

There are a lot of things we can give, of course, but at this particular time, we give money.

And while that is going on, a musician, or perhaps several, offer up a gift of music.

If an individual comes to this part of the service with thoughtfulness about it's meaning, they will actually find themselves growing in their ability to put material things in perspective and recognize a growing sense of gratitude. I have experienced this in my own life. Recently I read an article by Laura Rowley, in which she cited some research that has been done at UC-Riverside by Sonia Lyubomirsky. Subjects were asked to write down five things for which they were thankful. Some did this several times a week, some once a week, and some once a month. The ones who did this exercise once a week reportedly experienced a significant rise in their sense of gratitude.

Kind of like the what we can experience by weekly participation in "A Time of Giving"! If, as the offering plate is being passed, we focus on the things for which we are grateful, things we know ultimately come from God, our sense of gratitude grows, and our feelings of greed will diminish. Christians have been experiencing this phenomenon long before it could be scientifically "proven". It is an opportunity designed for us by God, to help us become more relaxed, joyful, and at peace; to give us a sense of belonging in the work He is doing.

I have added a link to Laura Rowley's website and blog over on my Blog Roll. She writes about money and materialism from a Christian perspective, and I admire her for putting her expertise out into the secular world for all to learn from. Give it a look, if you have time.

Meanwhile, give some thought to how you will approach "A Time of Giving" in the coming weeks. God has his best for you in this part of the service.

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