Did you see the cross-country runner getting bowled over by a deer the other day? The grainy video showed a small herd of deer running across the race course when all of a sudden one deer simply ran through one of the runners. It should be noted the runner got up, dusted himself off, and completed the course. He must have felt like he was tackled by Dick Butkus. Remarkably, the runner finished the course and garnered the admiration of many including me. That indomitable spirit that stays the course and gives sacrificially toward a goal or call is commendable. I have personally seen what kind of damage deer do when they run into my automobiles.
God calls us to live sacrificially in a world in great need of so many things. We can give our time, our money, our possessions, our listening ear, or our compassionate smile. Here in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul was commending the financial generosity of the church in gathering an offering for the believers back in Jerusalem. The faithfulness of the church was enhancing God's Kingdom and bringing many to saving faith in Jesus. Paul made missionary journeys to spread the Gospel of Jesus and to gather these offerings.
We consider this text from 2 Cor. 9 to be customary. It is the church's responsibility to be gracious toward those in need. However, if we are to be an 'act of grace' we need to dig a little deeper. So, it's time to back up in the scriptures and gain insight. Second Corinthians 8:1-4 places greater context underneath this passage from 2 Cor. 9 and the example is counter-intuitive to us. Take a look.
"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian
churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in
rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.
Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the
saints." (2 Corinthians 1-4, NIV)
Paul recognized the Macedonian believers gave beyond their ability. That sounds like sacrificial giving. Understand the churches in Macedonia and Corinth weren't rolling in dough by any means. Yet, they considered this sacrifice as part of their faith and practice. Sounds a lot like the runner who got poleaxed by a deer and decided to finish the race.
Being an 'act of grace' sounds simple; it gathers technical difficulty when our own situation is dire and bleak. It is tougher to give sacrificially when we are looking at our own dwindling pot of resources. Grace by its very nature is a gift freely given to us by God. Funny how we tend to clutch God's grace tightly and desire to hang onto it.
In our community Thanksgiving service last night, Captain David Means of the local Salvation Army church shared the image of us grabbing a handful of sand and trying to hang on to it. Most of the sand drains away and we lose it. Captain Means was describing our desire to gain possessions. Our pursuit of things can often surpass our desire to serve Jesus Christ in making disciples. When things take the place of people and relationships, then we lose. The same image of sand in the hand would be a good one to describe how we should receive and handle God's grace.
As God blesses us with the indescribable gift of Jesus Christ, our hearts overflow with joy and thanksgiving. Our best response is to receive the gift and then share it freely. The kicker here is even if our lives are in shambles there is a blessing coming to us if we'll continue to exercise gratitude in the face of despair.
We'll probably never get flattened by a runaway deer, but other trials will challenge our faith. Don''t let it affect your practice of being and 'act of grace' toward another in need. Be thankful.