eeking career: handsome, wealthy young man, full of fun, loves travel, has military commission.
Job offer: missionary to help open central Africa to the gospel. Must be prepared for deprivation, illness, and possibly a violent death.
Only God could bring those two classified ads together and create the story of James Hannington, the first Anglican bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa. Although other missionaries served longer and may be better known, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) stated, “Bishop Hannington did more for Africa in his death than in his life.”
Once the wealthy young Brit experienced personal conversion, he became more concerned about saving souls than saving money. The murder of two CMS missionaries on the shores of Lake Victoria challenged Hannington. In 1882 he led an evangelistic team into the wilds of Uganda, where a fearful Ugandan king Mwanga ordered him killed. On October 29, 1885, Hannington was speared to death. A survivor tells of his final moments.
“Go tell your king that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood!” Hannington told his assailants before crumpling to the ground in a pool of blood. Within weeks after the news reached England, 50 men, inspired by Hannington’s commitment and sacrifice, volunteered to serve in Africa.
Inspired by the sacrifice of others. Inspiring the sacrifice of even more. Who or what inspires us to sacrifice for Jesus? Is there a place or ministry that calls out our deepest dreams and desires to serve Him?
Centuries earlier another young man—energetic, wealthy, and concerned about spiritual things—saw the gentle love Jesus had shown for the little ones, and his own heart responded with love. He wanted to be like Jesus, kind and caring. He was so deeply moved that he literally ran after Him. Throwing himself at Jesus’ feet, he asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).
His question is about how to be saved, but Jesus shifts the issue to where his heart is: “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (verse 21). Jesus wanted him to recognize the allegiance he held to his possessions.
Jesus loved this wealthy young man. He saw in him just the help He needed if he would become a colaborer with Him in the work of salvation. He longed to make him like Himself, a mirror in which the gracious generosity of His Father would be reflected.*
Not only are we to put our treasure where our hearts are—we are to experience something truly revolutionary: radical generosity. God is a God of radical generosity. God loved our world (us) so much that He gave Himself (John 3:16). When God considered the investment of redeeming our lives for eternity, He never asked, “What can we spare?” He asked, “What will it take?” He gave Himself. He gave His Son. He gave heaven’s best. He still pours all the resources of heaven and the Holy Spirit toward that compelling vision of saving us.
When Paul sought to encourage Corinthian Christians to be people of radical generosity, he pointed them to this truth about God: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9, 10).
Later Paul shares how this radical generosity was at work in his own life: “I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well” (2 Cor. 12:15). That meant in real life many labors, imprisonments, beatings, life-threatening experiences, stoning, shipwrecks, exhausting and dangerous travel, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, cold and exposure, the daily pressure of concern for all the churches, the weak, the tempted, and the fallen (2 Cor. 11:23-31).
When the gospel of Jesus Christ takes root in our lives, God’s radical generosity becomes the story that shapes, informs, and defines our life decisions and direction. It is the mind of Christ. Like Jesus, we gladly become poor, giving sacrificially of our lives to enrich the lives of others—not just friends or family, but those who are removed, including our enemies and the unlovely.
Like God, we will no longer ask, “What can I spare?” Rather, we will ask, “What will it take?” The more we see the needs of this world, the more we will be compelled to give in the name of Jesus.
John Wesley (1703-1791) once made a purchase for his little apartment. He had just bought some pictures for this room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day, and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, but found he had little left.
It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself, Will Thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward’? Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?
Was it wrong for Wesley to purchase pictures for his wall? Of course not! Yet, as he realized, that expense was an unnecessary decoration in view of a woman without a coat.
A Change of Perspective
Our perspective on our possessions radically changes when our eyes are open to the needs of the world and the largeness of God’s redeeming work for those who are lost, or suffering, or poor. When we have the courage to see the needs around us, Christ will change our desires, and we will long to sacrifice our resources for the glory of His name. We will begin to wonder if some things in our lives could be classified as more of a luxury than a necessity.
Questions for Reflection
1. The author mentions four individuals in today's reading--James Hannington, the rich young man, the apostle Paul, and John Wesley. With which of the four do you most clostly identify? Why?
2. If someone were to ask for an example of radical generosity in your life, what would you offer as evidence?
3. Make a list of at least three spiritual and material needs of your congregation and community. Provide a one-sentence action plan that meets each of those three needs (beyond prayer).
In his celebrated sermon on the handling of money, Wesley asserts that it is urgent that God’s people know how to make use of their money for His glory. He offers three simple rules that he chose to govern his own life: Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.
Operating on the idea that God has given us excess, not so we could have more, but so we could give more, Wesley set a cap on his lifestyle. He found a modest level of expenses that he could live on every year and gave the rest away.
At one point Wesley made the equivalent of $160,000 a year in today’s terms, but he lived as if he made $20,000 a year. As a result, he had the equivalent of more than $140,000 to give away. Scripture teaches that God intends our plenty to supply other’s needs (2 Cor. 8:14).
What would happen if we gave like God? Not just our money, but our very selves: our time, our talents, our energy, our influence, our bodies, our opportunities—whatever resources we have.
There will never be a day that we stand before God and He says, “I wish you would have kept more for yourself.” Rather, we’ll ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I give more, do more, be more?”
God will take care of us. Anything we expend for Him and others will be multiplied in return. But it’s not about return; it’s about the very heart of God, and being like Him in the world. God so loved that He gave. Will we?
* See Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 519.