Generosity is a character trait that I don’t quite understand because it doesn’t seem to always show up when you think it should. When I look around myself, I’m often surprised to find otherwise well-resourced and well-meaning people who don’t live a life of generosity in how they deal with their time, skills, money and resources. I don’t claim to have this all figured out or put fully into practice either; I’m still discovering and processing it as I’m sure you are as well.
What is the source of generosity?
Actual generosity seems tied to gratefulness and thankfulness, but I can point out people who are overwhelmed by emotion sometimes when they speak of their lives and the place of prosperity and abundance in which they find themselves but who still aren’t generous with their time and resources. Maybe the emotion they express is not fully driven gratefulness and thankfulness, or maybe I’m just misunderstanding the element that brings the generosity to the top. Regardless, there’s something special that makes generosity a vital part of someone’s outward life.
Generosity definitely flows out of a deep heart place and is separate from being well-meaning and having good intentions. Generosity is action-based and is a living out of something inside that wells up in such a way that the inner feelings transform into intentions that then incarnate in the form of action that impacts other people and the world around. I personally theorize that it starts with with gratefulness and thankfulness as the key, but there may be more to it.
The Tale of Two Seas
A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker talk through the Tale of the Two Seas. After the speech, I went out to research the facts in it, and I found this discussion to be a broad analogy that’s been used by many people to talk about the issues of generosity and gratefulness, so this Tale of the Two Seas is not unique to me or that speaker, but it’s still poignant.
If you pull out the maps in the back of a Bible — or more likely, just pull up Google Maps or Wikipedia — and look at the Jordan River over Israel, you will see that it sources two different bodies of water: the smaller Sea of Galilee to the north and the larger Dead Sea to the south.
If you’ve done any reading of the Bible, you recognize that much activity occurs in and around the Sea of Galillee in the life of Jesus described in the Gospels. Throughout history, towns and cities have been situated on the sea, and it has served as a center of trade. Fish and plant life are abundant in the area. In the Gospels, Jesus and the disciples travel by boat all around the Sea of Gallee, meeting people, fishing its waters and participating in the local culture. Today, the Sea of Galilee is just as active and populated as a regional center of commerce and tourism and is surrounded by farms, resorts and bustling communities.
Contrast that with the body of water known as the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is just that: dead. It’s a lake in which nothing swims or grows. It is extremely salty and is a harsh environment in which animals, plants and other aquatic organisms cannot flourish. In Hebrew prose, the Dead Sea is simply called the “sea of death” due to its scarity of aquatic life. So extreme is the chemistry makeup of the Dead Sea that it actually discharges asphalt, spitting up small pebbles and blocks of the black substance used to pave parking lots. While there are small settlements near the Dead Sea and its extreme mineral traits have been found to have therapeutic qualities that draw a niche crowd, overall it is no hub like the Sea of Galilee.
What is the difference between the two seas?
Both of these bodies of water are sourced by the fresh waters of the Jordan River. But they are opposites in their environment and impact on the life and people around them. What’s the difference? The Jordan River sources the Sea of Galilee, and the Sea of Galilee’s waters are then in turn used to source most of the population centers in Israel. Every drop that comes in from the Jordan River is given back out to the people and land around. The Sea of Galilee serves as the source of much of the drinking water of the country as well as the source of irrigation of farms nearby. The Dead Sea, by contrast, is a dead end. The Jordan’s waters pour into the Dead Sea only to come to their termination point, and as the Jordan’s life-giving stream comes to a stop at the Dead Sea, it loses its vitality and sustaining qualities.
While the same waters feed both the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, it’s only when the waters are used and active and moving that they retain their productive, community-building value. The Sea of Galilee gives back out what it is receiving from the Jordan River, while the Dead Sea is just a dead end, and every drop it gets, it keeps. As one blog writer puts it, the Sea of Galilee is full of flow while the Dead Sea is full of woe. Once the Jordan River’s fresh waters stop flowing and come to a halt, they become stale and salty and lose their abilities to give life.
How we deal with our abundance multiplies how we impact the lives of those around us and our world
This contrast can serve as an analogy of what happens to us in relation to how we deal with what we have. We can take the abundance that we have received and keep it moving, using it for others and their further benefit out of a heart of gratefulness, thankfulness and generosity, or we can take our abundance and hoard it for ourselves out of fear of losing it. Regardless of the source of our abundance, its ultimate impact depends on how we choose to use it once we receive it.
What we will find it that when we hoard the great gifts we have received, they lose their value and are no longer life-giving. But if we act out of our abundance and keep those resources moving for the betterment of those around us, the value to us and to others can multiply beyond what we ever imagined and supply great life and joy to those with whom we come into contact. Everyone around us can benefit from our use of our resources for others, and it’s only when we’re truly generous that we can live life to the fullest and also provide that same life to others.