As you know, our school theme this year is “Growing in Gratefulness.” As I said last week, gratefulness is, for the most part, a spiritual discipline, like prayer and Bible study. Cultivating gratefulness takes time and energy at first, but over time it becomes part of our lives, drawing us closer to the Lord and more faithfully expressing His image.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to focus on some of the ways we can express our gratefulness, ways that are themselves disciplines.  How we give is one of the greatest ways we demonstrate gratefulness for the things we’ve been given (spoiler alert: this one is going to challenge all of us, including me. I am not “there” yet, at all, so this is not one of those “be imitators of me” blogs.  Please hang with me, though, because I think how we give is so amazing and life-giving that we can’t just tune out because it’s challenging).

I was listening to a Tim Keller sermon the other day, and he was talking about Jesus’ Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 12: When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brother or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. Keller said that Jesus was making the point that our wealth has been given us, not for our own use, to network or improve our position, but for the benefit of others and the Kingdom. According to Keller, how we give is an expression of gratitude for what we’ve been given by God–eternal life and riches beyond measure. Keller observed that most of us treat giving as leftovers, meaning that I’ll buy everything I need or want for myself, and if I have anything left over, I’ll give it away. He says that the actual Kingdom use of our money is a kind of “reverse-tithe” idea- How little can I live on, then give the rest away for God’s Kingdom?

Frankly, I don’t like this kind of talk at all. It makes me really uncomfortable. It reveals that I’m not at all as generous as I like to think I am. If what Jesus said– “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”– is true, my heart isn’t nearly as grateful as I want it to be. I don’t really want to think about it, and I don’t really want to write about it, either, because it feels like I’m laying down a big guilt trip.

Yet, through thinking about these things, contemplating how I use what God has entrusted to me–not just money, but my time and my talents, as well– is actually really good for me, in the way having that chest MRI a couple of years ago and finding out I have a little calcification on a couple of my arteries was good.  As a runner who eats well, I wanted to think I was in perfect shape and doing everything right, but the MRI showed me I needed to make a few changes in promoting my long-term physical health.

Holding the lens of Scripture up to my patterns of giving and generosity is like a spiritual MRI. It isn’t fun, but it actually helps me see where the calcification is: where are the patterns that, if I continue on in them, will lead to entering the “resurrection of the just” as a debtor, rather than someone who will be repaid? It reminds me again that I’m playing the long game, for eternity, and that sacrifice and care for my brothers and sisters now as an act of gratefulness for what God has given me is not only an expression of love, but pays big dividends in eternity, when it really matters.

This morning, I had the opportunity to watch our football players set foot on their new turf for the first time, made possible by the generous volunteer work and financial resources of a group of people who were also present. It was a beautiful thing to watch a bunch of teenage boys walking around, thanking people who God had used to make such a thing possible, then thanking God through prayer for His provision, then running around and enjoying their new field. That early moment of coolness on an otherwise hot day gave me a vision of gratefulness, and generosity, and a legacy that stretches for eternity. I want more of that, Lord, whatever it costs me.

Jay Ferguson, PhD, Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.