Nick was a strong, healthy railroad man. He got along well with his fellow workers and was consistently reliable on the job. However, he was a pessimist who Constantly feared the worst.
One summer day, the crews were told they could quit an hour early in honor of the foreman’s birthday. When the other workmen left, Nick the notorious worrier, was accidentally locked in a refrigerated boxcar that was in the railroad yard for repairs.
He panicked. He shouted and banged until his voice went hoarse and his fists bloodied. His noises, if anyone heard them, were assumed to be coming from a nearby playground or from other trains backing in and out of the yard.
Nick reckoned the temperature in the car was zero degrees. “I can’t get out of here,” he thought. “I’ll freeze to death.” He found a cardboard box. Shivering uncontrollably, he scrawled a message to his wife and family. “So cold,” he wrote, “body’s getting numb. If I could just go to sleep. These may be my last words.”
The next morning, the crew slid open the boxcar’s heavy doors and found Nick’s body. According to the autopsy, every physical sign indicated he had frozen to death. But the car’s refrigeration unit wasn’t working The temperature inside was about 61 degrees and there was plenty of fresh air. Nick’s worst fear had become reality.”1
As incredible as it may seem, what I have just told you is a true story.
I used to play golf with a friend who loved to break the concentration of those with whom he played. When he succeeded, it gave him a definite advantage. I remember one game when he did his little psych job on us. “Do you guys breathe in or breathe out during your backswings?” he asked innocently. We knew what he was doing, but we couldn’t put the question out of our mind. We either ended up thinking about it, or deliberately trying not to think about it. No one had a good round that day — except that friend.
The point of both stories is this: once the brain has locked on to an idea, escaping it is almost impossible. In other words, if you think about everything that can go wrong, it will overwhelm you. So, keep your eyes on the ball and your mind on the goal. It’s a piece of advice that can be applied to any area of life. Don’t talk yourself out of success or greatness. Far worse than letting someone else tell you that you can’t do something is telling yourself that you can’t. It’s an insight that even applies to our church’s building campaign — Our Finest Hour, His Highest Glory.
My aim is to help you answer the question: How do I decide what I will give to help us build a new Sanctuary to the glory of God? As I see it, there are four steps involved in making that decision. I gave you the first step last week. It’s want to. You’ve got to make up your mind that you want to give before you decide what to give. The second step is able to. After deciding that you want to give, you’ve got to determine that you are able to give. Don’t be like Nick, the railroad worker, or the group of guys with whom I played golf. Don’t let your mind lock on to the idea that you can’t do anything — or you don’t have anything to give. If you do that, you’ll talk yourself out of both a blessing and a wonderful opportunity to be a part of a miracle.
Let’s see how the text relates to able to, the second step in making the important decision before each of us. I recalled the situation for you last week. The Apostle Paul was encouraging Christians who lived in Corinth to make good on a earlier commitment. Eighteen months before, they volunteered to take a generous relief offering to help poverty-stricken Christians in Jerusalem. They had just never gotten around to it.
As an example of what others had already done, Paul told the Corinthians about the Macedonians. Many were very poor. Some had been tested by many difficulties. Their resources were limited. Everything about their situation suggested that, because of their circumstances and needs, this was no time to be worrying about the needs of others. Yet, they eagerly and generously gave.(2 Corinthians 8:2)
I used to wonder how rich a person had to be before they could afford to give anything away much less be generous in their giving. But I’ve observed that poverty and hard times don’t automatically mean that people can’t give. Not having much doesn’t naturally make people selfish and stingy. In fact, some of the most unselfish and generous people I’ve ever known have been those of quite limited financial resources. For them, giving is more a matter of the heart than it is of circumstances. They know that you don’t have to be rich in material assets to be generous. You only have to know the true value of a rich relationship with God.
The Apostle Paul identified three steps involved in the miracle of Macedonian generosity. First, he said, they determined that they could give up. Then, by faith, they reached up beyond what they knew they were able to do. And third, their action grew out of their willingness to step up and take personal responsibility for being a part of what was taking place. Let’s look at each more closely.
First, they determined what they could give up (2 Corinthians 8:2). “They gave as much as they were able,” Paul wrote. The general tone of the passage makes you believe that the Macedonians seriously evaluated and prayerfully pondered their personal finances and what — in light of their existing income, assets, and obligations — they were able to give. In other words, their reaction to the appeal was not a sudden, knee-jerk emotional, or unrealistic response. They neither dismissed it immediately as impossible nor did they thoughtlessly jump in over their heads with unbridled enthusiasm and promise what they could never hope actually to give. The Macedonians wanted to give, and they sincerely looked for ways to give.
I’ve seen the process repeated many times in recent weeks. I recall the wife and mother who said that her family had never thought in terms of having any “extra” money. But because every family member wants to give to the construction of our church’s new Sanctuary, every one of them has looked for ways they can give. As a result, they’ve found ways to give and they’re now able to give! It’s been a family effort!
Last Monday morning, another church member told me that she and her husband had prayed for weeks about what they would be able to do. Then, during last Sunday morning’s worship service, God showed them both what they were able to give. They had some stock that neither of them had thought about for years until that worship service. Now, they’ve promised it to the Lord. They’ve become a part of the miracle that He is doing right here in our midst.
I’ve seen other people make tentative commitments, think that it’s settled, but then realize that they are able to give more than they had initially committed to give. So, they revise their commitment to reflect their ability. It’s because they continue to examine their ability and remain open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit.
That’s why Our Finest Hour, His Highest Glory is so much more than merely a money raising project. This is turning into a God-honoring, Christ-exalting, kingdom-building, church-energizing, family-strengthening spiritual journey. When God’s people learn that they are able to be generous with material things, it becomes a matter of spiritual growth and maturity.
In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul lists several spiritual consequences of the Macedonians’ generosity. Not only is the challenge being met and the need supplied, but God is glorified through their generosity. There are “many thanksgivings to God,” he writes, (2 Corinthians 9:12) Besides that, it proves their love for God.(2 Corinthians 9:13) In addition, the Christians in Jerusalem — the strangers they are helping — have begun to pray for the Gentile churches (2 Corinthians 9:14). All of that taken together simply means that what looked like nothing more than raising money was in reality a spiritual exercise which re-sulted in personal growth and much-improved health for the church. It only happened because they discovered that even in spite of difficult circumstances and hard times, they were able to give.
The second step in the Macedonians’ commitment to give is that, by faith, they reached up — stretched themselves — beyond what they knew they were able to do (2 Corinthians 8:3). Paul writes that they eventually gave “beyond their ability.”
Was it irresponsible to do that? If Paul had thought so, wouldn’t he have admonished them for acting irresponsibly? If theirs was a foolish act, would he have held them up as an example for others to follow? Would the Bible recall their action as an inspiration for others to imitate? Certainly not.
The truth is, Paul boasted about what the Macedonians did. In doing so, he taught an important principle: God wants us to take a step of faith and trust Him to be able to give based upon His future blessings and our future earnings. If Christians only give out of what they have already accumulated, or have in cash-on-hand, much of God’s work will go undone. Paul knew that it would take a lot of money to meet the needs of the Christians in Jerusalem. He also knew that what was needed could not be generated with a “one time” offering. So, he presented the need and asked them to make a long-range commitment. He asked them to lay aside money each week, for an extended period of time, to fulfill their faith promise (1 Corinthians 16:1-3).
It sounds an awful lot like what we’re doing, doesn’t it? Did you realize before now that the methods we’re using — long-term commitments, and even giving public witness to what we are giving — have such strong biblical precedents?
The whole idea behind this kind of commitment process is that we learn to trust God for the future. He doesn’t want us to be unrealistic and foolish about the commitments we make — to over-extend ourselves and promise something which is certainly beyond our capacity to accomplish, even with His help (2 Corinthians 8:12). By the same token, God doesn’t want us to exaggerate our inability and underestimate our capacity either — which is our tendency. If we do that, then we don’t believe and trust Him to provide what is beyond the realm of possibility for us.
I heard a professional golfer say, “I’m trying to arrange my life so that I die and my money runs out about the same time. If I can just die right after lunch next Tuesday, everything should be just fine.” That’s the way most of us assess our financial state. So, how do we strike a balance between faith and common sense? It takes God’s wisdom and counsel, along with prolonged and sincere prayer.
Last week, a man and his wife came to see me. They’ve sincerely struggled for weeks to know how they can have a part in our effort The trouble is, they have had serious financial difficulties for the past few years. They’ve got lots of debts and have even been paying back taxes.
But in January, they took a huge step of faith. In spite of all their financial difficulties, they decided to start tithing on the one income they have. And now, they want to give something to help build the new Sanctuary. We talked for a few minutes. I prayed with them and asked that God honor their desire, and that He provide some way for them to do what they want so desperately to do.
This week I saw them again. And do they have a story to tell! They received a check from the Internal Revenue Service this week, with the explanation that they had miscalculated and over-paid their back taxes. The amount of the refund was equal to the combined total of the two tithe checks they had written in January and February. The wife took an offering envelope out of her purse and said, “Pastor, we’re now tithing the IRS check. I’ve already made out a check for our tithe of the refund and am bringing it by right now to give to Rosalie.” I tell you, I’ve never seen anything like what God is doing here!
Be careful, though, with what you do with their experience. I’m convinced that their motive is a key to what God is doing in their lives. They didn’t give the tithe expecting God to give it back this way, so quickly. However, it is a biblical principle that as long as you keep sowing, God will keep giving the harvest out of which you can sow some more. Paul wrote: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and … your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God”(2 Corinthians 9:10-11).
But you can’t give expecting God to immediately give back what you’ve given to Him either in an equal amount or multiplied proportions. Your motive must simply be that you want to give and you’re willing to trust God to make it possible.
I’m convinced that God is in the process of honoring this couple’s desire to make a contribution to our sanctuary project. I’m also convinced that as long as they trust Him, and are willing to step out in faith as they did with their tithe, God will provide a way for them to give and also make certain that every other need is supplied.
The third step involved in the Macedonians’ decision about what to give is this: their generosity grew out of their willingness to step up and take personal responsibility for being a part of what was taking place (2 Corinthians 8:5). “Before they did any of this,” Paul wrote, “they gave themselves first to the Lord.” They didn’t sit back, offer excuses, and simply refuse to be a part of what was going on. They stepped up and took responsibility for a part of the work that God was doing. Listen: you can’t expect God to bless what you are doing in every area of your life — personal, professional, relational, emotional, or spiritual — as long as you refuse to be a part of what He’s up to. It’s just not going to happen!
Have you ever heard of Larry Walters? He’s a truck driver whose lifelong dream has been to fly. Unfortunately, poor eyesight disqualified him from being a pilot. But he never gave up his dream. He often sat in his lawn chair out in his back yard longing to fly.
One day, Larry got an idea. He went down to the local army-navy surplus store and bought a tank of helium and 45 weather balloons measuring more than four feet across when fully inflated. Back in his yard, Larry attached the balloons to his lawn chair, anchored the chair to the bumper of his jeep, and inflated all the balloons with helium. Then, he packed some sandwiches and drinks and loaded a BB gun, figuring that he could pop of few of the balloons when he got ready to come down to earth.
When everything was ready, Larry sat in his chair and cut the anchoring cord. But when he did, he didn’t float lazily up as he expected Larry shot up as if he had been fired from a cannon! Nor did he go up just a couple hundred feet. He climbed and climbed until he finally leveled off at eleven thousand feet. At that height, he couldn’t risk deflating any of his balloons for fear of unbalancing the load and dumping himself out of his flying lawn chair. So, he stayed up there for 14 hours, totally at a loss as to how to get down.
Eventually, Larry drifted into the approach corridor for Los Angeles International Airport. A pilot radioed the tower about passing a guy in a lawn chair at eleven thousand feet with a BB gun in his lap. (That’s a conversation I’d give anything to overhear.)
At this point, the Navy dispatched a helicopter to rescue him. Although it wasn’t easy, eventually they hovered over him, dropped a rescue line, and hauled him back to earth. As you might have guessed, as soon as Larry got down, he was arrested. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter called out, “Mr. Walters, why’d you do it?”
Larry stopped, eyed the man, then replied nonchalantly, “A man just can’t sit around, can he?”2
When God is doing something so wonderful as we see Him doing in our midst, a man can’t just sit around, can he? Why would anyone want to? This is something most of us have never seen before and many of us will never live to see again. Why wouldn’t everyone want to be a part of it? Why wouldn’t everyone be willing to step up and volunteer to be responsible for some part of what’s taking place?
Don’t be like the man who fell off the fifty foot ladder but didn’t get a scratch because he was only on the second step. He could have been a lot higher — 50 feet up, in fact. But he wouldn’t go any farther. Don’t you see? You’re on to something that could take you to new spiritual heights, but you’ve got to be willing to climb a little higher than you’ve ever been willing to go before.
Don’t worry. God will get you there — all the way. If you’ll do all you’re able to do, He’ll do the rest. You can count on Him!
1Dennis Waitley, Empires of the Mind (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1995), p. 126.
2Alice Gray, compiler, Stories For The Heart (Gresham, Oregon: Vision House Publishing, Inc., 1996), pp. 101-102.

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