The Cheerful Giver"The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, encourages us to be a cheerful giver. In other words, do not give grudgingly, or do not give with the purpose of expecting something in return. St. Paul challenges us to operate, not from the principal of scarcity, but from the principal of abundance. If we operate from the principal of scarcity, our attitude is that there is only so much to go around; therefore, I must keep what I have for myself. If we operate from the principal of abundance, we have the inner disposition that there is enough for everyone, and that what I have is gift.
Jesus points out in the Gospels that there are three sources of growth in God's grace and abundant love: prayer, fasting and alms giving. These are the three pillars on which holiness is build in accordance with the Judaeo-Christian faith tradition. But a word of caution is attached to each of these activities. God's abundant grace will not be recognized or experienced by anyone who approach these activities with the improper disposition or intention. As Jesus would say: If you trumpet before you the giving of alms in order to gain the attention of others or if you pray and fast in order to be seen or impress others, then you cut yourself off from God's grace. Why is this?
The answer is that we are doing these holy acts for the wrong reason. We are not doing them with an intention of gratitude or giving thanks to God for His generous and unconditional love. We are doing them to perpetuate the illusion of our own false "self". This false "self" must be transcended or die if we are to experience God's Kingdom within.
So what should we do first? Should we first pray, fast and give alms even though we may do them with an incorrect intention, or should we first develop the right intention, and then pray, fast and give alms?
My view is that we must do both, together. I have found, over the years, that my actions of prayer, fasting and giving alms are not always motivated by the purest of intentions. But through the actions themselves, I become aware that my intentions are not pure. Whenever my prayer is overly concerned with what I get out of it, then I am perpetuating the false self. But when my prayer is offered with the right intention and disposition, then God's grace and love is very evident.
All of our life's experiences can teach us to pray, fast and give alms with the purest of intention and with the right disposition.
You learn through self-examination. Is the interactions between yourself and others peaceful? What is your attitude about giving your money or time? What makes you angry? What do you have a hard time giving up? What draws you into behaviors that are inappropriate or hurtful to others?
When we discover these things, we begin to act against them, and we pray for the grace to overcome them. God, who is as close as our own heart, hears. It's our life work, but through this word we experience an inner transformation that leads to a discovery of our purpose and God's Kingdom within.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: "May this cup pass me by, but your will, not mine be done." Jesus always prayed with the intention of serving and giving glory to God.
Like Jesus, when I can move into the quiet and secret room of my own heart, when I can experience God's abundant grace and love for me, it is then that I know that I pray with the purest of intention and with the right disposition. It is then I can set aside the cravings and desires of my illusionary false self, and focus on the path God desires me to follow.