Week of July 22: Generosity flows from encounter with a wondrous God

7/6/2012

Lesson for week of July 22
Scripture: 2 Kings 8:1-6
By Kim Reindl 
Opening question: 
Who do you know that is a truly generous person?  What characteristics of generosity does this person display?
      Human economy operates from a perspective of scarcity, whereas God’s economy operates from a perspective of abundance.  We live in a world of “haves” and “have nots.”  Those who have often grasp life tightly in their fists, fighting to hold on to what is “theirs.”  Those who have not often reach and claw for what they desire, desperately seeking to obtain and possess.  Both postures in life indicate a stance before the world that reflects self-reliance, as well as a belief that there is not enough to go around.  Such a stance is not of God.  God’s posture before us is a posture of openness from which extravagant generosity flows.  It is a posture that reflects a knowledge of abundance, grounded in the divine character instead of human self-sufficiency.
        In today’s scripture passage, we encounter once again the Shunammite woman from 2 Kings 4:8-37.  She is a wealthy woman who has shown extreme generosity to “the man of God,” Elisha the prophet.  Whenever Elisha would pass through Shunem, she would feed him a meal.  Furthermore, this woman built a room for Elisha so that he would have a place to stay whenever he came there.  
        As a result of her generosity, Elisha desired to do something for the woman in return.  When the woman indicated that she had no apparent need, Elisha determined that she should bear a son since she “[had] no son, and her husband [was] old” (2 Kings 4:14).  Later, when the son dies an untimely death, the woman petitions Elisha for help.  Elisha performs a miracle and restores the child to life.
     Interestingly, the Shunammite woman in this passage could be seen to possess the potential for human self-reliance.  First, she is a wealthy woman who apparently owns her own land and seems to have no material need (2 Kings 4:8-10; 8:6).  Second, she is seemingly powerful and holds a secure place within society (i.e., she is able to speak for herself before her husband, Elisha, and the king—2 Kings 4:9-10, 22-23, 28, 30; 8:6; and she has a place among her own people—2 Kings 4:13).  
      Yet what we find in this woman is the ability to let go of what is hers.  Instead of clinging to what she has, she gives freely to Elisha of her own initiative and she heeds the word of Elisha, relinquishing her land to go live in less than hospitable circumstances among the Philistines.  The Shunammite woman, instead of trusting in herself, her position, and her possessions, trusts in Elisha, the “holy man of God” (2 Kings 4:9).
      The Shunammite woman demonstrates trust in God’s power instead of human self-sufficiency.  We do not know if the woman has always been generous, or if, perhaps, she is responding to what she has learned of God through Elisha and the news of his miracles.  Regardless, she recognizes Elisha as a “man of God” and responds with extreme trust and extravagant generosity.  
       Remarkably, a generous response is also shown by the king in the passage when the woman appears to petition for her land.  The scripture tells us that upon hearing “the great things that Elisha has done” the king chooses to “restore all that was [the Shunammite woman’s], together with all the revenue of the fields from the day that she left the land until now” (2 Kings 8:6).  Such an extremely generous response from the king is certainly unexpected.  
       The response is even more remarkable considering that this king is most likely a son of Ahab, King of Israel, “who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 King 21:25), who set out to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard after Naboth was murdered at the hands of his wife, Jezebel (1 Kings 21:16).  
      When we encounter the reality of God’s greatness, something within us is transformed.  We are able to move from a posture of closed fists to a posture of open hands.  Instead of building storehouses for ourselves, we place our trust in God and the abundance of God’s kingdom (Matt. 6:19-21; Luke 12:32-34).  Like the Shumannite woman, and even the king, when we encounter the wonder of God we are able to let go.  
      Abundant generosity comes from a place of encounter with God.  We are able to let go because we know that God is great and that God is good.  When we have been touched by the wonder of God, our posture in life assumes a stance of open generosity that flows from God’s abundant grace.
Questions for further reflection:
In your opinion, is it easier to be generous if you have a little or if you have a lot (i.e., a little or a lot of status, material possessions, power, etc.)?  Explain.
How does trust in God differ from trust in self?  If one trusts in God, how is this reflected in a posture of open hands (as opposed to closed fists)?
 Kim Reindl is Vice-Chair of the Nurture Team for the North Georgia Conference and is the founder of Pomegranate Christian Education & Formation. You can contact her at kim.reindl@gmail.com.


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