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The Magazine: The discipline of giving to those who ask

The Magazine: The discipline of giving to those who ask

by Linda McMillan


Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:30, NIV)


There are several essays floating around the internet about whether or not to give money to panhandlers. The essays often advise giving socks or bus tickets instead. Still others advise that it’s better to give money to a social service agency. I am pretty sure that’s good advice, but it’s not enough, it doesn’t meet the standard of giving to all who ask.


Of course, giving money to panhandlers (or giving them socks, or bus tickets, or anything else) is surely not going to make much difference to them, it is not going to make society better either. As a well-meaning friend once said to me, “You’re not going to change the world,” and she was right! What has happened to me in my years of giving to others is something far more profound. Giving without question has not changed the world, it has changed me.


The writer of Luke has given us more than a rule to follow, it is a way of transformation.


There’s not a lot of guidance about it in the Bible. It does not say how much to give, and most of us do not have a lot of extra money. What I have found, though, is that even when I just give a little, it enlarges my own heart. I’ve developed a consciousness of plenty, and I don’t fear any lack. This is the mind-set of a Christian. It is freedom. There may be other ways to cultivate that, but for me it came through giving and not worrying too much about what happens to the money.


The Bible also doesn’t say what to give, but I think it’s implied that you should give people what they ask for. That’s how God treats people, after all. If we ask for a fish, we don’t get a snake.* So, before I give a pair of socks or a tube of lotion I make sure that it’s something that is actually wanted by the recipient. Giving money is usually better, though, because it gives people the dignity of making their own choices. They may not make the same choices I would make, but they have the dignity of deciding for themselves. That’s a gift of value, even if a few coins are not.


There is a panhandler who sits at the Lianhua Subway Station in the south west part of Shanghai. I’ve heard that she’s got an iPhone 6 Plus underneath all her rags and that she gets picked up by her husband in a Mercedes every night. I don’t know how people know that, but it’s what they say. When I worked near that subway station I gave her her a yuan (about .20 US) every day and I’d say, “Thank you.” She may have more money than I do, and most certainly a better mobile phone, but she has given me something I could never get on my own.


Giving to her reminds me that I am a con-artist too. I may hide it better, but we are all at least a little bit dishonest about ourselves.


It reminds me that I am a poor sinner, just like everybody else. I may not need money, but I am as needy and poor as anybody else, thank God.


I am more connected to my neighborhood and the world when I respond to the needs and opportunities around me. For me it has been a spiritual discipline that has paid off. There are other ways, of course. But, don’t dismiss this one just because some expert pretends to know better than the Bible. The writer of Luke was giving us good advice. It’s not so that we can change the world, it’s so we can be changed by it.


“…and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48

*Luke 11:11



Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China and is an avid ukelele player


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Reese Rickards

This is a fine essay. It reminds me, though, of an anecdote about a man who sat outside a bank entrance selling pencils. Every morning the president of the bank gave the seller a nickel but never took a pencil. One morning the financier handed over his usual 5 cents and the man said, “Sorry, but starting today pencils are a dime.”

Leonardo Ricardo

I think about it all the time.

Once upon a time I subscribed to the idea that I need not judge, or project where my benevolence would rest. I certainly needed to back away from ¨receiving attention¨ when doing my best to be of service to others. I thought by not-judging I was doing the right thing and being the right kind of honorable/humble (extra God points) man…I gave myself lots of pats on the back until I needed a swat on the ass. I discovered God wants me to be the authentic me and also wants me to use my head and decide what is wise/un (I’ve lost a lot of money and two, count em, businesses pretending things/people are different than they really are to preserve my sense of personal integrity/piety). No doubt there were lessons learned all-around. I think I learned mine. It took plenty of very bad/wishful thinking to clear up my personal craving for enhanced tolerance for others (who am I to tolerate anyway?). I needed to say, ¨yes¨ and ¨no¨ and ¨maybe¨ and be able to change my mind entirely. I had to ask specific questions like: WHERE does the money go, exactly).

Where I live there are many NGO’s operating (mostly for the very good of those who need a helping hand, or twenty, in the form of health advise, medical attention, clean water, clean personal integrity along with basics to survive. There are some around me, my everyday life, who excel at giving without receiving and not looking back and making really good efforts to help in ways in which they can be useful (not wasteful)…these are people I admire (and mostly they don’t wish to be admired for giving freely). There are others who have exploited the poor, the needy, the undereduated with the specific idea of appearing NOBLE (while becoming wealthy while grandstanding on their marvelous ¨work¨ helping others).

Makes me ill, but ¨taking advantage¨ of the hardship of others makes me also attempt to keep a keen eye on the integrity in me. That is the reward. Paying sharp attention to reality (mine and other peoples as it appears before me) is what I think God expects from me…I like reality, it surely is more stand up appropriate than going along with shabby forms of exploitation in the land of eternal ¨feel good¨ seat of onespants pretend.

Annette Carr

My heart was changed on this subject when, years ago, my husband and I were stopped at a traffic light and woman stood on the side of the road holding sign asking for help. My husband dug in his pocket, pulled out a bill, handed to me to give the woman, just as the light was changing. As I hurriedly handed it out the window, I realized that it was a $10 bill. The woman clutched it to her chest and tears welled up in her eyes. We pulled away.

I asked my husband why he didn’t just give her a dollar or two. I figured that the money would be used for booze or drugs, so why be so generous to that cause? His reply was to ask me just how bad my life would have to be, how much hopelessness would it take, for me to stand at the side of the road holding a sign begging for money? Whatever she used it for was up to her, we were called by God to give. I no longer take inventory of another’s heart before giving when asked. I’m believe I am called by God to give what I can, what they do with the gift is between them and God.

Cynthia Katsarelis

Mitvah’s do enlarge our hearts. I guess that’s why mission trips generally change the missioners more than the missionees.

Having been traveling to Haiti and teaching there for a few weeks a year, for a decade, I have to add that the change needs to be more than personal development. The change in us needs to translate into actions that heal others. While that may be implied, I believe that we live in an age where it needs to be spelled out.

Lelanda Lee

Thank you for this helpful perspective and reminder that transformation is as much about me as it is for the person(s) I encounter and maybe do some ministry with. The giver also receives if open to it.

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