December 12, 2017

What Is My Portion?

“and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,

and your night will become like the noonday.”

Isaiah 58:10

One of my daughters has travelled to more than a dozen countries in the last year, sometimes for work, sometimes for missions, but always because she’s not afraid to say ‘yes’ when God invites her on a journey. In her apartment, a suitcase remains almost perpetually open, interesting for the variety of odd contents being packed depending on the upcoming destination. Most recently, I noticed mosquito netting, malaria pills, toilet paper, water bottles and thrift shop clothing – the portion necessary to her survival for an upcoming journey.

Immediately following the earthquake that leveled the already impoverished island nation of Haiti earlier this year, Ashley made plans to go in June and work for a local church that is directing feeding programs and repair efforts in a city about 25 miles from Port au Prince. It was from there that she called me to let me know that she was well physically, but heartbroken over the poverty she found.

Landing in Port au Prince, she saw hordes of still homeless people and piles of spontaneously combusting trash in the streets. A three-hour bus trip took her to a less crowded, but no less poor area.

Her “hotel” was the only place for miles with running water – a cold trickle only – and toilets that flushed. The mattresses were bare and a fan blowing on the bed helped a bit to keep the sweltering heat and bugs at bay, but relative to everything else it was luxurious.

The church used tanks of purified water and had only an outhouse for a toilet. Staff and local residents worked hard making meals for the feeding program and to support the teams of workers that came in to help. College interns on mission slept in tents under mosquito nets. Ashley met one student who had dropped everything when the earthquake hit and flew immediately to help in Haiti, neglecting to take the time for vaccines. In spite of months living in primitive conditions, he remained healthy.

The work team completed repairs to a clinic damaged in the quake, organized donations of children’s clothing, diapers and infant formula into care packages and spent time with the children who walked miles daily just for the loving attention.

In many cases, the mothers are so young, the children are so numerous and energy so depleted, that what is needed as much as food are two arms to hold a little one close.  “Some of them fall asleep almost instantly when you pick them up because being held feels so good to them.” Ashley said,  “Momma, you have to be with me when I come back. You will love the children.”

Two in particular captured her heart. One little boy, about five, followed and watched her as she worked. When the other children lined up for their one daily meal at the church, Stevenson did not go to the line. My daughter learned he had no one to sponsor him and was not permitted to eat, so she took him by the hand and said to the pastor, “I will sponsor him, but he needs to eat today.” She did the same for a ten-year-old girl and is trying to find sponsors for two more children she met.

Stories like this have prompt me to once again evaluate how I live my life and distribute my time, energies and income. It prompts me to ask, “Lord, what portion do you want me to use for myself and what portion do you want me to give?”

When I first became a believer, the words of Malachi directed me.

“Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”  (Malachi 3:8-10)

Two tithes were required of the Israelites – one annually which provided for the upkeep of the Temple and a second tithe to provide for the poor. Christians continue the practice, even though the command was for Jews and for the purpose of supporting their priesthood and poor.

That was Old Testament law, but what am I do about giving in light of two considerations – the freedom I have from the law as a believer in Christ and the extreme love and grace I have experienced through him? Over the years, I’ve begun to think of giving in a different way. Tithing presented me with the question,  “What is the portion or percentage I am bound to give away?” When that was determined, then I concluded the remainder was the portion I was to live on. However, by asking, “What is my portion?” I learn what I can freely give away.

I have been inspired to know people who committed in advance to not exceed a certain standard of living even though their professional callings would provide riches. They inquired of God who let them know what their portion was to be and decided to give away what was above and beyond their portion in order to build his kingdom.

Questioning what my portion is is something I’ve done far more than I realized. In marriage and other relationships, I’ve constantly gauged whether I give adequate time, attention or effort. Have I used the family budget selfishly or with unselfish consideration? I’ve also wondered at times if I’ve demanded more than my share of others, emotionally or otherwise. When I became a mother and there were suddenly increased demands on my time, I had to determine what my portion was in terms of time spent sleeping or reading. Suddenly, there were little ones with intense needs to consider and I laid aside some of the time I had always used for myself. Every time I eat, portion is a question. Too much? Too little? As someone running a business, portions are of primary concern. I’ve asked, “How much goes here? How much goes there? How much should my paycheck be?” or, at times, “Do I get a paycheck?”

How often, though, have I gone before God and asked, “Lord what do you say is my portion?” Recognizing that we experience seasons, perhaps I have asked at the right times. It seems transitions in life stimulate those questions when they need to be asked. Parenting demands, work demands or even the demands of caring for a sick loved one or someone going through financial upheaval, keep life in constant flux. God allows different portions at different seasons.

Further, we are all individuals and God has different requirements and callings for each of us. The portions he assigns us will be different and tailored for what he desires to accomplish through us. When we start to make assumptions or rules about what someone’s portion ought to be, we’ve thrown grace out the window and have reverted to the law. If we become jealous of another’s portion, we have strife in the Body. We are human. Sometimes we will get it right and sometimes we will get it wrong, but the rightness and wrongness of our living and giving is for God to judge. Nevertheless, ignoring the needs of the poor is not an option.

Mother Teresa determined before God that her portion was a couple of changes of clothing and a bowl of rice with a banana each day. She ministered to the poorest of the poor. Others are called to minister to world leaders. In order for them to even gain an audience with such people, their portions and positions may necessarily be different.

It’s reasonable to wonder why the portion of some, like those my daughter met in Haiti, seems so deficient. That is only one small poor place in the world and there are many more. Would God really ordain so much poverty? Jesus did acknowledge that we would have poor among us always (Matthew 26:11) since the earth is still subject to the curse for a time. He also made the assumption that his followers would be givers saying, “So when you give to the needy …” both in verses 2 and 3 of Matthew 6. Furthermore, he tells us in Matthew 25 that when we feed the hungry or clothe the naked, it’s as if we have fed and clothed him.

Jesus made no blanket statement about how much was enough except in the case of the rich young prince, to whom he said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

When Jesus sent the Twelve on a journey (Luke 9:3), he told them in advance what their portion was to be – “no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” On other journeys they did have some provision.

While Jesus said of himself (Matthew 8:20), “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” he demonstrated he was not opposed to enjoying the hospitality of the wealthy (i.e. Matthew and Zacchaeus.) Nevertheless, a couple of principles in his teachings seem apparent.

First, Christ’s expectation seemed always to be that those who loved him would live simply enough to be able to follow when he beckoned. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to be his disciples they were busy at their work, fishing. He said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:19,20)

Jesus famously rebuked Martha, not for serving him, but for being so elaborate in her preparations that she could not take the time to simply be in his presence as her sister Mary was doing. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” (Luke 10:41,42) In his life, Christ exemplified simplicity, first laying aside the wealth of heaven to put on human flesh. He then demonstrated a simple life of prayer, mission and trust in the Father that he longs for us to learn. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29, 30)

Second, Christ expected that those who came into true fellowship with him desired to be givers. There are multiple examples in the Gospels where Jesus expresses his joy over a demonstration of lavish giving, but there is a scene in the Old Testament, made noteworthy in the New. It illustrates beautifully this idea that Christ followers be givers, not out of compunction under law, but out of hearts overflowing with gratitude and love under God’s infinite grace.

Genesis 14 gives an account of Abram defeating Kedolaomer and an alliance of other kings in battle. Melchizedek, king of Salem, came to meet him bringing bread and wine. Mekchizedek was also a priest of God and he blessed Abram. Abram’s grateful response was to give Mechizedek a tenth of all the spoils of the battle.

Hebrews 7 provides insight into Genesis 14, identifying Melchizedek as a type of Christ, both a king and a priest. His realm was Salem, meaning peace. Under Levitical law, the Israelites were obligated to pay tithes or suffer the consequences. Yet here we see Abram receiving Melchizedek’s gifts of bread and wine (the body and blood of Christ) as well as his blessing and then responding out of gratitude by giving his tithe voluntarily. Verses 12 and 22 of Hebrews 7 boil down the theme. “For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” (12) “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.”(22)

Indeed, a new priest has come – Jesus. We now have a better covenant – grace. What then is our response? It is to spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed. It is to ask, “What is my portion?”

Editor’s postscript: If you would like to sponsor one of the children in Haiti through the organization Lisa refers to above, email me (jeff@internetmonk.com) and I will pass your information on to Lisa.

Comments

  1. Great article – very thought provoking.l Making a choice on lifestyle is important. I find it so easy to slip into a higher standard without really thinking about it or choosing on the basis of God’s calling. Thanks.

  2. Great post. That is why I believe what is written and remains faithful to God.
    We must seek first for the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to us.
    God’s commandments are pure and righteous. It also bring us to true wealth – that is wealth which are long-lasting and enduring. We all have all the portion of God’s kingdom – and the greatest in the kingdom of God are those who are His humble servants.

  3. Boethius says:

    Excellent post! Very thought provoking!

  4. He went to the preacher, He went to the sheriff
    He told them all the same
    “Sell all of your jewelry and give it to the poor,”
    And they laid Jesus Christ in His grave.
    “Jesus Christ” by Woody Guthrie

  5. SearchingAnglican says:

    All I can say is…THANK YOU for this beautiful and scripture-based reflection. This is the issue that I am wrestling with right now in my Christian journey. Wrestling not out of guilt, or obligation, but out of gratitude and joy. Whom am I called to serve? And how? This question has changed my life, and it is continuing to shape it day by day.

    Two subtle, but powerful observations you made really stand out to me.

    First, you mention that transitions in life stimulate asking the question, “What is my portion?” I have found that to be profoundly true. If I were to plot out the times in my life where I have been drawn (or called) to invest my money, time and energies, it seems to coincide with major life changes. Is it new opportunity coming my way, or is it that in the midst of change, I see the world with new eyes and hear God with new ears?

    Second, you also say:

    “The portions he assigns us will be different and tailored for what he desires to accomplish through us. When we start to make assumptions or rules about what someone’s portion ought to be, we’ve thrown grace out the window and have reverted to the law. If we become jealous of another’s portion, we have strife in the Body. We are human. Sometimes we will get it right and sometimes we will get it wrong, but the rightness and wrongness of our living and giving is for God to judge.

    This is So. Very. Important. for me to remember again and again. Hate to admit it, but it’s easy for me to get frustrated by someone’s lack of interest in *my* passion for mission and outreach, particularly in my small (and rather sleepy) church community. While on the other hand, it’s easy to become envious of another’s energy, fortitude, passion, and ability to get big things accomplished in the name of Christ. But we are all different, called to different things in our lives.

    I do think that going on a mission trip, whether international or not, opens our eyes to not only the desperate need in places like Haiti, but also makes us more finely attuned to the need in our own backyard, and it can envigorate a church community to start really looking for concrete answers to the question “What is my portion?”

    This will be one I chew on for a while. Thanks, Lisa!

    • Lisa Dye says:

      Thank you. I appreciate your comments. Sometimes our own searches and questions spark the same in others. You probably have more people observing you and being inspired by you than you know.

  6. Wow, thank you for this fantastic reflection. My thoughts ran along the same lines when I blogged along the lines of suffer not our children, but your thoughts on this topic are spot on. The mission experience has been a wonderful counterbalance to our NA ideas of adequate portion, and my oldest daughter seems to have taken this message deeply into her way of life, while my youngest seems to have been taken captive by other temptations. Again, thanks.

  7. Lam 3:24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

    I didn’t quote that just to be trite.The more that is true for my heart, the more my lifestyle falls in line. It isn’t anything I planned for or did, but the natural outgrowth of the work of the Holy Spirit in me. Like the Samaritan I find many a bleeding person lying on the side of the road as I travel, and as those meetings turn me on to their ongoing need, I collapse at the end of the day with the ever larger “ministry” I find myself running.

  8. Thank you for this thoughtful reflection. “What is my portion?” is a good question to ask with the intention of listening and obeying vs. just asking without really wanting hear what the word of the Lord to us may be. I also think our “portion” is not only material but knowledge, time, presence, etc. One might be generous with their money but witholding and stingy with their time.

  9. Our air conditoner has not worked for several days of high humidity and temps around 90. I have thought several times how many people live in situations such as you have described. A a part will arrive to fix the air conditoner, but what/who will help folks in poverty in Haiti and elsewhere? We all need to look at our “portion.”

  10. ahumanoid says:

    “Indeed, a new priest has come – Jesus. We now have a better covenant – grace. What then is our response? It is to spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.”

    May that be true of all of us. Thanks for the compelling post.

  11. thank you. This message came at an important time: just before I begin my career and my husband and I have to make even more decisions about how we should (want to) live our lives. I like the simplicity of the idea of just asking, “Lord, what will you have my portion be?”