Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I am Able But it is Not Possible for Me: The Place of No in Giving

He came to our door with a crumpled instant photograph in his hand. Over hot milky tea he explained to us that his wife had just had surgery to remove a tumor from her stomach. We had the unpleasant privilege of seeing pictures of the tumor as he illustrated the truth of his predicament.  

Two trays of mandazis, a full pot of chai, and an hour later came the request. Could we give him money to pay the hospital bill, please?

Living in a very remote African village required that we plan carefully. We traveled into town only once every month for supplies. 

Unfortunately for this day’s visitor, it was week three and our allotted money for giving was gone. The last of it had walked out the door in the form of a kilo of maize meal for a local widow the day before. We simply had no cash at all for anything. The chickens weren’t even laying eggs.

As we explained to him that we could not help him today, we could see disbelief reflected in his eyes. After all, we had a tin roof over our mud house, a luxury indeed. We had a huge barrel in the back to collect precious rain water. Surely we were wealthy.

I asked him to come back another week, and we would help him. That answer was not sufficient for him, and he left disappointed and angry with us.

As I watched him walk down the dusty road, the golden evening sunset shimmering on the palm leaves as he passed, I was in anguish. 

I was stuck between the obvious truth that I was able to give, simply because I had More, and the reality that in this moment I was unable to give, because I did not have what he asked for. I did not like being misunderstood.

We spent long hours reflecting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:42, “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

A friend observed that Jesus does not say in this passage what to give, He just commands that we give and not turn away.

We had given our time, our compassion, our food, and friendship. But we had not given him money, the thing for which he asked. Was it enough?

It was not until many mistakes and long years later that I learned a phrase in Arabic, Knq’dr, walakin ma’yimkinlish, which translated means, “I am able to, but it is not possible for me at this time.” 

After watching me exhaust myself with too many yes’s that should have been no’s, a local friend quietly pulled me into the kitchen one day and explained to me this gem of a reply. You can’t save everyone, she said to me. My Muslim sister-friend saw something I did not.

I did not see that giving hearts sometimes say no.

But is that okay, I wondered? Shouldn’t I give everything? Sacrifice? Lay my life down? When the requests would come, I would think to myself, I am able. So I must.

I am afraid in my attempt to be like Christ I was rather being a fool.

As I dug deeper into the gospels, I began to understand that Jesus often did not give people the thing for which they asked. Yet He always gave. In fact His very ministry years seemed contrary to all they expected and demanded of the coming King.  

Knq’dr, walakin ma’yimkinlish. But He was Jesus, God of the Universe. He was certainly able, but yet did not always give what they asked for. 

In Matthew 14 when the disciples asked him to send the crowds away for something to eat, they were really asking Jesus to give them a break from giving. Ministry with Jesus was exhausting! They just added a practical, logical observation to the request in hopes it would justify the heart of the petition: we are tired, give us a break.  

Jesus did not give them the break they asked for. Instead, He gave them an opportunity to serve beyond their exhaustion and lean on His strength in their inability. Five thousand people were fed that day because He said no to their original request, and they learned that He takes our lack and multiplies His provision.

In Matthew 15, the Canaanite woman asked Jesus to deliver her daughter. She addressed Jesus in the most formal and respectful way she could come up with: “Lord Son of David”. This identified Him as Jewish, emphasizing her own cultural difference from him as a Canaanite. She was an outsider. It was a formality, much like we would address a person of authority whose help we needed.

Jesus gave her silence in return, at least at first. He challenged her and the listening crowds’ prejudiced and racist assumptions about deservedness, and waited. 

She responded in faith, making the great leap from approaching him as a formal authority to recognizing Him as her Lord, in verse 27. She received the gift of faith and a relationship with the Savior that day. And in the end her faith gained her the original request… her daughter was delivered.

I was intrigued with Jesus’ deep composure and listening posture. He was never afraid to be silent, answer slowly, wait. I often respond the opposite; I feel anxious and pressured to help and provide a needed request as soon as possible. Patient, thoughtful giving requires faith and listening to the Holy Spirit.

As I began to try to walk in Jesus’ footsteps of giving and not turning away, of listening to the Holy Spirit to lead me in how or what to give, I found myself saying no more than yes. 

I found that my reputation was riddled with pride, and I did not like the feeling of being thought of as anything but completely generous. 

Was my giving about giving, or was it about my image? Was the heart of my generosity a desire to see others helped in Christ’s name, or in my own?

I slowly let go of pride (am still letting it go daily) and began asking God to examine my motives. I found that I had to rely on the Father more than myself with this kind of giving habit, trusting Him with the ones He sent instead of thinking their help depended on me.

I started praying more, relying on Him more for them. Less on me. And my giving became increasingly more joyful, invigorating, not exhausting. My faith grew as I watched my no open the door to God's bigger yes. I realized I had sometimes actually gotten in His way with my obsessive yes's.

What is most important to me now is that I give what God leads me to give to the one asking. It is sometimes painful not to give what is asked for, because on the surface it can look like rejection. As the man walked away from our mud house that African afternoon so long ago, he felt rejected. 

But we knew that we treated him honorably and honestly, and that Christ did not reject him that day.  Our love was sincere, and the words we gave him were Truth. We can rest in that.

Giving hearts sometimes say no. I am able, but it is not possible for me at this time. Knq’dr, walakin ma’yimkinlish.

Let’s be listening givers. Patient, able to wait on the leading of the Lord. May we do those in need the honor of seeking God for them, for He sees the deepest needs of the heart and probes every circumstance. He surely loves them more than we can fathom, and will show us what to give.

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. Matthew 5:42

What are your thoughts about the place of no in giving? Share your insights in the comment section below.


Jesus often did not give people the thing for which they asked. Yet He always gave.  (Click to Tweet)

Giving hearts sometimes say no. (Click to Tweet)

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