When I was little, I had a Precious Moments Bible. Every so often there would be an illustration of the Precious Moments dolls enacting one of the verses on the next page. I clearly remember a picture of a girl pushing a cart of puppies holding a sign that read "Free Puppies". The caption under the picture stated "God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7". I remember the irony of the face of the girl (of course when I was little I didn't know what irony was, I just thought that it was funny) . The Precious Moments dolls always seemed to have such sad looks on their faces. So this very sad looking girl is passing out free puppies and, she's doing it cheerfully? I understand. If I had a cart of puppies and my job was to give them all away, I would be pretty sad about it too. This is the only picture from that entire Bible that I remember. It must have left a lasting impression, but what kind? This "precious" girl wanted to serve the Lord so she gave the only thing that she had, a new litter of puppies. Was she happy to serve the Lord, but sad to see her puppies go? She obviously wasn't thinking about the responsibility of raising an entire litter of puppies, I mean that's a lot of Dog Chow and scooping of poo. Maybe somehow the irony of this picture left me with a "fake it till you make it" attitude. Maybe she wasn't happy about giving away her puppies but, eventually the joy of others' upon receiving a puppy would then give her a cheerful heart. Is this what serving is supposed to be like? Is this what being a Christian is supposed to be like? We do things, sometimes because we want to, but mostly because we're supposed to?
I know several people, myself being at the top of the list, who get into a rut when they serve. It begins with cheerfulness, great ambition and promise, knowing that I can make a difference. I am eager to jump in wherever needed and I take great pride in my work. When I'm not careful, that great pride turns from a pride in serving God into a pride in the work itself. I become stuck in a place where serving is actually striving. Striving to prove to others that I'm good enough, that I'm capable, that I'm a good Christian, that I'm important in my church family. Striving to prove to myself that I'm important, that what I do matters, that I matter. Striving to prove to God that I really have changed and have turned from my old ways, that I'm worthy of the blood of Christ. Striving to prove something to God is what leads me to serve in fear. It slowly becomes something that I'm supposed to do rather than something that I want to do, just like giving up all of those adorable puppies. I serve because I'm a Christian and a member of a church and it's just what I'm supposed to do. I volunteer because God has called me and I know that I'm supposed to do....something. It's when I choose to do the work on my own, when I stop seeking Him for what He has called me to do and what He has planned for me and I start to pick and choose or reluctantly sign up for ministries on my own that the cheerfulness is taken away. I stop experiencing the joy in serving my God because I have begun to strive for and towards him rather than embrace what He has for me and step into a calling that I can joyfully and cheerfully serve Him in from here until eternity.
In the words of an anointed worship artist, Rita Springer: there is no striving in God's love. Freely He has given to us, He has called us daughters and sons.
No work that we can do can change our hearts towards God and, more importantly, no work that we can do can change God's heart towards us. He gives freely and without condition. That in and of itself should cause us to be cheerful givers. But we tend to strive and operate outside of this knowledge. Let's turn that tide in our lives. Let's accept the freeness and fullness of God's love. Let's no longer get caught in the lie that we have to earn it. Let's operate in the knowledge that God loves us and gave us a purpose and calling in our lives, and then FREELY serve Him with an abundantly cheerful heart.