paying it forward pays you back.
Two weeks ago, I placed an order for 11 DVDs and 2 books from the Desiring God website. I have received the goods and I am absolutely delighted because I will soon embark on a JP buffet. My DYLM cell group would be the immediate beneficiaries of this purchase for they will feast on my regurgitation (if you know what I mean). My friend helped me to process the order and sent it to his friend who happened to be in the States. He actually went two miles for me for he paid for express delivery to ensure that the products arrived at his friend’s place before his friend returned to Singapore. When he passed it to me last Saturday, he refused to accept my payment. “Let me bless you”, he said. I was stunned, but thankful to God and appreciative to this brother. I offered to buy him lunch, but he said, “If you were blessed by it, then go and bless someone else”.
The year was 2004. I had a group of friends who gathered frequently at a friend’s house in Kembangan to play all kinds of boardgames. I stayed in Bishan then. It was a good 45-minute commute home. One in two times, this friend who hosted the gathering would send me back to Bishan, then travelled back home. I thanked him for his hospitality and I remember he said that it was his (then) fiancee’s father who taught him to be generous. He quoted his father-in-law, “Go and bless others”.
A year on, I remember how I paid it forward. I sent one of my musicians home after a late-night worship practice and he was appreciative of my gesture. He said, “Eh bro, thanks man, next time when I start driving, I’ll definitely send you home”. I replied, “Don’t mention, send others home instead”. I realised that this pay-it-forward mentality was already ingrained into me.
If I wrote an autobiography, I would be able to fill out an entire chapter with God’s blessings to me through people, in point form. I consider myself to be a blessed person and so from time to time, I will pay for meals and drinks, especially if the other person is younger than I am, or is one of my sheep. When they show their appreciation, and whenever I remember to say it, I will tell them to “Go and bless [their] sheep” then.
“… Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35b)
When I was younger, I was a selfish boy who subscribed to the “Give and Take” theory – you give, I take. I don’t know about you but the older I get, the more I want to bless others. I used to keep track of how much I spent on someone and my spending amount was directly proportionate to that person’s relational proximity to me. And I take mental notes; if the person doesn’t reciprocate, I’d reduce or cease completely the next time I am presented with an opportunity to bless him or her. I thank God that He’s helped me to overcome my old childish ways.
At the same time, I will also never be able to out-give my mentors; I don’t think they expect me to anyway. And just as my mentors have invested their time, energy and resources into me, I have done likewise, but I paid it forward to my mentees. I am convince that when we start to give without expecting anything in return, we become liberated gift-givers and blessing-bringers. I cannot deny how God has blessed me over the years and each time He blesses me through someone to remind me of His faithfulness, I can’t help but to be liberated and encouraged to be even more generous with my friends.
My friends, we will never be able to out-give God and it’d be crazy if we tried to out-give one another. May I then encourage all of us to give unreservedly, love unconditionally and expect absolutely nothing in return – especially to those who are in need. When all of us get involved in meeting each other’s needs, no one will be in need anymore. I don’t subscribe to the “full circle” theory, but you never know, one day all these blessings may return to you, but will probably end up with your children instead. I am half-confident to know that my youths – the ones whom I’m investing my life into right now – will, in time to come, invest their lives into my children and my children’s children.
Let’s pay it forward, for the valueless payment we receive for paying forward actually has the greatest payback value of all.
what does it mean to say “grace”?
Often we say “Grace” before partaking in meals as a formality without fully understanding its significance. I believe that “Grace” and grace is a gift from God as well as unmerited favour; we need to consciously remember that the food on our tables, though acquired by with our own resources, is still an indication of God’s providence in our lives. I say Grace because I want to give God the credit and the glory for the meal before me and so I engage my sentiments; I do not say Grace lightly.
I believe that saying Grace properly, seriously and appropriately has five main benefits which I’ve assembled in an alliteration. It gives you:
1. Perspective – If I may reiterate, I believe that all meals, big or small, cheap or expensive, are evidence of God’s goodness, faithfulness and providence in your lives. Most of the time, the meal is paid for with your money (someone else’s if you’re receiving a treat). Depending on your age, your money comes from either your parents or your job. Remember that it’s God who gave you your parents and your job. Surely, that reminds you of where your meal came from.
2. Purpose – When our hearts and minds are tuned into the right perspective, it helps us to answer the why of our communion. Besides eating for sustenance and survival, we should remember once again, that we should eat for God’s glory (note that the italics are not on the verb eat but on the presupposition for). Now, read carefully and get this – anything that is not done for God’s glory is naturally not for God’s glory; leaving God out of it would equate would equate to sin and that happens when we do not eat for God’s glory. More on that here.
3. (God’s) Presence – I find that praying together with fellow believers before meals is especially helpful in reminding us of the lingering presence of Christ, whom I believe is seated with us in every meal. In other words, saying Grace is the act of inviting God’s presence into the fellowship. There’s a holy repercussion in this acknowledgement – that our words and actions would carry intentionality and serve to build one another up, divert attention back to God and also be littered with grace.
4. Proof – I learnt this when I was working in Shanghai, away from an environment that is used to witnessing Christians suddenly bow their heads and close their eyes in public arenas to whisper a word of prayer before meals. Don’t underestimate how this mere act of coming before God to give thanks heightens other people’s awareness of your faith and whose you belong to. I’d like to think that saying Grace could prove “to be a wonderful witness for Christ to all the people” (John Piper).
5. Praise – I state the obvious; Grace is an expression of our genuine gratitude to God for the food – which is why we say, “Thank You”. I opine the inaccuracy of asking for the food to be “blessed”, simply because it already is a blessing that we are eating it! (Besides, to ask for the food to be blessed when it is already blessed reeks semblance to my former pagan practice – what‘s the point?) This analogy is exaggerated, but imagine the thankfulness we’d render in the light of famine or starvation.
I really enjoy JP’s writing and preaching. (I’m an ambitious dreamer, and I believe that one day, I will meet him in person.) There was a period of time that I recited his three well thought-out and excellently-written meal time prayers at all my meals; he wrote it for his own family’s use and at every meal they recite it together, from memory. I had actually wanted to revive this habit, but I was inspired to write, memorise and recite my own version, for my own family’s use.
So here it is, making its official debut, Joey Asher’s all-day “Grace”:
For All Meals, Anytime, Anywhere
Our gracious Father, we recall
Your true providence, both great and small.
The food ahead proclaims Your grace;
Let’s be still, Your presence we embrace.
We’re thankful, Lord, for nourishment;
Renew our strength, this good communion.
Our words, our deeds, they make You known;
We’ll proceed, for Your glory alone