Transformational Generosity

A young boy sneaks onto an empty stage just before world-famous Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s sold-out concert performance and starts playing “Chopsticks.” The angry crowd tries to shout the boy off the stage, but Paderewski rushes to his side and plays harmony with him through the end of the song, urging… 

“Keep going. Don’t quit, son. Keep playing. Don’t stop. Don’t quit.”

Generosity of spirit transformed that moment not just for the young boy, but for everyone in that concert hall and, likely, you who are reading about it right now… Generosity is core to the nature of God, and is a visceral fruit of the Spirit in our lives. And that matters even more now than ever before in my lifetime, because our culture has (in so many ways) descended into meanness, vitriol, and reaction. Nothing cures those ailments faster, and more deeply, than a generous spirit…

The Ferocious Generosity of Jesus

When you’re dying it’s not an easy thing to treat others with generosity—and when you’ve been crucified, mocked, scourged, taunted, and abandoned, generosity is unthinkable. But Jesus is generous to the thief on the cross because generosity is fundamental to His nature: “One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: ‘Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!’ But the other one made him shut up: ‘Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43, MSG).

Generosity, like laughter, is a powerful way to lever open closed, bolted, and barricaded doors in a person’s soul. Jesus’ generous response to the thief on the cross did not demand an explanation for his past behavior or even an overt act of repentance. Jesus gave, because Jesus gives. And when we offer unexpected generosity the way Jesus offers it, we leverage open closed doors and shuttered windows.

The Source of Sinatra’s Loyalty

Why did one of the great American singers of all time, Frank Sinatra, choose an obscure Italian restaurant in New York City as his favorite hangout, ignoring a host of swankier, better-located options? Many forget that Sinatra, a legendary performer, suffered through years of embarrassing failure in the early 50s, when his career was crashing. During that season of shame the owner of Patsy’s on West 56th Street, Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo, used to sit with Sinatra as he ate his lunch, alone and shunned by the people he called “my fair-weather friends.”

One year, on the eve of Thanksgiving, Sinatra quietly made a reservation with Patsy to eat alone the next day, asking him to serve “anything but turkey.” Sinatra wanted to forget that he had nowhere to go on Thanksgiving, but he didn’t want to be alone. The restaurant was supposed to be closed on Thanksgiving, but Patsy didn’t tell Sinatra that. He invited the families of the restaurant’s staff to come in for dinner, too, so the singer wouldn’t suspect what Patsy had done. Many years later, Sinatra discovered Patsy’s quiet act of generosity toward him—and that’s why he never stopped coming to the restaurant, even when he worked his way back to the top of the entertainment world.

Many wondered about Sinatra’s perplexing loyalty to Patsy’s over the years, but Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bob Greene says: “It was no big secret to the Scognamillo family. They all knew. A person recalls how he is treated not when he is on top of the world, undefeated, but when he is at his lowest, thinking he will never again see the sun.” And when the thief asks Jesus to remember him in Paradise, and Jesus responds with shocking generosity, what happens in the thief’s heart? Likely, this man who was haunted by his guilt and shame is even now “recalling how he was treated not when he was on top of the world…but when he was at his lowest” as he enjoys the “pearl of great price” in the Kingdom of God.

The Name of the Cleaning Woman

In a story that went viral on the Internet, Nurse Joann C. Jones remembers a tipping-point moment in her path toward a career in the medical world: “During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: ‘What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?’ Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. ‘Absolutely,’ the professor said. ‘In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.’ I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.”

We know how the professor’s challenge changed Joann Jones, but we don’t know how his lesson on living generously ultimately impacted Dorothy, the cleaning lady. If Jesus’ example of transformational generosity is a template, it might have saved Dorothy’s life. Today, invite the Spirit in you to save a life, through the gift of generosity…

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith. He’s the general editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible, and author of 40 books, including The Jesus-Centered Life and the new daily devotional Jesus-Centered Daily. His new book, The Suicide Solution, was just released.


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