“Actions speak louder than words,” as they saying goes. But I like even better a variation of that phrase by Ralph Waldo Emerson that went something like this: What you do speaks so loudly that the world can’t hear what you say.” You get the point. Our reputations and our legacies will be built upon the lives we’ve led far more than the words we’ve said.
This past Sunday I delivered a message about generosity, based upon Acts 4:32-37. The early church was characterized by an open-handed, selfless sort of giving that seemed to know no boundaries and need no qualifications. (We are so quick today to want to “assess” a need and decided whether or not it has earned our generosity before we give – or don’t!) It was so widespread a characteristic in the Church that Acts 4:34 says “there were no more needy persons among them.” What an ideal to strive for! Imagine if that was what characterized the church today. Sure, there are many instances of generosity – even great acts of incredible generosity. But I would stop short of saying it is one of the defining characteristics of the Church today. And I have the privilege of pastoring a very generous group of people! But there is just something different about the early church’s willingness to sell everything they had – land, houses, etc – to make sure others’ needs were met. And while I think that was a special characteristic for a special time in the life of the church, I think we would do well to embrace the same sort of loose-grasp, even open-handed generosity that they practiced.
But words are easy. Words are free. Preaching that message didn’t cost me anything but a little bit of time in preparation and study and writing. Following my own advice will most certainly cost me…and cost me greatly. I’m afraid when it comes to putting my money where my mouth is, I fall short more than I’d care to admit. But it is our actions that speak more loudly than our words. And this week, my message was delivered much more eloquently by my ten year old son’s actions than they were by my words at the Sunday Service.
Tyson recently celebrated his tenth birthday. My wife likes to make a big deal of birthdays anyway, but there’s something special about that first double-digit birthday. Graduation from nine to ten is not “just another birthday” but almost a rite of passage, so we wanted to make it special. We spent far more on his presents this year than we typically do. Friends and family must have gotten the memo, because by the final count, I think Ty got just as much in cash as he did in presents. By all counts, it appeared to have been a successful birthday!
The fun thing about getting cash for your birthday is that you can then survey what you got vs. what you wanted and “right the wrongs” of any of mom and dad’s shopping shortcomings. He smiled widely when I mentioned the things we were unable to get him that were now within his financial reach. But he’s not one to spend too quickly so I could tell he’d be thinking this one over for a while.
Fast forward a couple days. I had been contacted by a member of the community “in the know” regarding a needy family. Tyson overheard my wife and I talking about what we could do and how we could help. When he discovered how serious their plight was, he disappeared, only to return a few moments later with a wad of cash crumpled into one of his hands. “Here,” he said, “take my money to help the family.” Normally when one of my kids says something like this, they are referring to an amount of money scarcely able to buy a meal, much less put a dent in the need. We’ll sometimes let them help anyway, simply because we believe giving is a good habit for them to form. I asked Ty how much of his money he’d like to use to help the family. “All of it,” he replied. I had to excuse myself from the room to process what I had just heard and to avoid letting him see his dad tear up over his generosity.
In that moment, I realized that my sermon had just been preached far better by my ten year old son than I had preached it the previous Sunday. Because while I alluded to the importance (hypothetically speaking) of giving all we have to the Lord (often by giving to those in need), Tyson demonstrated his willingness to make good on it. And it immediately put me in check. That open-handed, loose-grasp generosity that I had spoken of with mere words on Sunday was shouted and proclaimed by this young boy’s actions later in the week.
It was a teaching moment – not from father to son, but the other way around. I learned so much in that moment about the thing I had been studying all week. Tyson came with me to go buy some of the things that were needed, spending much of his own money – money he didn’t consider his own (Acts 4:32), so long as someone else had need of it.
Some sermons are just better spoken with our actions than with our words. Speak loudly and maintain a loose grasp on “things.” And be willing to learn from a ten year old every now and then.