Paying It Forward

Lining up for water in Uganda

The movie, Pay It Forward, released in 2000—starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment—packed a powerfully, emotional message. Trevor, a seventh- grade boy, accepts his social studies teacher’s challenge to devise a plan that will change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan—Pay It Forward—was to help somebody, who would then agree to help three other people without expecting anything in return.

Sometimes simple plans are the best, aren’t they? Invest in other people. 

Jesus also shared a strategy for investing our resources wisely by paying them forward. The fact that this teaching is repeated several times in the gospels suggests it was—and is—very important.

Jesus first shared these instructions in The Sermon on The Mount—His most familiar sermon recorded in the Bible: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19–21, ESV). 

Jesus warned against foolish or insecure investments, and followed up with positive instructions on how to invest wisely. Everybody invests in something. Every wise person stores up or sets aside something for a rainy day, or to tide them over in their old age. The problem is, according to Jesus, there are no, absolutely secure investment this side of the grave. The stock market goes up and down. Thieves steal. And by the way, those thieves have a lot more opportunities today with the Internet, don’t they? Internet sites can swear up and down that they are secure; but eventually somebody, somewhere—with nothing constructive to do—may penetrate all the protections. It happens! Even the once “secure sites” of our federal government have been violated by hackers from other nations.

Jesus’ point is very simple: You can try to protect it, but you can’t bank on it. He adds, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:24–25, ESV).

Either we place our confidence and priority in accumulating wealth and possession here, or we pay it forward by investing in something secure—something eternal—the Kingdom of God. The latter choice removes the need to feel anxious when circumstances change. Why? Because God is intimately acquainted with all my needs and promises to provide. 

I share two incidents from the gospels that illustrate Jesus’ investment philosophy.

First, in Luke 12, Jesus responded to a request to arbitrate a dispute between two men—two brothers— over inheriting their father’s estate. Jesus’ first response to the argument was a warning about covetousness—and a strong reminder that life is more than accumulating wealth. He drove His point with a story about a very wealthy farmer that had been blessed with a bountiful harvest. His granaries were already full so he said himself, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”  (By chance, did you notice he has an “I” problem?)  I imagine him saying to himself, “Well, you really did good this time! Nothin’ but blue skies ahead.”

The story, however, wasn’t over. A big surprise was waiting just around the corner. Just a few hours later, on what had seemed like a normal night, the wealthy farmer heard the voice of God Himself, breaking into his dreams. “‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:18–21, ESV).

All that he worked for and set aside to enjoy was left behind, for other people to quarrel over or squander.

Luke records another incident about paying it forward in chapter 18. Another wealthy man with social prestige asked Jesus what he had to do to be certain of inheriting eternal life. When Jesus told him to keep all the commandments, the man insisted that he had done that since he was a boy. (Sounds a bit presumptuous, doesn’t it?) His bubble burst when Jesus added these words: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:22–25, ESV).

This is the only account in Scripture where somebody came to Jesus, filled with anticipation, but left sad. Disappointed. His riches had become his security blanket—his god. Jesus’ concluding remarks offered assurance that paying it forward in this life reaps eternal results. That’s not to say good works can buy a ticket to heaven. Only God’s grace demonstrated in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ can accomplish that. Salvation is by faith alone, not works. Authentic, saving faith, however, is demonstrated through actions, such as sharing our resources with those in need. 

God calls for His people to help the poor, the widow, the orphan and refugee. The needs in our world are great. The inequities between rich and poor—between developed and developing nations—are so wide today. Opportunities to invest some of our discretionary money abound.

A few months ago, here on the Front Porch Swing, I shared a challenge to make an eternal investment in a water project in western Uganda where I have taught. I am grateful for those who responded. Today, there is a deep-water well providing safe drinking water to three communities surrounding a local Baptist church. I share a couple of pictures of the project. Notice that the local people stepped forward to do much of the volunteer labor, such as digging the trenches to carry to water from the well to distribution sites.

Uganda Water Project- laying the pipe and one of three water stations in the community.

To each of you who invested in the project, I want to say thank you on behalf of the Ugandans who are now enjoying clean drinking water.

 Multiple opportunities to invest in kingdom work abound. I encourage you to consider becoming involved. I am not suggesting that you reroute funds that you give to your local church, but from the discretionary funds that you have, why not invest in something that makes a difference and has eternal value? 

Here is a short list of ministries that I trust to use your investments wisely:

Samaritan’s Purse, World Vision, Designs for Hope, Mercy Ships, Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs. The latter two prioritize meeting needs among Christians that are being persecuted and imprisoned. You can find any of these ministries on the Internet, and can research their credibility.

Thanks for reading this blog and considering if you may want to pay it forward today.