Things I Learned from My Dad – Generosity

I am hesitant to include this post because in recording events from the life of my Dad from which I learned it seems to assume that I think that I am a generous person.   A better way to express it would be to say that I have a deep desire to be a generous, gracious giver because of what I saw him do.  This seed was sown in my heart by the Lord Jesus, the consummate Giver, but I also saw it many, many times in the way my father lived as he gave to others.

What is generosity?   The dictionary definition for generous is “to give unselfishly and abundantly”.  

Jesus indicated that those that are generous are the happiest people.   The Lord Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.    (Acts 20:35)    The word “blessed” has the idea of great joy and happiness.

We often mistake generosity with having a lot of money.  The thinking is, “Well, if I had a lot to give, I would be generous, too”.    No, generosity is a matter of the heart.   There is no economic status that determines generosity.

I know some people that are poor that are stingy and people of means that are generous.   Likewise, there are people that are poor that are generous and people that are wealthy that are stingy.   It has nothing to do with what is in your wallet, but what is in your heart.

When I grew up my family did not have a lot of money and yet my parents were very generous to others.  We drove old cars and lived in small homes.   (Our first house was 700 square feet and the second house was less than 1000 square feet).    We rarely ate out and wore the same clothes and shoes over and over.

However, because my parents never “poor-mouthed” or complained I didn’t realize how little we had.   The generosity I saw in my Dad (and Mom) was not based on the fact that we had plenty of money to dish out.    It was in spite of that.

Also, just because a person gives does not mean they have a generous spirit.   The Bible speaks of differing attitudes in giving – “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver”.   (II Corinthians 9:7)

Some give with a grudging, hesitant spirit or they complain in their heart when they do.  Others give because they have to, fearful of what others might say if they didn’t.    God delights in those that give with great joy.

My father was truly a cheerful giver.   He looked for needs and opportunities and gave, not from his abundance, but from sparsity.    He gave not for what he could get out of it, but because he loved people.   “It is where a man spends his money that shows where his heart lies”, wrote A Edwin Keigwin.    Dad’s heart was to help others.

I think one reason Dad was such a generous giver is because he grew up with very little as a child.  He was one of six children and his father was a sharecropper.    He understand the significance of giving as others gave to his family during very hard times.

He always delighted in being the giver and not the receiver.   In restaurants when sharing a meal with friends, often he would quietly leave the table and go and pay for the meal.   He helped churches repair their buses and would not charge them.    Friends would drop by his shop with car problems and he was excited and pleased to help them.

Paula and Dad at a Father/Daughter Banquet at church. Paula’s dad had passed away and asked Dad if he would go with her.

When I was a teenager we had a winter retreat during the Christmas break with great teaching and preaching to encourage us to live for the Lord at school and home.    My best friend was raised by a single parent, his mother, and didn’t have the money to pay for the retreat.

Dad asked me if he was going and when I told him it was a financial issue that was preventing him from going, he said, “Son, you tell David his fees have been paid and to pack his things up and show up at the bus ready to go”.    Dad didn’t ask the church to take care of my friend’s need, he did it himself.

He did the same thing for a number of teenagers through the years, even at the church where I currently serve.   He had a “radar” in his heart looking for those that needed help.   Again, he was not wealthy by any means.   The truth is, we were barely middle class, if that.  He wanted to help make a difference in the lives of others and he did!

On a number of occasions when we were leaving a restaurant together and someone would approach us outside asking for money, I watched as he stopped and talked to the person.   He would inquire about how they got into trouble and give them some advice.   He never gave them cash (most of the time that only goes to drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes – I’m not being cynical, it’s true).    However, he would say, “If you are hungry I’ll go back in the restaurant and pay for you something to eat, but I can’t give you the cash because I’m not sure what you will do with it”.     I have seen him do this over and over again.    He never told anyone about it.    When he got back in the car after paying for the meal he never bragged about what he had done.   It was just who he was – generous.

One Sunday I had a guest pastor that was speaking at our church and after the service was over Dad asked to talk to me.    Off to the side he whispered,  “Son, have you looked at the tires on the preacher’s car?”    I said, “No, sir”.   “Well, they are in bad shape and he needs some new tires”. 

He asked me where we were going to eat and he showed up at the restaurant about the time we were finished and asked the guest preacher to follow him.    (I followed, too).    Dad took him to a tire store and bought him four brand new tires.    I didn’t notice the need, but my father did.  It was generosity that caused him to notice.    He cared and when he saw a need he did what he could to meet the need.

One of the most meaningful stories of his generosity is one that I will always treasure.   It was on January 1, 1993 when Alabama played Miami at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans for the national championship in college football.      My brother, Hoss, had two tickets for the game and, under the assumption that we would be able to find another ticket at the game, Hoss, Dad and I left early that morning to drive to New Orleans to watch the game.

Because of my brother’s athletic background he has a lot of connections and he knew we would find another ticket somewhere.   However, we couldn’t find any tickets at all!   Hoss talked to local and national broadcasters, former players, and anyone he knew, but without success.

We had left Dad in the car in a parking lot close to the stadium (he was 58 at the time) and went back to tell him the news.  I offered, even insisted, to walk around the venues outside the Superdome (plenty of TV’s and restaurants) and watch the game there.    He told us, “No boys, I’ve got this little black and white TV that I brought along and I’m just going to sit in the car and watch it.   I’ll be fine and have a good time.   Y’all go on into the stadium and watch the game”. 

Hoss and I felt really bad because this was not the plan.   I do think Dad knew this might happen and that’s why he brought the small TV so that he could plug into the power source in the car.   He wanted to spend some time with us.

After the game we drove about three hours away (the hotels were too expensive in New Orleans) and spent the night in a hotel in a small Mississippi town just off the interstate.   Our conversations on that trip are sacred to me.   I still remember them.

Once again, Dad’s generosity had deepened my love for him.   The best part about the trip wasn’t the fact that Alabama won the game, but that I was able to spend a lot of time over two days with two of the most special people in my life, my Dad and my brother.

I hope that one day my own children will be able to easily recall times in my life that I showed generosity.   Not just that they might think well of me, but that they might know in their hearts that I had put their needs and desires about my own.

My dear father did that for me.   I saw it so many times.    Thanks, Dad, I am indebted to you.    May my heart be like that of yours which was like that of the Lord Jesus, a spirit of generosity.

About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 41 years with seven children and nine grandchildren.
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