There’s something so appealing about the story in the Gospels of the poor widow throwing her two copper coins into the temple treasury, in contrast to the larger sums donated by wealthy patrons. It’s such a simple concept, anyone can understand it. Who can’t see the powerful message about how sacrifice – personal and real, not quantitative – is so meaningful to God? And Jesus, in his usual pithy style, summarizes it neatly for us: “Truly, this poor widow put in more than all of them” (Luke 21:3). Sometimes less really is more.
Most of us have probably put this into practice at some point in our spiritual journeys: giving some portion of our paycheck already stretched too tightly, knowing (or at least hoping) that God notices how much of a sacrifice our pittance really is to us. And of course this principle applies in other areas of life as well; like, staying on the phone when we’re really pressed for time, trying to listen compassionately while the person on the other end explains in endless, tedious detail the latest drama they’re going through. Or interrupting our too-busy schedule to help a friend in need, or giving up the last portion of our reserve energy at the end of a long day to chip in with some worthy project. Sometimes the degree of sacrifice is greater than at other times. But I’m learning another side of this “giving a little” principle.
Recently I’ve discovered that contributing less of myself, of my highly (self-)esteemed talents and skills and intellect, can actually lead me to be of greater value and service to God’s Kingdom. Sometimes putting ourselves on hold for awhile, and just being available and cooperative gives God an opportunity to use us in greater ways than our own abilities ever would have allowed – when giving our “all” actually interferes with our effectiveness, and our efforts get in the way of real results. Typical of many Kingdom dynamics, the application of this spiritual principle is the exact reverse of how things work in the natural realm.
A few months ago, in an effort to be of greater use to God, and (to be perfectly honest) to find a more personally fulfilling function in life, I stepped outside my immediate comfort zone and deliberately began attending a different church, one I was confident I’d have difficulty adapting to. I knew I was becoming complacent – practically, even if not deliberately. Like those rich temple donors of Jesus’ time, I was giving (participating) at a level that was not much of a sacrifice. I was comfortable, but I was also minimally productive for the Kingdom. And during prayer one day, I realized that I’d need stretching a bit if I was ever going to move beyond my current position of mediocrity. In my case, the area God showed me was the personal limits and barriers I’d erected around myself. I’d been bench-warming in a predominantly white, middle-class, evangelical, straight congregation for a number of years. Not much challenging going on there. And there was a young church I’d seen advertised in the “Pride” issue of the local metro magazine a month or so earlier that stuck in my mind: “go there; check them out.” I was reluctant. It was obviously a progressive church with a gay-affirming theology, and while “gay” and “Christian” were by no means antithetical in my mind, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of people dressing and behaving in ways entirely different than I was used to. Admittedly, this was a bias based on sweeping stereotypes, but I’d visited a few “gay churches” in years past and never felt like they were places I’d want to hang my hat.
After visiting a few times, I quickly came to the end of my own efforts at tolerance. I was exhausted. Oh, not that there was anything traumatizing or even very taxing to me going on at the church. It really wasn’t all that different from what I was used to. I was just trying too hard to be accepting, to not cringe when someone said or did something that wouldn’t have fit comfortably in my previous church. I was analyzing the sermons for signs of unorthodoxy. I was looking twice at church events to see if they would pass the “conformity” test. I inspected and challenged my reactions to certain individuals. And, although it was hard to admit to myself, I worried a little about what colleagues would think if they discovered I was associated with this church. All a part of my personality – for better and for worse. I was drawn to this place, I knew the Spirit was working inside me, but the stress of change was wearing me out. Driving to morning service on my fourth Sunday, I could feel the walls beginning to go up again. I was bracing myself for the experience. And suddenly, almost instinctively, I just checked myself: No, I’m leaving the walls down. “Lord, let me love people as YOU love people; let me accept them as you accept them. Let my words and actions be your words, your actions.” I just let all the effort go. Less of me; more of God.
Without fully realizing it, I began cooperating with the change instead of resisting it, and part of that cooperation was learning to just relax and enjoy the ride. More than an active effort of trying to rise to the occasion and practice unconditional acceptance, I did the opposite. I didn’t “try” anything. I just let the walls down, and allowed whatever would happen to happen. And that Sunday turned out great. There was no pressure to “be good” or “not be judgmental”; there was just a relaxed attitude of taking things and people “as is.” And it’s amazing how much easier things are when you’re not the one trying to make everything right. I was more at ease with my new acquaintances; I readily hugged them, I was more conversant and caring. It was as if the love of God was flowing through me without being impeded by my own personality. And I thoroughly enjoyed the service.
That Sunday was the turning point for me. It was the day I finally fully connected with the church, the pastor, and the people. I knew that’s where I belonged – and where I’d be the most useful. I’m more plugged-in now, more involved, more giving, and more bold to seize the initiative and pray with those who need it. And I have a deeper love for the people. When I pray with them, I can feel God’s heart reaching out to them – to His people, His flock – and I’m so happy to be a part of that. Not only that, but in contrast to what I’d originally expected, I’ve met some incredible people, saints with a genuine desire to serve God, whose hearts are hungry for him and whose vision is not narrowed by years sequestered in traditional circles. More than that, God’s seal of approval is so evident by the strong presence of his Holy Spirit each Sunday. The place has become my home, and I am discovering what the Apostle Paul meant when he prayed that we might know “the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph 1:18). The people I was at first concerned about have become sources of blessing to me. My life is richer now because I brought less of me.
This experience began by simply making myself available to God. I put myself “out there.” And I gradually reached the stage of bringing less of myself into the picture – less of my fears, my biases, my preconceptions, my inhibitions and insecurities, even my gifts – and allowed more of God to operate in me and through me.
And that is another facet to our tiny offering actually being more meaningful – and more productive – to God. When we stretch beyond our limits, we increase our possibilities. By simply placing ourselves outside our comfort zones, when we force ourselves out of our areas of complacency, and let our guards down, that’s where the real power of God can begin to flow. That’s what unleashes the greater blessing — to ourselves as well as those around us. By bringing less of ourselves into the picture, more of God can shine through us. And when that happens, less really is more.
Self-described “Gen-X reader, theological over-thinker and wannabe mystic” Stephen Schmidt is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity, and did doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He is currently working on his doctorate of ministry in Christian Spirituality at the Virginia Theological Seminary and is pastor of The Abbey Church in Norman, Okla., and editor of https://impactmagazine.us.