If you’ve never seen the movie Pay It Forward, you’ve probably at least heard the concept, although you may or may not have been given the full picture. Usually it’s portrayed as: One person does a good, unselfish deed for someone else, who “pays it forward” to another person, and so on (and often with the implication that it will come back to us at some point). Which in itself certainly isn’t a bad thing.
But let’s come back to the movie illustration of it, portrayed on the right, which today we might call “generosity gone viral.” It still starts with one person, who serves three other people, who then reach out to three more, and so on. Which becomes a huge impact in a hurry. And the one person at the top of the chart already has his or her reward—that person is watching this goodness, cooperation, a willingness to serve, faith that others would see it through, spread. Who wouldn’t want to see that?
Assuming you feel the same, here’s the next question: How could we apply this idea to the people we’re already invested in? Think about it. If you poured out your life in Jesus into —and I mean poured out into, not just “checked in regularly with” or “was accountable to”—just three other people each year, and each of them did the same thing… you can see the possibilities. And sure, some of the people you invest in won’t do this; but others will go far beyond this as God leads them. So let’s stay focused on the possibilities and dream a little today.
If we’ve really take Jesus’ words to heart and applied them, it’s likely we’ve already found ourselves in deeper, more meaningful relationships. It’s also likely that God has stirred up something else within us—a desire to grow even more people into the love of Jesus. That might mean expanding our circle of influence, maybe even taking more of a leadership role—because if God’s put something on your heart, he wants you to do something about it.
As you step into the mission God’s called you to, you may be surprised to discover who else God has been calling—but was waiting for you to step out and step up. And if we’re willing to make that investment in others, and help them see how they can impact others in the way God’s called them to, there’s no telling how big an impact our little contribution could make. And even if you never see the results, that’s OK. God sees it. And so does every person your life has touched, either directly or indirectly.
Let’s look at two passages—one at the very beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry and one near the end—both ultimately speaking to all of us:
“’The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim releaseto the captives
and the regaining of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
“Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to tell them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read’” (Luke 4:18-20, NET).
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ (Matt. 25:34-40, NET).
What connections do you see between Jesus’ mission and ours? What differences? And, why do you think Jesus puts so much value on the people we tend not to value?
You might know people who literally are poor, imprisoned, blind, or oppressed, and you might feel a burden to reach out to them. Maybe you don’t know these kinds of people personally, but you still feel a burden. Or maybe the people you’re thinking about aren’t literally suffering like this, but it’s obvious that they’re spiritually hurting. And they need Jesus just as much, if not more, right now. So consider this:
• Whatever your definition is: Who are the poor/imprisoned/blind/oppressed in your life?
• How have you seen yourself as poor, imprisoned, blind, oppressed (or still do)?
• How has God been preparing you—investing in you, maybe through those things you just thought of in that last question—to “proclaim… the Lord’s favor” to others?
It’s important to discover the answers God wants you to have. Not the “right” answer. Not the answer that will make you feel less guilty. Not even “What should I do?” But the answer to this: What has God put on your heart, and what does He want you to do about it? And if that answer’s not clear, the ability to wait on God and enjoy His presence while you wait.
Go ahead and keep reading from Matthew 25, this time from verses 14-29, often known as “The Parable of the Talents.” And think about this:
• How have you already seen God turn the “small amount” he’s trusted you with into something bigger?
• Why should we welcome “many more responsibilities” as God gives them to us?
• In what ways do you still take what God’s given you and “[dig] a hole in the ground” to hide it?
• How might God want you to “dig out” and invest, so you can “celebrate together”? And what will that investment cost you?
Also, begin thinking about this : Who can come alongside and help you—either in a hands-on way, to help you think it through, to encourage you, to tell you how they walked through it, whatever? Who can pour into your life, as you’re learning to become that person to others?
Paul David Tripp, in his book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, reminds us: “Remember, it is impossible to celebrate God’s work of transformation without confessing your need for more. No one is more ready to communicate God’s grace than someone who has faced his own desperate need for it.”
Let’s take all this to heart and move forward, together.