Giving Lessons: Stephen King, Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie

By Randy Alcorn,
Eternal Perspectives Ministries
Oregon author of Heaven

Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). A few years ago, my wife Nanci showed me an article she had found in her Family Circle magazine. The article was titled “What You Pass On.” It was written by author Stephen King. He’s not a writer known for his theological insights, but what he wrote echoes the wisdom of Ecclesiastes 5:15 in his assessment of the futility of materialism. Buffet, Gates and Jolie will weigh in afterward. Here’s what King has to say:

Stephen King: A couple of years ago I found out what “you can’t take it with you” means. I found out while I was lying in a ditch at the side of a country road, covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans like a branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you’re lying in a ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard.

We all know that life is ephemeral, but on that particular day and in the months that followed, I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life’s simple backstage truths. We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we’re just as broke. Warren Buffet? Going to go out broke. Bill Gates? Going out broke. Tom Hanks? Going out broke. Steve King? Broke. Not a crying dime.

All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy, all the mutual funds you trade—all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. It’s still going to be a quarter-past getting late whether you tell the time on a Timex or a Rolex. No matter how large your bank account, no matter how many credit cards you have, sooner or later things will begin to go wrong with the only three things you have that you can really call your own: your body, your spirit and your mind.

So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on. …

[World need, especially in Africa and Asia] is not a pretty picture, but we have the power to help, the power to change. And why should we refuse? Because we’re going to take it with us? Please.

…Giving is a way of taking the focus off the money we make and putting it back where it belongs—on the lives we lead, the families we raise, the communities that nurture us.

A life of giving—not just money, but time and spirit—repays. It helps us remember that we may be going out broke, but right now we’re doing O.K. Right now we have the power to do great good for others and for ourselves.

So I ask you to begin giving, and to continue as you began. I think you’ll find in the end that you got far more than you ever had, and did more good than you ever dreamed. [End]

Okay, thank you, Stephen King. I know Christians, sadly, who haven’t yet discovered what you’ve at least caught a glimpse of. Now let’s hear from Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie.

Warren Buffet: It’s nice to know that the money will be utilized in a way that helps people’s lives. …I get these letters from people thanking me and telling me what a difference it makes…. It’s a good feeling to feel that perhaps a million people won’t get malaria who would otherwise, or even, on a very small scale, that somebody’s individual problems have been solved.

Bill Gates: Until fairly recently, my plan was to wait until later in my career to begin extensive giving, to allow time for a lot of focus. But I’ve accelerated my philanthropic plans. Melinda and I are convinced that there are certain kinds of gifts—investments in the future—that are better made sooner than later.

Angelina Jolie:
If I decide to go visit a school in the middle of Kenya, or Russia, the kids will be excited. That’s better than having an Oscar.  I went through a depression when I was first famous, because what was I famous for? I didn’t do anything great. And I didn’t discover anything wonderful.  When I’m in a refugee camp, my spirit feels better there than anywhere else in the world, because I am surrounded by such truth, and family. I feel so connected to just simply being a human being. In these countries, they don’t know who I am. I am useful as a woman who’s willing to spend a day in the dirt. Maybe it was important for me to know that.

Okay, this is Randy again. If people who don’t personally know Christ, who have never been transformed by God’s grace, have learned this much about giving, shouldn’t we who are Christ’s followers have learned a great deal more?

Let me finish with a giver who wasn’t famous, the poor widow. Yet in another way, Jesus made her more famous than all.

Mark writes, “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury” (Mark 12:41). Notice that it doesn’t say, “Jesus happened to see . . .” No, he deliberately watched to observe what people were giving.

How close was Jesus to the offering box? Close enough to see that some people put in large amounts. Close enough even to see two tiny coins in a shriveled old hand and to identify them as copper (Mark 12:41-42).

Jesus was interested enough in what people were giving to make an object lesson for his disciples (Mark 12:43-44).

This passage should make all of us who suppose that what we do with our money is our own business feel terribly uncomfortable. It’s painfully apparent that God considers it his business. He does not apologize for watching with intense interest what we do with the money he’s entrusted to us.

If we use our imaginations, we might even peer into the invisible realm to see Jesus gathering some of his subjects together this very moment. Instead of discussing the poor widow, perhaps this time you can hear him talking about your heart and sacrifice and joy in giving.

The question is this: What would He be saying about you?

Randy Alcorn

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