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It is tempting to be reckless about finances, as a way of proving that we have great "faith".

Let me draw a comparison between buying takeaway food and shopping the specials for food to cook yourself. A bachelor on his own may find it is not worth the time to do a lot of cooking, or even worth the time it takes to calculate the cheapest price between two different items... especially if he is making a lot of money and spending it all on himself. For the bachelor, takeaway may be a reasonable option.

But it's different for two or more people, where there is a division of labour that should benefit both parties. As the community gets bigger, and as the community's vision of helping others gets bigger, greater efficiency can, and must, be achieved. In the process you lose the footloose and fancy free spirit that existed back in your bachelor days. So it's easy for the devil to argue that spontaneous purchases (such as takeaway) represent greater faith than all the bother that goes into organising a budget. But being responsible with money does not necessarily mean that you are worrying about finances.

I do believe in spending money to save time when we have it. But real faith works even when we don't have much, and it does so by taking such circumstances into consideration when making financial decisions.

I have found that each time I do something rather extreme in an effort to practice more literally the teachings of Jesus, I usually get closer to God through it. But at times I get fairly clear direction from God in the midst of my "extreme" experiment that he doesn't want me to take a particular passage to that extreme in my present circumstances. I really am "tempting" God, for example, if I keep throwing away what he has given to me to be used in his service.

He told me to literally give it all away once, which marked the transition between doing it my way and doing it his way; and he continues to tell me to be open to giving it all away again. But now the emphasis is on, "as he leads". Any wealth I have received since my initial forsaking all is definitely a gift from God now. He is the one who must say how it is to be used. I picture Jesus and his disciples living simply and not being attached to their possessions, but I don't see evidence that they forsook all at the end of each day, or that they knocked back gifts that were given to them.

This approach puts greater responsibility on us to be honest about what God really is telling us to do. We've seen how easy it is for churchies to use such arguments (e.g. God isn't "leading" me to forsake all.) dishonestly; and we've seen how easy it is for us to do the same thing. But sincerity is the key. We must seek for the whole truth, rather than either a selfish justification or a legalistic dogma.

It is important for us to be consistent with our attitude toward things that are owned communally and toward things that are given to us personally. We started the practice of giving out pocket money to enable people who were not responsible for the overall finances to develop more fiscal responsibility. But we have seen how some people will advocate giving group funds to "anyone who asks" while they spend their pocket money selfishly. Your pocket money is yours to spend as you choose. But please be as hard on yourself as you are on the group. Examining your attitude toward pocket money can give you a better understanding of just how spiritual (or unspiritual) you really are. Don't fall for the devil's trick of expecting the community to do something that you are not prepared to do yourselves.

We spend a lot of money these days, and it doesn't all go directly to the poor. But Cokes and cakes aside, most of it goes either for travel expenses or printing expenses, and these are both consistent with going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature. Pushing for us to give it all to anyone who asks can be just a clever disguise for being a malcontent about what we are already doing in quite a responsible way.

The bottom line on giving to those who ask (or on other issues, like not resisting evil) is to simply do it, and see what develops. God wants us to be totally open to him using us and our funds in any way that he chooses. But do not put a burden onto the community that you are not carrying yourself. Look for ways that you personally can do more about helping the poor.

I personally learned a lot by trying not to be pushy about getting seats on (or even just getting on) buses in India. But I can't say that I stopped shoving altogether. There are going to be times when you settle for something that is less idealistic, and more "realistic", and it will be easy to see how a critic could argue that you were not being Christian because of it.

Sincere personal experiments will help you to be a lot more understanding of what the community (and what other idealists) are doing. It means infinitely more to me when a criticism comes from someone who has achieved an ideal themselves than when it comes from a head-tripper who just wants to pick holes in what we are teaching. Experiment personally if you want to grow spiritually; don't just put the onus on others to do more.

Spiritual growth won't always lead to a Tolstoy-type approach to such matters as government and finances. I think that, within the perimeter of an overall Christian objective, there is a place for a little push and shove.

After you have made an initial commitment to giving up everything to live by faith, God will lead you to do some things that could be considered selfish. Sister Teresa, for example, learned early in the piece that she would need to be able to eat and rest herself if she was ever going to be able to effectively help the people to whom she ministered. Jesus left the multitudes and literally hid in order to get a rest. The Bible records him as having done that fairly often. He fed the multitudes one day, and then a short time later he flatly refused to give them anything, on the grounds that their motive in asking was wrong (John 6:26-35). He wants us to be willing to do extreme things like giving to people who don't deserve it, but we have found that his long-range plan isn't for us to just let the greediest people call all the shots either.

Don't forget that Tolstoy never even got around to actually practising forsaking all until he was about 80 years old. He didn't live long enough to give an update on what he learned after he started putting it into practice. The update has been left to people like ourselves and to Sister Teresa. That is what this letter has been about.

(See also Giving to Those Who Ask.)

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