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Understanding the Journey

From the series Living Generously

In this message, Chip asks five key questions to understanding the generosity journey: What does it mean to be generous? Why is living generously so important? What are the first steps to living generously? What keeps us from living generously? and How can you become more generous? Chip opens God's Word to reveal the answers to those questions and much more.

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Message Transcript

I was a brand-new pastor, super nervous, and it was my first Easter and so, we knew the little church of thirty-five would probably mushroom to fifty people. And I was just beside myself. I couldn’t sleep all night and I had worked on the message and it still wasn’t very good and so I went into the office about four a.m. and five thirty or so, the sun was coming up and probably wasn’t a really good plan, but I so wanted to do a good job.

And the across the street was a small African American church where we had made some friends. And I heard a car door slam and I thought, It’s dawn. I wonder what is going on. And I saw a yellow, bright Cadillac pull up. And then I saw a man that I recognized, who was the chairman of our board. He was a guy who came to Christ late and his name was John.

And I watched he and his wife got out in the pre-dawn hours and all along, there were all these steps, probably twenty-five steps. And they put baskets of fruit and all kinds of different things all across. And then a little bit later, those people came to church. And it was, “Well, my lands! Who brought this? Did you do this, sister?” And they can’t figure out what’s going on and I just watched it grow and grow and grow and then people came over and said, “Well, did you all do this? Well, where did this come from?” And people were just so excited and blessed and pretty soon, they are picking it up and sharing it with one another. And I never, I dared not say a word and of course, I never told John I saw who did it.

Generosity, going out of our way to love people is at the heart of worship. Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive.

I don’t think you turn on a faucet and you become generous overnight. And so, I want to ask and answer five questions, because what I realized, when I grew up, if you would have asked me: “Am I generous?” I think I would have said yes. And yet, when I look back, I don’t think I was generous at all, because I didn’t understand it.

And so, first, let’s ask question number one is: what does it mean to be generous? So, a definition, this is Webster’s. “It’s showing a readiness to freely give or share money or other valuable things,” notice, “providing more than the amount needed or normal. It’s giving in abundance, ample, showing kindness and concern for others.”

And sometimes, when you get a definition, I like to ask, so, what are – get your arms around it. What are some synonyms? People that are generous are liberal, lavish, magnanimous, open-handed, free-handed, bountiful, unselfish, ungrudging, benevolent, charitable, big-hearted, free, noble, honorable, good. I don’t know about you, I would love to have some people drinking coffee and talking about me and using just some of those words, wouldn’t you? Aren’t those the kind of words you would just long for someone to say, “Oh, man, she is so big-hearted. They are so magnanimous. They are so generous. They are so unselfish.”

Another way to get your arms around a concept is to ask: so, what’s the opposite? Antonyms. The opposite of being generous is mean, stingy, selfish, meager, miserly, unwilling to share, cheap, greedy, tight, unkind, thrift, and self-seeking. Now, you don’t need to raise your hand. Anybody like that to be how people would characterize you? Right? That is ugly, right?

So, here’s what I want you to get. We all have thoughts and words and time and stuff and money and influence to share with others. You don’t have to be rich to be generous. In fact, the research tells us that the poorest people are far more generous than the wealthiest people. We all have words, we all have positive thoughts, we all have time, we all have some level of money, we all have some influence and to be generous is to be ready and willing to share, to be kind, to be concerned for others.

Now, I am going to do something that is really dangerous for me. I am going to give you ten specific reasons, both biblically and one scientific fact of why being generous is so absolutely important. It’s important for your relationships, it’s important for your eternity, it’s important for your relationship with God, it’s important about your money, it’s important about your friendships, and I am going to give you ten reasons.

But what I want you to see is to step back and go, Wow! The Bible says a lot about being generous. In fact, common sense says a lot about it.

But, why is it so important to live generously? Number one, generosity is commanded by God.

The apostle Paul will write, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God who richly supplies us,” notice, “with all things to enjoy.”

In other words, he is saying, “Hey, instruct people that are wealthy,” and by the way, in the context, historically, if you had enough food both for today and tomorrow, you were wealthy. Most people would go to work and then that’s why if you didn’t pay people their wages, they wouldn’t eat that night.

And then, notice, he goes on. He says, “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, to be ready to share,” notice the focus, “storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future so they can take hold of the life, which is life indeed.” Or, literally, the word is: so they can take hold of the life that is truly life.

So, if for no other reason, God commands us to be generous so we invest in what is going to count, so we can take hold of life, and we can store up treasure for ourselves.

Second, generosity is the antidote to idolatry.

In your notes, it says, “Luke 1 through 15. It’s the story of the unrighteous steward. And at the end of it, Jesus said, “You can’t serve God and mammon.” God and money. And so, He tells them: generosity can break idolatry in our lives.

Third, generosity today determines the harvest for tomorrow. All through Scripture – Old Testament, New Testament, the proverbs – there is this picture of sowing and reaping. And it’s an agricultural picture. Jesus would say in Luke 6:38, “Give and it will be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over back into your lap. For whatever size measure that you give, it will be given back unto you.”
Paul would say in 2 Corinthians, he would say this, “Now, this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will reap also bountifully. Each one must do as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

All I want you to know is, think of your time and your words and your money and your influence like seeds. And if you plant a lot of them, there is a harvest. And if you plant good ones, and there’s a harvest, if you plant just a few, you get a few back. And so, there’s this law of reciprocity in Scripture that your future relationships, your future connection, your future positivity, if you will. And I don’t mean that in the: think positive and wonderful things happen. I am talking about there is a law of sowing and reaping with your time, your energy, your words, and your money, that as you sow, the Bible is really clear, there’s a harvest.

Fourth, it’s the way generosity expresses God’s love and kindness to others. “Let your light so shine before men, that they might see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

The young gal or the child that gets pulled out of the sex trade, the kindness at work, the school that gets remodeled. Just the – generosity is how you express God’s love.

Fifth is generosity results in joy to the giver. And six, generosity results in praise and thanksgiving to God by the recipients. 2 Corinthians it says, “You will be enriched in every way and generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service,” speaking of giving,” is not only supplying the needs of the saints, but also overflowing in thanksgiving to God.”

So, there is this weird thing that happens. When you are generous, there is a joy that you experience, but as you are generous to this person, it’s like the people who have those baskets of fruits, “Thank you, Lord!” A couple of those ladies, “Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord! I didn’t have any food.” John got the joy of giving, but they thanked and praised God. And that’s what happens.

Reason number seven: generosity is God’s method to fund His kingdom work. 1 Corinthians 16 says that on the first day of the week, each Christian should set aside money from, whether it’s a little or a lot, depending on what God gave you, to support God’s kingdom work.

Number eight, generosity requires us to put our finances and our priorities in order. It’s interesting, if you give God the first and the best, instead of what is left over, then sometimes you’ve got to get on a budget and sometimes you have to figure out: wait a second, we are going to offer ourselves, first to God – here’s His promise. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things,” and in the context, it’s food, shelter, clothes, whatever you need, “they will be given to you.”

The ninth reason generosity is important: it grows our faith and develops our intimacy with Christ. As you study the Sermon on the Mount, it is so interesting as He talks about walking with God and then He talks about giving and giving privately and praying privately. He gives this radical thought: “When your Father,” that was a radical thought then, “when your Father sees what you do in secret, He will reward you.”

Generosity is one of the ways that your heart and God’s heart, because He is generous, and when you become the conduit, He actually draws you to Himself.

Number nine, generosity grows our faith and develops our intimacy with Christ. And then number ten, generosity is a prerequisite to claiming God’s promise to meet all our needs. That promise is for people who are generous with their resources. And so, those are just ten reasons just from Scripture.

Dr. Stephen Post did a longitudinal study. He picked it up from a group that started the study in 1920. And so, he did a study to find out what was the impact of generous people? The impact of generous people, habitually were generous, they are happier, they have deeper relationships, and they literally live longer.

Is that amazing? I guess it’s not. If God designed us and wired us and if His kingdom practices and purposes because He is generous, is He wants us to be generous and it gives us life when we are generous, it only makes sense that when we are miserly and living the opposite of the way God wants, that it would have negative impact. And it has positive impact.

In fact, the research now is when we are generous and when we give, the same endorphins that go off when you’re working out really hard or when you eat food or when you have sex, the same things are happening in your brain when you are a giver.

God, literally, has wired us to be generous people. And here’s the amazing thing. That may be true, but it doesn’t come naturally, does it? Whether it’s two little kids or two older people, left to ourselves, if there’s only one of something and there are two people, sometimes we are polite about it, but your human nature and my human nature is: “I want that for me. I want more time, I want things for me.” And so, all I want you to know, it’s a journey in generosity.

Now, logically, if all these things are true and I think they are – they are true practically, they are true scientifically, they are certainly true biblically – here’s the summary. Living generously is the most logical, wise, and rewarding way to arrange our lives and resources. So, pause, okay? I am done with my quick run through the Bible.

Living generously – lean back, lean back, look at me for a second – is the most logical, wisest, rewarding way to arrange your life and resources. At least intellectually, would you sign off on that? Right?
Your relationships would be better, idols come down, you are arranging your finances. As you give, when you give away friendship, you get friends. When you give love, you get love back. When you give away money, God multiplies it.

So, here’s the question: if generosity is this good, it’s designed by God, and it’s even commanded, why are so few Christians generous?

Do you know, of all the Christians in America, that fifty percent of all Christians give nothing to their church, give nothing to any charitable cause? Of all the Christians in America, only three to five percent give what is called a tithe or ten percent of their income. Think of that. We will talk about that as we go on, but long before there was a law, Abraham gives to Melchizedek ten percent just as an offering to say thank you.

And then that was a part of the Mosaic law when they would, when they harvest would come in, they would give, when the first grapes came or the first wheat, they would just take the first ten percent as an offering to say thank you and then later, at the very end of the harvest, they would bring ten percent when it’s all full to say thank you. It was just a personal offering.

I did a little research once. This is a completely unscientific, anecdotal – but it has been repeatable. I have done this a couple times. I go to a little mall or, I try not to act too weird, and I just, I have a little clipboard and I act like I’m taking a survey.

And I have gone, I have just asked people, “Excuse me, sir? Would you consider, just…?” “Hey, what are you doing?” “Just one question. Just yes or no. Would you consider yourself to be a generous person? Yes or no? Excuse me, ma’am? Would you consider yourself to be a generous person? Yes or no?” You know what comes out every time? Eighty percent. I don’t know whether people are Christians or non-Christians, but I can tell you that eighty percent of all the people that you ever meet, probably including the person sitting in your seat, we think we are generous. We do!

And that presents a problem, because if we think we are generous, but we’re really not, then we are not asking God to help us be more generous or learning how to be generous, correct? So, we are going to go on a journey of generosity. And some of you, just lighten up, okay? There is no big ask coming. There is no big project coming.

You know what I want you to get? I want you to experience the joy of generosity. I want the kindness and the love of God to start trickling in your families. I want your neighborhoods to say, “What happened to Joe? What happened to Mary?” I want people at your work going, “What in the world are you learning at that church? You’re bringing us coffee here. You signed up for extra work here. You took care of me here. How come you’re being nice to me now? You have forgiven me over there.”

Because generous people change the world. The most generous person in the world was Jesus. He gave His life. Actually, He is the second most generous person. As difficult as that was, the Father gave His Son. And the Holy Spirit and the Godhead together came and just said, We love you all.

So, if you want to learn to be generous, this is – if you’re expecting a guilt trip and a lot of statistics and, “Get with the program,” and, “Why don’t you give more?” Sorry. At best, I can pump you up for two weeks and you’ll fall right back to your old way of thinking.

I want you to learn how to experience generosity and it just gets birthed inside your heart where you’ll get so excited, you’ll start saying, “Are we going overboard on this?” And what you’ll learn is you can’t go overboard.

So, how? How do you become more generous? Here’s our first steps toward living a generous life. Number one, recognize it’s a journey. If you wanted to be a classical guitar player, a great athlete – no one went from putting on the skates to doing one of those dances. No one just put on some skis and then went seven million miles up in the air and landed.

It’s a journey. So, what I want you to really think about is: what would it look like for you personally to say, wherever you are at on a scale of one to ten or one to a hundred, if I’m here, what would it look like to move toward becoming more generous? And you might even, at this moment, whisper, God, I would like to be more generous. Would You help me be more generous?

Second, reevaluate your view of God.
How do you become more generous? Here’s our first steps toward living a generous life. Number one, recognize it’s a journey. If you wanted to be a classical guitar player, a great athlete – no one went from putting on the skates to doing one of those dances. No one just put on some skis and then went seven million miles up in the air and landed.

It’s a journey. So, what I want you to really think about is: what would it look like for you personally to say, wherever you are at on a scale of one to ten or one to a hundred, if I’m here, what would it look like to move toward becoming more generous? And you might even, at this moment, whisper, God, I would like to be more generous. Would You help me be more generous?

Second, reevaluate your view of God. This is where it all really begins. In Exodus 32, after all God’s grace, deliverance, Moses goes up to get the Ten Commandments, and they get Aaron to build a golden calf and they are worshipping a golden calf. Moses comes down and takes care of the situation.

And then in chapter 33, he has this personal talk with God and says, “If we are going to keep going, You’ve got to go with me. If You’re not going to go with me, I don’t want to go.” And he stands in the gap for the Israelites and they are forgiven.

And then he has seen God’s power, he has seen the Red Sea, he has seen the fire at night and the cloud by day. He has seen manna come out. He has seen all these miracles, but his big prayer is: “Show me Your glory. I want to know You as You really are.”

And in chapter 33, God says, “No man can see My face and live.” But here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll pass by and I’ll let you get a glimpse. “I’ll let all My goodness pass before you.” It’s a very interesting Hebrew word.

And J.I. Packer has a great observation. He says, “Within the cluster of God’s moral perfections, there is one in particular to which the term ‘goodness’ points. The quality which God especially singled out from the whole when proclaiming all His goodness to Moses. He spoke of Himself as abundant in goodness and truth. This is the quality of” – are you ready? “generosity.”

Packer says that generosity expresses the simple wish that others would have what they need to make them happy. Could you even for a moment fathom what would happen if, when you thought about God, you thought He is generous and He would like you to have what would make you happy? That He is for you? He is not down on you. That it’s not a transaction. It’s: if you do this, He’ll do that. He loves you!

And then, He introduces Himself. It’s really interesting. He introduces Himself to Moses. He says, “The Lord, the Lord, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

Do you realize that little phrase in chapter 34 is repeated thirteen different times, either directly – eight – or paraphrased another five?

So, what is God really like? “The Lord, the Lord,” He is compassionate. It’s a word of: He feels what you feel and He wants to bond with you. He is gracious. It means He just wants to give, not because you have done anything, but just because there is something in Him. He is compassionate and gracious.

Contrary to popular belief, He is not angry. He is slow to anger. The word literally means it takes something for a long, long time to heat up. He is so patient with you. He is kind. He is generous. He is faithful.

If you and I would begin to see and understand who God is, we would just be humbled by His generosity toward you.

In Abraham’s life, in Genesis 12, verses 1 through 3, He calls this man out to leave and it says he obeyed Him and he followed and he didn’t know where he was going and then this is God’s promise: “The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Leave your country, your people, and your father’s house and go to the land that I will show you.’” By the way, generosity, sometimes means leaving your country, your people, and your family.

It’s positioning yourself in obedience. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; and I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. And I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse; and all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.”

There are only three verses and the word bless or blessed comes five times. Who is Abraham? He is the father of the faith. God wants us to trust Him. Are you ready for this? As you trust Him with your time, trust Him with your future, trust Him with your relationships, trust Him at work, trust Him with your money – here’s the God that you serve. He wants to bless you. He wants to do good.

Some of you are parents, right? Don’t you feel happy inside when your kids are doing well? Don’t you, at times, wish you had a little bit more energy or time or money or there is something on their heart that you would want to give them – where do you think you get that? That’s how God feels about you. He longs to bless you.

God is a blesser and He is eager to bless your life. Write that down, will you? He is a blesser. He wants to bless your life. And, by the way, don’t read into that – you’re going to get a G5 tomorrow, or you’re going to own three houses. He wants to bless your life. You know what He knows about you? Everything. And you know what? Someone who knows everything, He knows what will bring the greatest, deepest joy for the longest possible time.

And if it were a thing, He’ll probably give you a thing. But if things filled you up, then the richest people in the world would be the happiest. Unfortunately, they’re not. Summary: we do not own or deserve – write the word – anything.

The beginning step of really becoming generous is a coin with two sides. One side of the coin is God wants to bless me. The other side of the coin is He owns everything. So, when He is asking us to be generous with time, who gave you the time? When He is asking us to be generous with our money, guess what, get the word “our” out of it. It’s not yours. It’s His.

So, all this stuff about percentages – if you give twenty percent, thirty percent, forty percent – guess what – God owns it all and He holds us responsible for all of it. What He wants you to know is it’s an amazing thing that switches when you say, “You know what? I don’t own anything.” And are you ready for this – anti-entitlement – you don’t deserve anything. And neither do I!

See, we act like: “I deserve this.” You say, “I worked hard.” Well, who gave you the job? “Well, I thought this through.” Well, who gave you the brain? We can go there. I got you, right? I got you.

In fact, the apostle Paul, it says, “What do you have that you haven’t received?” I’m not telling you that you haven’t worked hard. I’m not telling you you haven’t applied yourself. But I’m telling you there is a sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful God who has created every blessing. “Every good and perfect gift,” James would say. Don’t be deceived. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above,” that’s where it comes from, “from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow,” in other words, He doesn’t change.

In the Old Testament, He says it the same way. “The Lord God,” Psalm 84:11, “the Lord God is a sun and a shield.” unlimited provider and protector. “The Lord gives grace and glory,” in other words, what we don’t deserve and He wants to lift us up. And that last part, “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

The challenge is walking uprightly. The challenge is aligning our lives in such a way – most Christians’ lives, unfortunately, you’re not blessable. You’re not blessable. You’ve got all these – imagine, remember when we were kids and we did fights and someone would get a squirt gun out and then someone would get the hose? And what was the only way to stop the person with the hose, right? You got down and you picked up those hose and you crinked it, right? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

So many Christians, your hose – God wants to pour blessing into your life and your hose, it’s crinked. And it’s with selfishness or with an addiction or with an unforgiving attitude or your finances are just…

And in moments of weakness and sometimes it was just ignorance. But you’ve got all this debt. There’s just all kinds of things that have happened and your heavenly Father goes, I want to bless you. So, we are going to go on a journey to position yourself so you can receive what God wants to give you and when He gives it to you, He wants you to recognize, Oh, by the way, this really is Yours, and you can keep passing it on.

What keeps us from living generously? I have alluded to a couple. But, first and foremost, human nature, right? We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I have a number of small, little grandchildren. No one had to teach them, “That’s mine!” Right? And we get sophisticated, but that same, “That’s mine,” is in your heart and mine. And so, it’s hard to be generous.

The second reason is, I just call it, delusional thinking. We just, because we always compare like this, we always compare like, Well, this person is an axe murderer and I haven’t killed anyone. I must be a pretty nice person. Or, I give a dollar. I helped a homeless person once. Or, I smile.

Instead of, wait a second, are you giving the first and the best of your time to the Lord? Are you, is your antenna up and do you find yourself giving kind words, kind thoughts? Do you find yourself secretly providing for people? And whether it’s food or whether it’s money.

I used to say this and there was always a little edge. Pastors are people too, so we do stuff that’s not that great. And I had a message that I used to speak a number of years ago on giving and when I really wanted to bring it home, man, I really wanted to zing it to you, because it frustrates me because I know what you’re missing. And then part of it, it just frustrates me.

And so, I would say something like this, are you ready for the zinger? And I’ll tell you the switch of motives. I would say, “The average Christian is far more committed to making sure they leave ten or fifteen or twenty percent at a table to a waiter or a waitress than they are to the God that died and rose from the dead for them.”

How many times have you gone out to dinner at a decent place and just stiffed the waiter or waitress? “I ain’t giving you anything. None.” Right? I bet there’s not a hand that would go up.

And then, and so, that really made a point because I thought, Wow. That’ll help. It never has. But why? You know why? Because you get to know them as they are serving you and you’re thinking, partly, what would they think? By the way, Christians, by and large, I have known some waiters and waitresses, “Sunday afternoons, it’s terrible. Yeah, they come in, they bow their head, they pray, and they are the worst tippers.” That’s not a good testimony.

But what I realize is, when you get to know that person, what you realize, that tip is going to an actual person. They have eyes, they have hair, you might find out she has a little girl, you might find out that he is in school. And see, what I think has happened with giving in church, somehow you think it’s like some law that God brought down.

When you give, you give to a person. You give to Jesus. Giving is a love action. And I think the reason we don’t stiff waitresses and waiters is because it’s a real person and somehow, we think God is the Force. He’s a real person with feelings and He wants us to give for our benefit and so that we could help others.

I think the biggest one, however, is, I just call it irrational fear. It’s just irrational. And it goes like this: If I give, and let’s get to the heart. Some of you feel better about time, which is really harder to give than money. But if you’re not doing well with money, time is even harder.

So, here, think of the logic. God, I know that You’re going to provide my salvation and when I die, I believe with all my heart You have provided a way, that You have paid for my sin, You have prepared a way for me, and I know for sure I am going to heaven. I just don’t think I could live on ninety or eighty or whatever percent that You lead me. I just don’t think You could help me pay my bills.

Come on, now! Really. God, You can deliver me from death. God, I have seen You intervene and heal cancer. I have seen You pull a marriage back together. I have seen You take one of my kids and turn them around. I have seen You do things at work I have never dreamed. But I really don’t think You could give me enough money to pay for the groceries. It’s just irrational. And the enemy plays on it.

And, finally, this is, we get the ugly stuff out of the way. We are people and sometimes it’s just greed and pride. Just greed and pride. No one is immune. But, notice, living generously requires wisdom, honesty, practice, faith, and humility. And I didn’t just pick those words out.

You need wisdom to understand it’s human nature. You need honesty to overcome your delusional thinking. You need practice because some people, you just don’t know the Bible. You’re not, it’s not a bad person, I didn’t know the Bible taught this.

And then you need faith to overcome your irrational fears. And then humility. At the heart of giving, it’s just, it always starts with humility. You have given this to me and I am going to trust and I want to share this time, this word, this thought, this influence with someone else.

Let me give you some action steps. How do you become more generous? One, take daily baby steps with words, thought, time, stuff, money, and can I encourage you? Record them. I don’t care if you have never done a journal. Just get a little spiral notebook, at least for thirty days. Just, and you don’t have to write but three or four lines.

But take a baby step. “I am going to say positive words to the people at work.” Just, “I am going to look for one person to help.” “I am going to take an extra five dollars.” I don’t care what you do. Do something and then write down.

Second, celebrate, daily, God’s blessings and record them. See, I think God does all kinds of things and we don’t, we just don’t recognize it. Just sit up in bed, turn on that little light, and you only have to write two or three lines. But just, what, Where did God bless me today?

And just, if you don’t like to write it out, bullet point, bullet point, bullet point. And just do it for thirty days. I am telling you, your awareness of God will skyrocket.

And then, finally, give your first and your best portion back to God each payday. Just say, Wow, by faith. And biblically and we are not going to get into tithing and gross and net and all that. But, biblically, just ten percent before the law, during the law, Jesus said something, is probably a good place to start.

But, here’s, for some of you, that might be like Mount Everest. So, you might want to go for a base camp. Here’s what would be for everyone: give a percentage. Make the percentage. And this is between you and God. Lord, I am going to start giving two point five percent. I am going to give six percent. I am going to give seven percent. But do something where you begin to build a track record where you are acting on the truth at whatever level of faith you have. And just see what God does. Just see what He does.