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SURELY YOU’VE HEARD the old, worn-out test of whether or not we are either pessimists or optimists: “Do you see the glass as half empty or half full?”

That test is about dispositions and attitudes. I’m going to put a little twist on that.

Let’s say things aren’t going too well for you lately. Your cabinets and refrigerator aren’t as well stocked as you would like. You’re getting by, but it’s not a time of plenty. You’re out of money, and payday is several days away.

You look in the fridge, pull out the milk carton, and pour into a glass all the milk you have. And sure enough, the milk—about one cup in quantity—fills the glass only halfway. Suddenly there is a knock on the door. It’s your neighbor.

You set the glass down and answer the door.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” your neighbor says when you open the door, “but I’m cooking for my children tonight. There’s no time to go to the store, and I need a cup of milk. May I borrow some?”

What is your view now of the half-filled glass of milk sitting on your kitchen counter? Chances are, you are faced with something that goes beyond simply whether you are by nature either pessimistic or optimistic.

 ~ ~

Prior to the death of John the Baptist, Jesus called His twelve disciples together and sent them out, two by two, to preach repentance and extend His ministries of healing and deliverance among the people (Mark 6:7-13, Luke 9:1-6).

In Matthew’s account of that, he went into more detail than Mark and Luke. He revealed more of what Jesus told the disciples before sending them out (Mathew chapter 10). Among the things He said was this:

Anyone who receives you receives me, and anyone who receives me receives the Father who sent me. If you receive a prophet as one who speaks for God, you will be given the same reward as a prophet. And if you receive righteous people because of their righteousness, you will be given a reward like theirs. And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.  (Matthew 10:40-42 NLT [emphasis mine])

Jesus appointed the disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God was near. They were to cast out devils. They were to heal the sick. And as they went out to start their work, none of them would have questioned the importance of that work.

What could be more important than proclaiming the good news, setting spiritual captives free, and seeing people healed and restored to health? But as Matthew recorded, the last thing Jesus told them before they left to go about that business was actually about the value of a mere cup of water.

You see, people need to hear the good news. They need to be warned to repent. They need to be delivered from spiritual bondage. And they need to be healed of sicknesses and infirmities. That is important work. But that is not always what they need.

Sometimes all people need—including people involved in ministry to others—is something that seems more trivial, like a cup of cold water. Sometimes, all people need is what at other times seems less important on our scale of important things.

As I considered that, I was particularly impressed with two things. The first thing involves how we view the value of what we have.

Many people underestimate the real value of the things they possess. They spend their lives thinking, “If only God would give me [fill in the blank], I would have something worth giving.” They undervalue the things they already have.

They spend far too much time comparing their talents, abilities, and possessions to those of others who they believe are better equipped to do God’s work. And that needs to change before they will ever be able to fully yield themselves to God and obediently do what God already requires of them.

I believe the Lord wants people to know—wants us all to understand—that we don’t need to wait until we receive what we don’t have before we can give what we do have. And what we have is exactly what someone needs, even if it is just a cup of cold water (or a half-glass of milk).

The second thing I was impressed with was the value of giving away what we have.

One day Jesus told the disciples a remarkable thing about an offering they saw a certain widow give while they were in the Temple in Jerusalem.

While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”  (Luke 21:1-4 NLT)

I imagine there were plenty of people in the Temple who wished they had money like the “rich people,” whose offerings were impressive to them (but not to Jesus). They thought, “If I just had that kind of wealth, my offering would be better too.”

People get stuck on thinking they must have a lot in order to give a lot. But to understand giving from God’s perspective we must come to grips with what “a lot” means to God.

The fact is, Jesus made it pretty clear to the disciples that He didn’t view what the rich people gave as a lot. To Jesus—to God—a lot was the two small coins given by the poor widow that day.

~ ~

Now, getting back to where we started, how would you answer the neighbor standing at your door asking to borrow your last cup of milk?

While the value of the half-glass of milk may have started going up when you poured it from the carton, both it and your response may be worth more than you can even comprehend. For at the moment, as the Lord knows, you have exactly what your neighbor needs, and it is exactly what you have to give.

 
L. Edward Hazelbaker
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