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Open hands, open heart 


Baptist minister Ifor Williams has written a much-praised book on giving. He explains how it came about

 

 

Open Hands Open Heart“I’m writing a book on giving.” I said to my minister colleague. “That’s like writing a book on how to be a martyr.” he said. “I can’t imagine many people wanting to read it.”

So why would anyone want to write or read a book on what the Bible teaches about giving? Well, some of us would like to know. We’ve heard the sermons about tithing, and we’ve all been encouraged to give more, but what does the whole Bible teach, from Genesis to Revelation? And to what extent does the Old Testament teaching still apply to Christians?

Those were the questions in my mind after a blazing row with my wife Penny, just before we went into a big worship event, knowing there would be an appeal that night for some worthy cause. We both knew that whenever I gave generously, it was invariably out of guilt.

So started a journey of discovery, reading through the Bible to find out what it actually taught about giving. Penny and I had already started our own journey, unbeknown to us at the time, as God challenged us again and again to let go of whatever and whoever was more important to us than God. We were learning to put God first, others second, and ourselves last.

As we began practising what we were learning, and teaching the same in the church where I ministered for 21 years, God did something remarkable. He taught both us and the church, that God can be trusted. That when Jesus tells us that if we seek first the Kingdom our daily needs will be provided, he actually meant it. He also taught us that when God provides for the needs of others, he has an annoying habit of providing through our giving.

The dawning realisation that there’s no-one more generous than God himself, made me so keen on the subject that I ended up teaching seminars at a Christian conference. Which was all very well, until someone told me that I needed to put this stuff in a book. “I can’t write a book,” I said, “I’m a busy pastor.” “It’s not about you,” I was told. “The church needs to hear it.”

Then began a long period of disobedience. Despite the fact that God made it abundantly clear, in two separate encounters with the Holy Spirit, that he wanted me to write the book, I still kept making excuses. It’s amazing how being busy ‘doing the Lord’s work’ becomes an excuse for not doing what the Lord has clearly shown he wants us to do.

The Lord finally pinned me down after I’d been rushed into hospital to have my appendix out. Whilst convalescing I could do nothing more energetic than sit in front of a computer. Having run out of excuses I finally started writing, and the words just poured out. Fifty thousand words in ten days. “Wow!” I thought, “That’s the way to write a book.” 

Sadly, not everyone agreed with me. Apparently it read like a jigsaw puzzle that had just been emptied out on to the table. The pieces were all the right way up, but they hadn’t been joined together properly. One chapter would focus on my own story, and the next would delve deep into Bible teaching.

The content was good, but I was told quite firmly that it needed to be completely rewritten. By that time I had recovered from my convalescence and was again busy ‘doing the Lord’s work’, and disobedience set in once more.

The breakthrough came when a friend encouraged me to simply write the way I preach. “You’re always illustrating Bible teaching with real life stories.” she said. “Why not write the same way?” And so I did. Twelve long years after I was first prompted to write, and with the help of a sabbatical to finish it off, the book was written. “At last!” I thought. “Finished!”

But as every author knows, writing the book is just the beginning. Then came the little matter of getting it published. For some reason most publishers were thinking of martyrs.

Ifor Williams

Ifor Williams


They weren’t convinced there was much of a market for a book on giving. Thankfully, Paul tells us in Philippians that when God starts something he will bring it to completion. So it was that I bumped into an old friend who happened to mention that he’d just written a four week course on learning to give from the heart, as God gives to us. When he heard that I’d written a book on exactly that theme, he offered to publish it for me, as the two would complement each other. In keeping with the theme, he didn’t charge me a penny for his own work.

So there we are. I’ve finally learned how to be obedient. And the local church learned something about God’s generosity and how we were created in his image to cheerfully give to others as God gives to us. If Open Hands Open Heart helps others to do the same, it will have been worth the wait.
 
Ifor Williams grew up on a dairy farm near Usk in Monmouthshire before training as a Baptist minister. After 21 years as minister of Broad Haven Baptist Church, he took on a pioneering role in rural Breconshire. He has twice served as President of the Baptist Union of Wales, and was a founder member of both New Wine Cymru and Waleswide. He is  married to Penny and they have five children, four grandchildren, two dogs and a lot of ducks.

 
Related
Review | Open Hands Open Heart 
 

 
 

Baptist Times, 18/09/2017
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