Friday, October 4, 2013

Pay It Forward (part one)

The first time I heard the phrase "pay it forward" was the Missouri Lottery spin-off of the phrase, "play it forward." The context of the phrase with the MO Lottery is that of sharing and positivity since about 25% of their proceeds go to benefit the Missouri public school system.

Then I heard the phrase again.

The second time it came up was when I was at ALDI, getting ready to grab a cart before going inside. If you have ever been to ALDI, you know that the shopping carts are all chained together and can be released by placing a quarter in the individual cart's chain holder. The quarter is returned when the cart is returned.

As I was approaching the carts (there were two lines of them), a woman was also coming to the carts to grab one. I noticed that in one of the lines someone had returned their cart without getting their quarter back (i.e. - a collateral-free cart). 

Attempting to be kind, I told the lady about the cart instead of taking it for myself. She replied, "Oh, that's ok. I'll just pay it forward." She put her quarter into a different cart and went on her way.

I thought to myself, "What the heck was that about?"

There's nothing wrong with passing on a good deal. I wasn't confused by that. What confused me was her reasoning -- "paying it forward."

Not long after that I started seeing the phrase on Facebook and hearing it said by others. Eventually I started to wrap my mind around the concept a little more and understand what people meant when they said it.

Basically, from what I've seen, the phrase is loosely tied to the idea of karma: what goes around comes around. Whatever it is you put into life, life shall return that same kind of fortune to you (or, in this case, to others).

"Paying it forward," though, just speaks to the positive side of karma. It's all about doing good deeds to people, letting those people do additional good deeds, and eventually the chain extends its way throughout the world.

The idea has blossomed into its own foundation and a Pay It Forward Day has even been generated.

An article speaking to Pay It Forward Day says this:

Envision a world, where one person helps another individual, who then does something good for three others, who are each kind to three more folks, and so on. Soon, the ripple effect spreads all over the globe.

Not surprisingly, Oprah is involved.

In 2006, Oprah gave all of her audience members one day $1,000 and challenged them to use the money to give back to others. She called it "truly the best gift." This is taken from her website:

With only one week to fulfill the challenge, these amazing men and women hit the ground running. Armed with Bank of America debit cards and Sony DVD Handycams, which they used to document their good deeds, the audience members started making headlines from Connecticut to California. What began as a simple idea quickly snowballed into a national movement!

For seven days, kindness swept the nation and Americans "passed it on" to perfect strangers, people in need and even a few four-legged friends. "We hope what started right here in our studios has only just begun," Oprah says.
Oprah tells her special audience to stand up and give themselves a big round of applause. "I think what you all did was a miracle," she says. "What the world needs today is a few miracles."

Interestingly, the article is featured under the "Spirit" section of her website.
So what does Jesus think about this?
It is worth pointing out that Christ never spoke about people doing contagious good deeds for the sake of making the world a better place (i.e.- "paying it forward").
This is not to say that Jesus didn't encourage good works, though, as He certainly did.
Speaking to those who followed Him, the Messiah said this:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:14-16

Christ's reasoning was quite different than the reasoning of the lottery or Oprah or the lady at ALDI. The good deeds He encouraged His followers to perform were "so that" other people may see the deeds "and give glory" to God.
Seeing all of this the way Jesus does requires a perspective shift. We can't think about the concept of paying it forward with our 21st century carnal minds. We have to see the world the way God does.
The Lord created everything and everything He created was made for Himself (Colossians 1:16 -- look it up!). God sees no human interaction as just a spiritually-neutral effort to make the world a physically better place; God looks at the hearts of men. So as a person begins to attempt a good deed he/she has a distinct motive.
The motives may seem harmless or even positive:
  • Empathy for another person
  • Feeling of obligation
  • Belief in karma, that the good deed will result in his/her reward
  • Trying to become a better person
  • Wanting to inspire others
The list could go on and on.

This is the big idea:

If a good deed is done with a heart that discounts God's personal sovereignty and care over the world, it is done in vain. We were not created to manage God's world for Him.

This might seem like a weird place to stop, but there is a lot more to say on the subject and I don't want to unpack everything in a single rambling post that bores everyone, thus I shall wait until part two. Feel free to leave a comment here or on Facebook to generate discussion.

God bless!


  1. I like this, although not sure where you're going with "we were not created to manage God's world for Him." Ultimately God is in control, but Gen. 1:28 seems to give man stewardship from God.


      Hopefully I explained myself well enough!