Practise, practise, practise

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January 16, 2013 | Focus On | Number 2
Dori Zerbe Cornelsen |

I love the piano in our living room. The small Wurlitzer fits nicely into the proportions of the room and often provides a good platform for seasonal decorations and whatever celebration cards may come our way. Sadly, I hate to admit that our piano is not played all that often.

The piano was my mother’s instrument and I didn’t develop her ability to play, in great part because, as my piano teacher, she grew tired of nagging me to practise. I don’t blame her. I remember having some of those same tussles with my children during their days of piano lessons. So our piano looks good in the living room, but it was made to be so much more.

Our society packages almost everything for sale, but there are some things that can only be acquired through practice. I believe this is true of generosity. We can’t buy a mindset of generosity, especially if we only give from what is left over or because we need to assuage our guilt of affluence for a time. We can, though, practise generosity by making ongoing, intentional choices of giving. By making a habit of these choices, generosity can grow from simple, discreet activities to an essential way of life.

Generosity as a way of life fills much of the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus encourages hearers to give to anyone who asks, to be compassionate as God is compassionate, to give to the needy without need for recognition, to avoid hoarding treasure on earth, to choose between serving God and money, and to resist worry. In order for his hearers to become proficient in their lives of generosity, Jesus ends the sermon with this challenge: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock . . .” (Matthew 7:24, NIV).

According to author Craig Dykstra (, Christian practices are more than spiritual activities or duties of obedience. Practices are patterns of action that create openings in our lives into which the grace, mercy and presence of God can enter. When we practise generosity, we can be transformed by God’s mercy to become who we were really made to be.

Several weeks ago at a gathering in our home, a young musician sat down at our forlorn piano and with only a few notes his practiced hands brought incredibly beautiful sounds into our living room. As I witness in my work at the Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC), there is an incredible beauty in practiced lives of generosity. May we all hear Jesus’ words encouraging generosity and put them into practice.

Dori Zerbe Cornelsen is a stewardship consultant at the Winnipeg MFC office. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit

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