Fundraising Wisdom from the Desert Fathers: Why You Should Keep Practicing Transformational Giving Even if You’re Really Bad at It

Call me crazy, but I have a hunch that there may not be a lot of common readership between my blog and the Huffington Post religion section. So as a public service to you, dear reader, I read said religion section and share the tidbits of wisdom that do indeed pop up from time to time therein.

Like Jon M. Sweeney’s recent piece, Practicing the Seasons of the Soul. It’s not a piece about fundraising at all, but, then again, the best writing for fundraisers never is.

So I offer you this excerpt (be sure to read the whole thing, though–what I didn’t include is at least as good as what I did) as inspiration to you if you like the idea of Transformational Giving…and you’ve even tried to put it into practice…but so far success has skillfully eluded you:

There is a profound tale from the Desert Fathers of Christian antiquity that explains why spiritual practice makes sense even in spite of questions without answers:

A young monk approached an older, more adept one and asked, “Father, I am having trouble remembering the instructions that I have been given about living the spiritual life. I ask questions and I listen to the answers and I do what is asked of me, but then, I almost just as quickly forget what I’ve been told! What is the point to trying to learn if I am so simple-minded? Why should I practice when I do not know for certain what is true? Maybe I should just return to my worldly life…”

But the old monk doesn’t give the sort of answer one might suspect. Like a Zen master, he asks the younger man to do something in order to discover for himself the answer to his questions. He points to two empty bottles on a nearby table.

“Take those two bottles. Fill one completely with the oil that we use for our lampstands. As for the other, leave it empty, as it was.”

The young man obediently did as he was told.

Then the old monk said, “Now, take the bottle full of oil and pour it back where it was.” The younger man again did as he was told.

“Do it again,” the elder instructed. “Fill that same bottle that you filled before, once again with oil.” And again he told him to empty the bottle once it was filled. This went on for more than an hour, over and over. Meanwhile the empty bottle sat empty.

With patience, the young man kept doing as he was told. It just so happened that this novice’s job in the community was to clean bottles used for holding lamp oil. He knew all about bottles and oil.

After a while, as they sat together looking on the two bottles now empty, the old monk said, “Please tell me, my son, what you see.”

“I see one bottle that has not held any oil and it is only dusty and dry,” the novice answered.

“But the bottle that I have filled, unfilled, and refilled many times is clean, shining and coated with the sweetness of oil.”

“Precisely!” the old man replied. “In the same way, you benefit from doing these spiritual things even if they make little sense or later pass from your mind. Whether you realize it immediately or not, over time they will change you. Filling yourself with these oils will leave you fragranced.”

Let me hasten to note that it matters supremely what oils you’re using to begin with. Otherwise you might end up using this story to persevere in doing golf tournaments, wine tasting events, or fundraising via selling your soul to Satan.

But having begun with the oil of Transformational Giving, you’ll see that it’s most immediate–and longest-lasting impact–is always how it changes you inside. 

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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