Generosity 101

Bonnie FearerCommunity News

How many times have we read stories of some person who leads a quiet, frugal life—maybe a librarian or a store clerk—and upon their death, they give a fortune away to the less fortunate?  Even better, is the story of one who leads that simple life and has an ongoing pattern and practice of generosity.

Webster’s defines the word “generous” as liberal in giving; openhanded. 

Openhanded…  That is a true challenge right there.  And it is a challenge mirrored throughout Scripture, perhaps most pointedly in 1 Timothy 6:10:  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 

Three quick observations:

1)        Money itself isn’t the evil, but an inordinate desire for it leads to many evils;

2)        Pursuing wealth doesn’t send us rocketing straight to hell.  Rather, the eagerness for more causes us to wander, and it could be a slow and circuitous path away from loving God;

3)        The piercing mentioned here isn’t delivered by God, but by our own choices.

The antidote to all this?  Openhanded generosity.  Sacrificial, regular giving—the kind that keeps the love of money from growing on us like a barnacle.  Does this kind of generosity describe your habits?  If so, then you can skip the rest of this and check out another article in the Community News.  If you feel that you have room to grow in this area—as I do—then I’d like to share some things I’ve been mulling over on this topic. My “mulling” has come as a result of my husband’s challenge to our family to increase our giving.  Not such a big deal really, under normal circumstances.  But he is proposing this as our first of three kids starts college in the Fall.  I can already feel my open hand closing into a tight ball!

With this clenched fist has come some reflection on what it means to open my hand and become generous in the way that God calls us to.  Some thoughts:

•          It’s about more than the check:  Regular giving is worship.  Worship is entrusting to God’s care all that is dear to us—again and again. The check is a symbol (albeit sacrificial) of our ascribing worth and honor to the One who gives us true security.

•          It’s proactive AND reactive: The discipline of regular, generous giving is proactive.  The above and beyond response to the needs we see around us is reactive.  Both are necessary ingredients for a heart growing in generosity.

•          It’s humble:  With enough practice, our hearts are increasingly tuned to God’s.  Then our lives can agree with Jesus’ words when he says, …when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  Matthew 6:3-4

•          Control button “OFF”:  We’re taught to be in control of as many things as possible, maybe especially our finances.  To give generously is to relinquish control, especially when we give to our church and are not making the personal decision about where each dollar is allocated.

•          Creativity required:  Most of us have experienced (or will experience) financial hardship at some time in life.  Does it mean we cease to give, or hold off giving until things look up?  —A wise person once said that if we don’t give when we’re poor, we’ll never give when we’re rich.  It’s true, but sometimes it calls for creativity.  I recently read about a church in the Midwest that has been particularly hard-hit by the economic downturn.  When they didn’t meet their missions budget, they launched a church-wide idea they called “Fast for Food.”  Each member gave up some little thing that was extra in their own budgets (movies, dinners out, desserts, etc) for a month.  Then they pooled what they would have spent on these things and gave it to their missions group, who in turn channeled it to a feeding program their church supported.  We may not always have a lot of money, but we always have creativity, and there is always a way to give.

•          Make it relational:  Invite others into the challenge with you.  It adds encouragement and accountability.

•          Celebrate!  We grow in new areas when we practice.  We also grow in new areas when we stop to enjoy the view from the vista points.  Has God shown you more of Himself as you have surrendered more of your finances to his care?  Celebrate!  Is a child wearing shoes because you gave up dessert?  Celebrate!

Although we don’t pass an offering plate at our church, (instead we have a couple of innocuous-looking giving boxes in the entryway), I’ve often wondered, if we did pass one, what it would be like to have everyone write down on a piece of paper everything that they owned —bank accounts, homes, cars, electronics, etc., and put that into the plate? The message would be, “God, it’s all yours.  You provided it, and thank you. Now, teach me what it is to be generous.”