Generating Generosity

Giving to the poor

igh unemployment rates . . . crumbling investments . . . dwindling savings and retirement accounts . . . and declining property values are everyday life. Threatening phrases like “going off the fiscal cliff” inundate us. Our natural inclination is to hoard what we have as a hedge against an uncertain future. We try our best to preserve our lifestyle and make budget cuts elsewhere.

In a 2012 Barna Research Group study of active Protestants, 46 percent said they had reduced their giving to nonprofit organizations, 33 percent had reduced their giving to churches/religious centers, and 6 percent had completely stopped giving to churches.

Whether you are a denominational leader, a pastor, or faithful member in the pew, these tough economic times have affected us all. Each of us must prayerfully reprioritize and re-balance our budgets.

However, if we truly believe God is greater than a struggling U.S. economy and that He indeed owns it all, we must continue our giving commitments to help advance the Kingdom around the world. Dare I suggest my personal conviction? I believe it is time for advancing the virtue of greater generosity.

Giving Freely

The dictionary describes generosity as “the habit of giving without expecting anything in return”—giving time, assets, talents, or labor to help meet a need. Another definition says generosity is “freedom from meanness or smallness of mind or character.”

Chuck Swindoll said, “I’m a firm believer in saving, investing, intelligent spending, and wise money management. But I have trouble finding one word of scriptural support for being a tightwad!” I agree.

The Church of God has a long and noble history of generosity at local, national, and international levels. High-profile ministries such as Operation Compassion make me thankful for my denomination. I also applaud so many of our churches and members who faithfully support benevolence ministries, sponsor school scholarships, and give to local and foreign missions.

While I served as a pastor at a mission church in inner-city Atlanta, I was on the receiving end of generous gifts and practical services from Men of Action and surrounding Church of God congregations.

Our Generous God

The essence of Christianity is giving. “For God so loved the world, that he gave . . .” (John 3:16). By wanting us to give, God wants us to become like Himself. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

While the word give is used over 1,500 times in the Bible, we discover Jesus is more concerned about why we give than how much (see Luke 21:1-4). He’s much more interested in the quality of the giver than the quantity of the gift. Attitude in giving supersedes the amount. In fact, God says if we have a bad attitude about giving, don’t bother, because we won’t get credit for it anyway (Matt. 6:1). He honors those who give all He asks them to give (see Luke 18:29-30).

Giving is a responsibility. More than that, it’s an opportunity. John Wesley said, “Get all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” But we often change it around to say, “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the lid.”

Where’s My Treasure?

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). If I put my greatest amount of money into my house, that’s where my heart is. If I put my money into my car, that’s where my heart is. If I give my money generously to the Lord and all He is concerned about, that is where my heart is.

Every time I give generously, it draws me closer to Christ and He generously reveals Himself to me in my need. He is the One who gave His all for me. Where my treasure is, there my heart is.

This revelation did not come to my wife and I easily, even though we were strong Christians and active in practical ministry. As urban ministers, we viewed ourselves as missionaries. With the long, expensive adoption process of our two children and a high-maintenance ministry, having enough money always seemed to be a pressing issue.

The essence of giving. By wanting us to give, God wants us to become like Himself.

One day in the early 1990s, we were humbled when someone gave us the title and keys to a car. It was an old Mazda 626 with rust and torn seats, but we were grateful. We drove the car for five years with no repairs ever required. We called it our “urban assault vehicle,” but it was clearly a gift from God.

When we moved to another pastorate, the Lord led us to give the car to a homeless man who needed it worse than we did. His gratitude deeply touched us. For us it was transportation, but for him it was a home.

That simple gesture stirred something deep in our hearts and began a process that has recurred numerous times. It profoundly influenced our understanding of the relationship between our giving and God’s provision.

After our first experience with being given a car and eventually giving it away, we asked the Lord if He would do it again. Much to our surprise, within weeks we had a second car given to us. After driving it for a while, the Lord prompted us to give it away (long before we would have chosen) to someone in our church.

That process has now been repeated many more times, and we have had increasing joy experiencing what God would do next. Last year we gave away our 12th car and, two months later, we were given another one. What an amazing privilege—not just in the receiving and giving of cars, but also in the practical witness that takes place every time. Another discouraged heart is filled to overflowing with God’s goodness, care, and provision.

All who give to God’s kingdom have their own similar experiences. We tell our story in the hope it will inspire you to give generously. We are not suggesting this is a model you should replicate. It is unique to us, but we are keenly aware it is not about us. It is about the faithfulness of our God, and He is the same God you serve.

To Us and Through Us

We learned many years ago that God wanted to use us as His conduits. He has proven in countless ways that He would give to us if He could give through us. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38 NIV).

Give generously, and give every day as if it were your last. You will experience the joy of seeing God perform mighty works in the lives of others, and you will find your faith growing stronger.

Steven and Rosemary Lester write, speak, and provide visionary leadership and planning to churches, ministries, and nonprofit organizations. They have two adult children: Anna, adopted from South Korea; and Russ, adopted from Russia. [email protected]