Americans Approach to Giving
In their book Passing the Plate (Oxford, 2008), Christian Smith and Michael Emerson introduce the phrase “discretionary obligation” as a way to understand the typical American Christian’s approach to giving. Smith and Emerson suggest that Christians believe that they should give generously to the kingdom, yet at the same time feel free to give at their discretion, giving only what they can, when they can, and never feeling burdened by a compulsion to give.
If “discretionary obligation” defines our understanding of generosity, we will never experience true abundance in our churches. Though many Americans have faced significant financial setbacks in recent years, we have observed that wealth in America has increased at a record pace over the last sixty years, even after taking into account the economic retraction of 2008. However, the percentage of income Americans give to churches has been decreasing over the same period of time. This just doesn’t make sense. We have more than ever, but we give less than ever. The American church can no longer turn its back on this issue. It is time to take a look at ways we can reverse this disturbing trend of more wealth and less giving to the church.
The Biggest Misconception about Giving
What’s the biggest misconception Christians have about giving? That when we give money away to a church or ministry, or to help the needy, it’s gone. While we hope others will benefit from it, we’re quite sure we won’t. We think we’re divesting ourselves of money, disassociating from it. Once it leaves our hands, we imagine, it has no connection to us, no future implications relevant to our lives. We couldn’t be more wrong.
What we think we own will be rudely taken from us—some of it before we die, and anything that’s left the moment we die. But now is our window of opportunity not to divest ourselves of money but to invest it in heaven. We don’t have to have everything taken from us. We can give it before disaster or death strike.
Now’s our chance to give what we can’t keep to gain what we can’t lose. We are God’s money managers. He wants us to invest his money in his kingdom. He tells us he’s keeping track of every cup of cold water we give the needy in his name. He promises us he will reward us in heaven because we help the poor and needy who cannot pay us back for what we do for them. We can buy up shares in God’s kingdom. We can invest in eternity.
A Brother’s Sacrifice
An eight-year-old boy had a younger sister who was dying of leukemia, and he was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. His parents explained to him that his blood was probably compatible with hers, and if so, he could be the blood donor. They asked him if they could test his blood. He said sure. So they did and it was a good match. Then they asked if he would give his sister a pint of blood, that it could be her only chance of living. He said he would have to think about it overnight.
The next day he went to his parents and said he was willing to donate the blood. So they took him to the hospital where he was put on a gurney beside his six-year-old sister. Both of them were hooked up to IVs. A nurse withdrew a pint of blood from the boy, which was then put in the girl’s IV. The boy lay on his gurney in silence while the blood dripped into his sister, until the doctor came over to see how he was doing. Then the boy opened his eyes and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”
The Difference Between a Cheerful and a Reluctant Giver
Many Christians don’t give. Others determine to do their part but sigh deeply before writing a check to their church or ministry. They give strictly out of a sense of duty and obligation. Better to give out of duty than not give at all, but how sad to miss out on the joy. That joy comes when you understand God’s law of rewards.
What’s the difference between reluctant and joyful givers? Reluctant givers give as if they were spending and getting nothing in return. Joyful givers give as if they were investing, anticipating a great deal in return. Those who “get it” understand the law of rewards and are infused with purpose.
Those who don’t get it don’t know what they’re missing . . . and what they’re missing is something truly great. When they hand over money, investors don’t say to themselves, “I’ll never see this again; I’ll never benefit from it.” No. The reason they invest is because they not only believe in what they’re doing but are also anticipating eventual benefits that will come back to them: rewards.
Have you ever heard the story of the mother who wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson? She gave the little girl a quarter and a dollar for church “Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl.
When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the dollar, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter, so I did.”
The Generosity of Oseola McCarty
Generosity is not strictly for those who have material abundance. Because Oseola McCarty recognized this truth, the world is a better place. Born in 1908 in rural Mississippi, she quit school after sixth grade to support her ailing aunt, spending the rest of her life as a washerwoman. She never married, lived quietly in her community, and attended church regularly with a Bible held together with Scotch tape. Throughout the years, the people of Hattiesburg paid her in coins and dollar bills to keep them looking freshly pressed.
She found immense dignity in her work, noting that hard work gives life meaning. “I start each day on my knees, saying the Lord’s Prayer. Then I get busy about my work.” In 1995, at the age of eighty-six, she contacted the University of Southern Mississippi to let them know she would be donating a portion of her life savings to fund scholarships for African-American students to receive the education she had missed—a sum of $150,000.
“More than I could ever use. I know it won’t be too many years before I pass on,” she said, “and I just figured the money would do them a lot more good than it would me.” Oseola McCarty, child of poverty and child of God, wanted to do good, and generously so. Praise God. Those who know good awaits them in heaven can afford to be generous on earth. They lose nothing in the giving of what has been given to them.
Giving Away Lobsters
My friend James Crocker, a successful entrepreneur, recently shared a story with me…James and a few of his friends went out on a boat trip to fish for lobsters and had succeeded in gathering a massive catch of 125 lobsters.
When he got home, he had a freezer full of lobsters—more than enough to last him an entire year. The day after James got home, his friend Jeff dropped by the house, and James offered him a lobster. Jeff was delighted. This interaction prompted James to ask himself, Who else do I know who might like to have a lobster? James got so excited by the idea of giving friends lobsters that by the end of the week, he had given away 122 lobsters, leaving only three for himself. He had such a great time giving, he didn’t even mind that his supply had dwindled from enough for a year to enough for a meal.
A few days later, James went into his garage and was assaulted by a terrible stench. He followed his nose to the freezer and opened it to find that the electricity had gone out, and his remaining three lobsters had spoiled. As he cleaned up the mess, he felt sorry for himself. But then he remembered all the lobsters he had given away, and it gave him great joy. If he hadn’t shared his bounty with others, all of it would have been wasted.
The Real Good of Every Gift
For the real good of every gift it is essential, first, that the giver be in the gift–as God always is, for He is love–and next, that the receiver know and receive the giver in the gift. Every gift of God is but a harbinger of His greatest and only sufficing gift–that of Himself. No gift unrecognized as coming from God is at its own best: therefore, many things that God would gladly give us must wait until we ask for them, that we may know whence they come. When in all gifts we find Him, then in Him we shall find all things.
Ten principles about Christian Giving
Ten principles about Christian giving:
- It is an expression of the grace of God.
- It can be a charisma, that is, a gift of the Spirit.
- It is inspired by the cross of Christ.
- It is proportionate giving.
- It contributes to equality.
- It must be carefully supervised.
- It can be stimulated by a little friendly competition.
- It resembles a harvest.
- It has symbolic significance.
- It promotes thanksgiving to God.
Time To Quit Praying
Several years ago I was part of a small group with a friend who was working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Georgetown University. As we shared prayer requests at the end of one of our meetings, my friend said their ministry needed a computer and I said I’d pray for him. I started praying that God would provide a computer, and then I felt as if God interrupted me. It’s hard to describe the tone I heard from God. It was stern but not unkind.
It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered these words to my spirit: Why are you asking Me? You’re the one with the extra computer! So I quit praying midsentence and decided to do something about it. I told my friend I had a computer that I wanted to give him. And I became the answer to my own prayer. Why ask God to do something for us when it is within our power to do something about it ourselves?
The King and the Beggar
There is an old story of a king who went into the village streets to greet his subjects. A beggar sitting by the roadside eagerly held up his alms bowl, sure that the king would give handsomely. Instead the king asked the beggar to give him something. Taken aback, the beggar fished three grains of rice from his bowl and dropped them into the king’s outstretched hand. When at the end of the day the beggar poured out what he had received, he found to his astonishment three grains of pure gold in the bottom of his bowl. O, that I had given him all!
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Giving. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!