Growing up in a low-income family taught me to be careful with money. I had a lot of respect for money because it was so difficult to get. When I was ten years old, I was earning $2 for each hour of work. It was a struggle to save money because I could only do chores around the house to make money, and the rate was meagre. However, I managed to save several hundred dollars, which I used to buy large Lego sets!
As I grew older, I continued to focus on myself. I carefully saved money again, but by the time I turned nineteen, I lost all my savings. It was when I had no money and rent to pay that I hit rock bottom. I had been relying on my strength to provide up until this point. I was nineteen with nothing to my name and in a bad financial state. I had to change my mindset.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 says ‘As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.’
I was ‘setting my hope on the uncertainty of riches’, which didn’t pay off. It is in generosity that treasure is stored up in heaven and a future secured. Thankfully, the story gets better. I learned to start being generous in small ways. With time I got better and faithful to His word, God provided a fantastic job and working arrangement, which paid more than double what I was earning beforehand! A life of generosity is the best life to live.
It was when I had been a student of generosity for some time and had started to give more frequently at church and more consistently with friends and family. I thought I had finished learning what generosity was. I was a good guy now and genuinely enjoyed being generous. I had started to live life with a purpose greater than myself, so I no longer existed to please myself and immerse myself in fun and entertainment. I recognised that I was a part of something bigger.
However, although I was starting to grasp some of the basic concepts of generosity, I hadn’t matured much in the way of Godly giving because there was no strict consistency. I didn’t know how much I was giving, but it didn’t matter to me. I thought that as long as I give a lot, it doesn’t matter how often I give and certainly didn’t matter at what time I gave. I was wrong. A pastor gently pointed out to me that it isn’t so much about the amount I give as much as the heart behind the gift. Was I giving to ‘get it out the way’ for a while? Was I a dependable giver? After examining my motives, I found that my heart was not in the right place.
I needed to decide on how I continued to give. Was I going to remain in a method of giving without structure? Would I apply discipline to generosity? I decided to try giving in the way suggested by the kind pastor. He told me to set aside a percentage of each paycheque, rather than trying to give a specific dollar amount. He also recommended setting aside the percentage for giving before spending money on ANYTHING. Setting aside a percentage of each pay shows that you are disciplined and don’t take God for granted. You are the real deal. Giving immediately or setting aside the amount to give at a convenient time before paying for any bills tells your heart that God is the priority. You could give God 100% of all your leftovers, but what does that matter? 10% of your best means far more than 100% of what you don’t use.
Malachi 3:8-10 says ‘Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.’ This Old Testament verse describes God’s desire to bless His children. The following sentence deserves close attention: God wants to bless you, but He cannot because your heart is hard and not entirely devoted to Him! Do you think God needs your money? NO! He wants your heart!
Matthew 23:23 says ‘“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.’ Jesus shows that although tithing originated from the Old Testament, it is relevant in the new covenant. The fundamental principles of giving are the same today as when the law was first written.
I previously mentioned the story of me as a twelve-year-old boy dreaming about all the things I could buy with one million dollars. The exercise got me thinking of all the different stuff I could buy and all the holidays I could experience if I wanted to. However, after thinking about myself for some time, I decided to think about ways I could spend the money to help others. I considered giving half of it away, but I had second thoughts. Giving half of a million dollars seemed to be such a waste! What if I only gave 10%? What if I gave $100,000 and kept the rest for spending as I saw fit? Surely that was generous enough!
There is nothing wrong with giving 10%, but there is something special about giving more than a sensible amount. Luke 21:1-4 says ‘Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”’
Jesus saw through the dollar amounts straight to the heart of each person. The widow chose not to eat because of her love for God. The wealthy people of that time were indeed generous, but their level of giving did not require much sacrifice.
God does not require sacrifice, as Hosea says at 6:6 ’For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.’ However, when you choose to go beyond God’s expectations and requirements because you love Him that much, He will respond and repay! Matthew 6:19-22 says ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
God is after your heart. If you give Him everything you have, especially to the point where it hurts, He notices! Every gift given need not be sacrificial, but a healthy, generous life will include the occasional sacrificial offering which shows the heart of the giver.
A few years ago, I was catching up with a family friend (let’s call him Peter), drinking coffee with him when I started thinking about his life. Peter is a kind man whom I have now known for over ten years. The thing is, he has a lot of money. He has two substantial houses on large properties, among other investments. I started wondering how a man with so much money could be a Christian. I mean, aren’t Christians supposed to be poor? I have met many broke Christians, but here was a man who managed to do very well, and was substantially more generous than anyone I had met before.
I had many questions, and I wanted answers. How can I make a lot of money like Peter? Am I allowed to be wealthy if I’m a Christian? Do rich people go to heaven? Why is Peter so generous all the time? If he is always giving money away, why isn’t he broke?
Have you met someone who lives this way? Have you encountered a wealthy Christian? Why do you think they are wealthy?
My questions weren’t all answered right away, but as I asked questions and prayed, I started to understand some basic principles of giving. The first idea that had to change was that giving money away could make someone broke. It sounds logical, but Peter’s experience, and now mine, proves the opposite. The first lesson I learned about money is that when I give, I cannot lose.
Psalm 112:5 says ‘It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice.‘ Why is it well with the man who deals generously and lends? I will explore this further in future posts.
HOMEWORK: Consider what generosity means. Are you generous? Do you lend?