"I'm afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small."
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
It's #GivingTuesday, which, if we're honest, seems a bit like a benevolent afterthought following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But I suppose that's often what generosity looks like in a consumer culture: we give of our leftovers, not of our firstfruits. We give after we have satisfied our desires. And seeing that marketing makes material desire the hunger that can't be sated, we give far too little, if anything at all. Most of us would admit that we don't give in the way the Bible talks about giving: with the qualities of eagerness and self-sacrifice and joy.
I've been thinking a lot about generosity over the last several months, not least because my pastor asked Ryan and me to lead one particular initiative of our church's recently launched capital campaign. In October, our church finalized the purchase of an historic church building in the heart of Toronto, and while the purchase was almost completely funded by the sale of the commercial building our church owned, we still have to raise capital for necessary renovations. Dan asked the two of us to attend the first meeting with the campaign consultant, and I went reluctantly. I was heading into my busiest fall yet, crammed with speaking engagements, a book manuscript deadline, and other additional writing projects—not to mention the everyday gig of wife and mother of five. And wasn't Ryan the finance guy? I was a writer who struggled to keep accurate revenue and expense records for my freelance work. Certainly there were others better suited for a capital campaign.
But that night, Doug Turner, the campaign consultant, framed the initiative as something much larger than raising money.
"Money is a discipleship issue," he said. "We talk about everything else regarding discipleship, but we don't talk about money."
That immediately got my attention. I absolutely wanted to be part of a discipleship initiative. As Doug made clear that night, there is absolutely no way to talk about following Jesus and avoid the issue of money.
Being a part of our church's capital campaign has sent me back to the Scriptures, looking to learn more about what it looks like to give in ways that reflect a life surrendered fully to Jesus—the ultimate Giver. And here are some principles I found in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 that I hope will be helpful for you—not just for #GivingTuesday, but ultimately, for developing a lifestyle of radical generosity.
- First, generosity is evidence of God's grace at work in us.
"We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia." 2 Cor. 8:1
Paul is talking about a group of believers, who have given radically. The Macedonians have gladly contributed to the funds Paul is collecting to relieve those suffering from famine in the church of Judea.
Yet the generosity of the Macedonians was not to be credited to their unusual altruism. They weren't more philanthropic than the average church. Their generosity was evidence that they were enjoying the grace of God, which is to say: they were growing more and more in the humility of realizing how little they deserved from God and yet how much they had been given. If they had been given so much, what could they not spare?
God's grace, if it's active in our lives, will make us generous, and a stingy Christian should wonder if he is a Christian at all.
- Generosity is powered by strange math.
"Their abundance of joy and extreme poverty [speaking here of the Macedonians] have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part." 2 Cor. 8:2
The Macedonians didn't give from surplus: they gave from lack. They trusted that God would supply what was needed for their generosity. And this is surely a generosity too few of us have known. We give when months are fat. We withhold when months are lean. But the Macedonians demonstrate that kingdom giving doesn't depend on the books.
If you want to give, pledge to do it, and watch God provide.
- God's grace makes generosity, not just a duty, but a delight.
"They begged us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints." 2 Cor. 8:4
No one needed to cajole the Macedonians to give a financial gift. They didn't need a slideshow set to music. They didn't need a pastor thundering from the pulpit. They treated the invitation to give as a privilege. They begged to open their wallets. They wanted to participate in whatever God was doing around the world. (It's interesting to note that their giving wasn't to their own church, but to another church far away.)
God's people want to give. Arm-twisting is not required.
- Generosity is worship.
"They gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us." 2 Cor. 8:5
To give your money is, in effect, to give yourself to the Lord. Every dollar, every donation: they give voice to your praise, to your thanksgiving, to your humbled awe at having been adopted by the richest Father into the wealthiest family. We give because God, through the giving of Jesus Christ, has given to us.
We worship, not simply with our songs and our service, but our surrendered treasures.
- Generosity will produce thanksgiving.
"For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God." 2 Cor. 9:12
Financial gifts can meet important needs: in our churches, in our cities, in the world. And that God would use us to meet needs is, in itself, an incredible grace. But, we should always remember that generosity in the kingdom of God isn't wholly pragmatic. It's not simply that the world has needs to be met and that God has need of our dollars. Our generosity is meant to inspire a liturgy of thanksgiving to God: a gift received is always an opportunity to give thanks to the great Giver.
Give, not to be thanked, but in order that God might be.
I am particularly excited about three initiatives to which our family has committed to giving, and by God's grace, giving generously:
Safe Families Canada: This organization, committed to mobilizing Christians to help families in crisis, is just getting off the ground. Check out their ministry, and if you have a heart from children and families, consider a financial gift, which is critical to their ongoing work.
HOPE International: As you likely know, my older daughter and I traveled to Rwanda this summer, observing up close the microfinance initiatives HOPE sponsors to help the poor help themselves. I believe in what they're doing, and I'm particularly impressed by the ministry's leadership. Consider giving a gift today.
Whatever you give today, this year, and in your lifetime, may it always be a source of renewing joy in your own life and ongoing thanksgiving to your God, who gave his Son Jesus as a firstfruits offering (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23).