The Art of Giving Well
I remember as a child lying on the living room floor one Spring day scouring the Sunday ads for something special. I couldn’t have been older than eight or nine, but I was excitedly searching for something to give my mom for Mother’s Day. I don’t recall if it had been a Sunday school lesson, an admonition from my father, or just some spontaneous thought that I had – but I decided I wanted to give my mom a gift that would really display my love and gratitude for all that she did for me this year.
I had gone to my secret hiding spot and done a thorough accounting of my wealth – after a very lucrative Christmas and birthday season, my personal treasury stood at about $32. With this in mind, I splayed out all the various Mother’s Day ads in front of me in the glow of the afternoon sun methodically sorting through the prospects. I quickly identified the possibilities by price and then evaluated them on the basis of what my young mind thought that my mother would like.
I settled on a particular charm bracelet. I thought it was perfect. For one, it was made of real silver as the ad boasted – a true mark of supreme quality. Secondly, it depicted the story of Noah’s ark complete with animals and a boat. My mom was a fan of the Bible, so I thought a Biblically themed piece of jewelry was the ultimate confluence of taste and her personal interests.
There was only one problem: the bracelet was beyond what I had thought I would spend. It was somewhere in the ballpark of $27. I knew there would be tax applied to that, but I didn’t really have a framework of understanding to calculate what the total cost would be. I had doubts that I could afford it which I shared with my dad who reassured me that it would be okay.
Finally, the day came. I withdrew the sum total of my money counting each bill carefully and loaded it into my Velcro wallet. My dad took me to get the bracelet and when I took it home I stashed it in my drawer with my horde of other treasures. In the days leading up to Mother’s Day, I frequently took it out of its box to admire it and daydream about how happy and excited my mom would be to receive such a wonderful gift.
After we got home from church on Mother’s Day – I excitedly got my gift and presented it to my mother beaming with pride.
Now that I have the benefit of age and hindsight, I can say that the bracelet I got for my mom was not exactly the most aesthetically pleasing. A cheap silver-plated bracelet from Target is hardly the end-all be-all of worldly attainments. In fact, I think it took a lot of love for my mom to leave the house with the thing on. Doubtless, the money I had scraped together for my luxurious gift would barely amount to anything compared to the time, energy, and money it took to raise me and my siblings. I contributed nothing. The only reason I had money at all was because family members had given it to me.
When my mom received my gift with a smile and gratitude, it wasn’t for the gift. It was for the heart I had to thank her. I wasn’t expecting anything in return but to see her be happy.
It’s funny how growing older can change our perspective on money. Some years later, I would find myself working as an independent contractor putting in 80-90 hours a week of grueling work to try to capture every dollar I could while the work presented itself. There were times where I even worked seven days a week for weeks straight, not because I had to, but because I thought that’s what I needed to do to finally “have enough.” To my shame, there were many days that I was so exhausted that I only found the energy to continue on by tabulating the money I had earned in my head.
Between the ages of 10 and 20, I had come to see money in a way that was unbiblical. For one, I had come to see money as the assurance of security. I believed that having money would prevent undesirable things from happening to me and that it would enable me to have what I wanted. Not only that, but I saw it as my moral right and birthright to be able to acquire wealth. I began to conflate wealth with things like worth, having power, and God’s favor.
I know I am not the only one who has struggled in this way because this is the default worldview for the majority of Americans. It is so ingrained in our minds that we don’t even see how our minds process thoughts involving money in a way that is divergent from the Bible. We forget things like the fact that God is the creator and rightful owner of everything. Just as I was a child with $32 that had been given to me by the graciousness and generosity of loved-ones, we are stewards of material things that are actually God’s.
Psalm’s 50: 10-12 says,
“10 For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.”
In that passage, is there anything that isn’t God’s? God demanded sacrifices of the animals which He had given to Israel, but they had the audacity to act in reluctance or at times offer improper sacrifices, and at worst, give sacrifices to false gods and idols.
It really wasn’t about God wanting their stuff. It was about God wanting their trust, obedience, and worship. It wasn’t that these people were special, had something that God needed, or deserved in any way God’s blessings – it was that God was going to use them to make His name great among all the nations. God constantly calls His people back from doubt by reminding them of His past provision. Throughout the Bible, we see that God does amazing things through the humble obedience of sinful people.
Money is a constant topic in the Bible – in fact, there are over 2,000 verses that address it. It was obviously on Jesus’ radar when he tells the parable of the seeds and predicts that people will not accept and obey the Gospel because money has blinded them to spiritual concerns. Really, I think that this is the soil of America – full of thorns like consumerism, trust in material wealth, and the idolatry of comfort and security. This is a sad thought that people will be so consumed with the trinkets of this life that they neglect the most valuable thing of all: our eternal purpose and salvation.
1 Timothy 6 warns that this was exactly what was happening in the early church. People were walking away from the faith once they found out it was hurting their bottom line. The passage continues to exhort the church to be rich in good works, generosity, sharing – not in the pursuit of money. In Acts 4, we see the first church was characterized of people selling all they had to provide for those in need in the church, but in chapter 5, you see some of the first victims to the deceptive allure of money. Ananias and Sapphira voluntarily promise to sell all they own to give to the church, but then selfishly and deceptively hold back a sum for themselves resulting in their immediate death. I think the message is clear: money can’t save you.
Here’s a little piece of Bible trivia for you: the only direct quote of Jesus found only outside the Gospels is in Acts 20:35 with the famous phrase, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Jesus is the master giver from whom we all should seek to pattern our lives.
Can you imagine the conversations Jesus had to have had at the start of his ministry with his mother, siblings, and friends? “Why are you quitting your job? You’re going to lose everything you have!” I sure can, because I heard the same questions from Christian friends when I decided to quit my job to pursue church planting overseas.
I don’t know how Jesus answered, but I can point to Hebrews 12, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus left his family, the business he inherited, the trade he’d trained for his whole life, and he was obedient to attribute all good things to the father in a life of worship and sacrifice – for the joy set before him.
That is the character with which we learn the art of giving well. It comes from an understanding of where our resources come from. It is an understanding of God’s heart to be generous to us so that we can display His glory and give to others. God doesn’t give us life, talent, work, and money for us to create ourselves our own pathetic knockoff versions of heaven here on earth where we can sit on our own little thrones and point to the mighty deeds of our 9-5 that secured us such great possessions. God gives us that stuff so that we can display our trust, love, obedience, and faith in Him!
What enables Christian to give well is the joy set before us! If you’re on the sinking Titanic, are you going to run against the flow of fleeing passengers to try and get yourself the now-vacant suite? No! That’s absurd! But that’s exactly how we treat our life if we claim a belief in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, turn away from the lifeboat, and go looking for the best room of the boat to drown in.
When I gave up the remainder of my money to buy my mom a present, I wasn’t thinking about what I was losing. I was looking at my money as an opportunity to do something nice for my mother. This is the right heart to have before God. I wasn’t looking to get some favor in return, but I was looking to return the favor so to speak for all the hard work my mom had put into taking care of me. Giving to God is worship. It acknowledges that I have received far more than I could ever do for myself and want to demonstrate my loyalty, my trust, my obedience, my love for a savior so good and kind that I would enact grand gestures of gratitude.
Christian giving is always God-centered. Hebrews 13:5 tells us to be content and not love money because He will never leave or forsake us. We have the guarantee of the Lord’s almighty hand upholding us, freeing us to abandon our trust in material wealth so that we might use that wealth to the praise of His glory. Believe it or not, God calls us to do the same with our lives. We are free from the fear of death so that we can risk it all to the praise of His glory. If this is true of our very lives, how much truer is it for our material belongings which we can only hold onto for a little while?
In the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31), we get a great look at a Biblical worldview of wealth. The level of trust Jesus commands isn’t trivial – grace is free, but make no mistake, discipleship is costly because it demands exclusivity. “…You cannot serve God and money,” – Matthew 6:24. It is one or the other. This is why giving is so vital to our Christian walk. It is an exercise of our trust, it is an act of worship, and it reaps us many rewards.
2 Corinthians 8 talks of the churches in Macedonia who were in extreme poverty yet begged for the opportunity to give. New Testament giving isn’t to be confused with the Old Testament tithe which was essentially a tax for the upkeep of the nation of Israel. New Testament giving is out of free will, it is proportionate to what you have, it is sacrificial, and most of all, it is joyful.
Search your heart in light of the Scripture. We only give in accordance with the amount of belief in what we have received. If you are not giving your money, time, or other resources, is it fair of me to ask if you have a belief? If you do give, is it the sort of gift you bring in pride to the Lord saying, “I have brought my best for you?” I hope you so. My hope and prayer for all of you is that one day you can stand before the Lord as I did before my mother on that Mother’s Day, beaming with pride and joy with the assurance that you gave God your earthly all to the praise of His Glory.