In these austere economic times (Wow, don’t you wish people would stop beginning sentences and lectures with that phrase?), a lot of religious organizations are making plans for curtailed ministry. That’s wisdom, I guess. People are pretty nervous about money right now and “extra” things like giving for missions, church ministries, hunger relief, and so on will be cut early in many households. I read a quote from a lady-on-the-street interview wherein she spoke of feeling guilty because her family just didn’t have any money left over for giving to her church. Hmm, most of us would have never admitted even a year ago to having extra or leftover money, but I do know what she means. She, like many of us, wants to donate to good causes but isn’t willing to cut spending in other places to make that happen. The question is one of priority.
Do churches and para-church institutions depend on our giving? The “holy” answer is “of course not, our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and so on,” and this is true. He does own it all. Some of those cattle graze in pastures I manage, though. Some of them graze over at your place. God equips the ministries he’s led us to launch through the resources we hold in trust. So in a way, worthy ministries are dependent on our giving.
But that’s not why we give. Leaders who try to guilt people into giving because of budget needs are missing the point, as are people who give only “extra” money for the support of a ministry. That sentence explains why some ministries will falter or fail in the near future?neither recipients nor givers understand the dynamics of stewardship.
Two types of people are prone to love money too much?those who have it and those who don’t. Both types will either hoard or covet wealth when times get tough. If God is not sovereign, they’re right?we’d better watch out for ourselves. If God is sovereign over even the cattle stored in my freezer, then my temptation to hoard demonstrates my lack of faith in and obedience to my Lord.
My temptation to greediness is a temptation to idolatry. Security is a deceitful but attractive god. So also comfort, luxury, the affirmation of neighbors, or a host of other things that cause us to keep what we were intended to give.
We also miss worshiping the God we claim when we keep what is his for our own wish list. We’ve all seen the families that pull out a couple of ones or maybe a 10 to put in the offering plate when it passes. Perhaps they’ll give the bills to a child to put in the plate so she can feel part of the service. Great, we’ve gave our kids money for the plate when they were little. But it was clear to all from the founding of our family that this tip was not the total of our giving. I also noticed that those same children gave with more zeal and joy when the dime or the dollar came from their own allowances. We don’t worship God with pocket change or “extra money.” Our worship costs us something, whether time or service or concentration or sleep or leisure, or money that we could have used for something else. Isn’t that what David was saying when he bought the threshing floor of Araunah to build an altar to the Lord? “I will not offer to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost [me] nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24).
That’s why we give. God has commanded that we give out of gratitude and in acknowledgement of his ownership of everything. The “leftover” money or “give because we need the money” mentalities diminish that acknowledgement. They reduce it to a purely mercenary exchange rather than a spiritual discipline or divine provision. A gift made in that spirit, large or small, is a gift that pays off no joy or spiritual growth.
The fact that some of us have less money now than we did yesterday is no hindrance to the kingdom of God. Eighty percent or more of us were already holding out on God. We call ourselves Christians, say we pray and read our Bible once a week, claim to believe in a limitless person who made us, but consider it all to mean little when compared to our personal financial schemes. If all those who call themselves Christian gave back to the Lord first and by percentage, the amount would rise and fall but it would provide amazing wealth for our churches and institutions and hunger relief and orphaned children and a hundred other very good things. If only those who actually are Christians did that, the gifts would still rise to a total beyond our imaginations. Money is not tight but the faith of most of us is too scarce.
Can we trust God to add all these “other things” to our lives as he promises in Matthew 6:33? What if what he provides is merely adequate and not as nice as what I gave up to trust him? The questions of greed get pretty absurd but we do ask them in our wavering hearts. But we also have the testimony of millions, many of whom we know, who say that they’ve never missed what they traded for peace with God. We have Jesus’ own promise in Matthew 19:29. Is that enough?
It’s intimidating, the possibility that American Christians may face some kind of gut check in our personal prosperity. I don’t take lightly the reality that some of us will lose jobs, homes, health insurance?things that we now take for granted. Part of the test is whether we will trust God amidst fearsome threats. Another part is whether we have the heart to share with our brothers and sisters and thus become part of God’s provision for those who suffer the worst losses.
My point is that, for Christians, this is not about money. It’s about our relationship with God. Can we trust him enough to obey his commandments about money? Is our relationship with God based on more than the things we often consider temporal “blessings?” If it is not, we are pitiable in the midst of any wind that blows. If our view of blessings is more eternal we will have a resilient joy and generous hearts that will pass any test the economy can bring our way.