Friday, May 24, 2013

More Blessed

Of all the spiritual disciplines, I think giving is the one we like to hear about least.   A preacher can do all the sermons he wants about Bible study, fellowship, and prayer, and we all nod our heads.  However, if he dares to get up and do a lesson on giving, it seems most of his audience will be wondering what building project is in the works or perhaps which stingy person he is aiming to reach.  I have been guilty of this very thing.  When my preacher starts talking about giving, I look at the wall where our budget and weekly contribution numbers are posted.  We must have fallen behind, right? What I've forgotten is that just like the other spiritual disciplines, giving is for my benefit and growth.  

So how does parting with my hard earned cash (or possessions or time) help me?  To start with, it reminds me that the things I'm grasping so tightly are given to me from God. "Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow" (James1:17).  As long as I am holding on to my "stuff," it's easy to pretend that it is mine because of my hard work.  When I give, I am more able to acknowledge that it came from God; I am only a steward.  

It is vitally important that I remember this, or I run the risk of becoming like the rich fool in Jesus's parable.  He held on to his treasures and was a stingy giver, and he died as a result (Luke 12:16-21).  Jesus ended the parable by reminding his followers that God will take care of all our needs.

I don't think it is an accident that Jesus paired a lesson on giving with a lesson on anxiety.  How many times have I held on to money because I was afraid of the future?  I'm not talking about having a savings account.  I'm talking about failing to give to the church or to the poor and socking away money out of fear.  I've been there, and I can tell you the anxiety doesn't go away when you have more money.  The only thing that can take away that fear is the soul deep knowledge that I belong to Christ, and he will always take care of me.  Giving helps to strengthen that knowledge.  

Since my husband and I made the commitment to be givers, we have always had what we need.  I'm not saying we live in luxury.  Sometimes we eat pinto beans because that's all we can afford that week.  But we have the beans.  The money we give away would pay for a nice vacation, the kind we haven't had in five years.  It wouldn't be worth it.  I don't want to go back to the anxiety of our pre-giving life.  

For me, the hardest part of developing giving as a spiritual discipline was making the decision to be a giver.  The execution was not too hard.  We do at least two kinds of giving.  We give to our congregation.  I'm glad to say that our church has no debt, and over half of our budget goes toward spreading the gospel through missionary support and events like gospel meetings.  This giving is simplest of all.  We make a budget each month (Thanks, Dave Ramsey!), and the first expense we calculate is our contribution.  This kind of giving has become an automatic habit for us.

The second kind of giving is more spontaneous.  We give based on the needs we see around us.  Training for this kind of giving is a little harder because our eyes have to be open.  Examples would be giving food to a homeless man on the corner, giving to a family member in dire straits, or giving to the parents' group at school to show appreciation for the staff.  Because you can't always plan for this type of giving, it has proven more challenging for me.  I don't like changing my budget to accommodate spur of the moment giving, but I have been making a concentrated effort to do so.  

In a way, giving can be seen as the most selfish of spiritual disciplines.  The rewards more than make up for the cost.  I'm reminded over and over that I am more blessed when I give than when I receive (Acts 20:35).  I'm more blessed because I'm reminded where my blessings come from.  I'm more blessed because I remember who takes care of me. So the next time the preacher decides it's time for the yearly sermon on giving, don't see it as a grab for money. Know that he wants you to receive these blessings too.  Make the hard decision to be a giver; God's word promises you won't be disappointed.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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