Of late, I have been examining my motives for giving. Do I give to get, or do I get to give? Do I give in order to get something in return (thanks, value, credit, honor, a good image, or material increase for myself), or do I truly enjoy the privilege of giving away my money, time, talents, effort, with no thought of benefit to myself? The answer is disappointing, if I am honest with myself.
I really should know better, as my parents taught me a lesson in giving that still speaks to me. When I was about eight, they began giving me a small allowance of $1.25 a week. Of that, I got to keep twenty-five cents. Seventy-five cents went for milk money at school, and the other quarter was to be put in the offering plate at church. To this day, I remember my annoyance and disappointment: I asked my mother why she and Daddy didn’t just keep the milk money and the church money and give it themselves to the school and to church. It seemed pointless to give me something that was pre-designated for someone else. As an adult, of course, I understand that this lesson in income and expenses was an important one, as most of a paycheck is used for fixed, regular expenses, such as rent and utilities. As a child, however, this made no sense to me (especially the church part, as my parents were with me at church and could have put that quarter in the plate themselves).
The second memorable lesson occurred when I attended church with my now-husband after we graduated from college. He put a bill in the offering plate, folded in thirds in such a way that no one could see the denomination of the bill. Curious, I asked him how much he had given. He replied, “Twenty dollars.” Horrified and shocked, I stared at him and wondered why and how he could give that much! (Keep in mind that this was in 1976!) I mistakenly thought everyone was supposed to give a quarter, simply because that was what my parents told me should come out of my allowance as a child. Somehow, I had missed the fact that offering percentages (along with other expenses) rise in conjunction with one’s total income.
Recently, I have been meditating on the concept of giving, and how my views of giving can increase my risk of spiritual dryness or stagnation. A simple example of a life-giving resource is the blood in the human body: the same volume of blood so vital to life in all parts of the body does not just sit in one reservoir, but instead circulates continually through all the tissues and organs of the body, bringing life to every cell. In God’s economy, this same principle of circulation applies to everything else: our time, our money, our material possessions, our energy, our talents. Since God is the source of every resource, both spiritual and natural, He could certainly keep it all and enjoy it all Himself. Instead, He has chosen to use us, His people, as channels for His Kingdom “circulatory system.” If I will be faithful to give away WHAT He directs and invest in the way He leads me to invest (personally, in relationships as well as finances), He will activate His divine process whereby He redeems, re-creates, refreshes, restores, reuses, and recycles the resources He has placed in me/invested in me.
The Bible speaks often about God and the restorative power of His living water. He is a spring of life, a fountain, a supplier of living, bubbling spiritual water that flows from our inmost being as believers. (See Jeremiah 17:13, Joel 3:18, Zech. 13:1; John 4:14; Rev. 7:17; Rev. 21:6.) He is always moving, flowing, transforming us by His presence. Just as He did not sit with all His resources in heaven and watch us perish, but instead gave a part of Himself, Jesus, to die for our sins, He expects us to give ourselves away, first to Him as our Redeemer, and then to one another. The degree to which I give myself away will determine my stagnation level, as standing water that is hindered from flowing invariably becomes stagnant. Worse yet, I could use up all my resources myself and be left with a dry hole I have dug all on my own! Jeremiah 2:13 states: ” For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
I used to have trouble understanding the story Jesus told in Matthew 25:14-30 about the man who went on a trip and entrusted his goods to his servants. When he came home, he found that the servant to whom he had entrusted the most had invested his talents and made a profit. The servant who had received two talents had done the same and had a return on his investment to give back to his master. The third servant, who had only received one talent, had put his master’s money in a hole in the ground (a safe place, I would think!). His master was not pleased and took away the one talent the man had been given. As a financial conservative, this story bothered me for years. However, now I am beginning to understand the difference between stagnation and flow. God gives us gifts to be given away, not to hoard in fear. What He has invested in us is for the purpose of edifying others (Ephesians 4:12).
My prayer is that God will deliver me from every fear, from my tendency to hoard resources, from my reluctance to engage in relationships with other people unless I am certain they are a “good risk,” and from my own selfishness. He is faithful and will deliver me! Thank you, Lord, for Your amazing generosity! Help me to remember that all You have given me is for the purpose of giving to others (mercy, kindness, faithfulness, insights, knowledge, understanding, material possessions, finances), that they may be edified and You glorified. Don’t let me hold on to what You are calling me to give away; let those things not spoil in my hands but be given away while fresh and full of life!