I write a lot about frugality and how Josh and I choose to live a frugal life because we have different priorities other than the American Dream. But what are these priorities? Why do we get excited about not buying clothes, cutting back on groceries, and biking to work?
Part of it is paying off debt and investing because we want to be financially flexible without the need to work forever weighing us down. But we also believe in freeing up our finances to give generously to people’s spiritual needs and physical needs, both locally and globally.
It’s taken me a long time to write this post because while generosity is important to us, it’s a complex subject that we wrestle with on a daily basis.
Josh and I try to view ourselves as stewards of God’s resources. I like to think of it as if we’re managing a company for him and we don’t own any of it – we’re simply managing his money, trying to make wise decisions and not waste resources.
We first got excited about this by reading Radical by David Platt. He challenged us to simplify our lifestyle, spend less on ourselves, and be more intentional and crazy in our giving. David Platt spoke at a Generous Giving conference and had some great things to say. (All the podcasts from the conference are seriously inspiring and challenging!)
Platt points out that we have an obligation to use our material possessions for the glory of God and give to the poor.
Jesus looked at [the rich young man] and loved him. “One thing you lack,”he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.Mark 10:21-22
Wealth is a barrier, not a reward.
Jesus surprises everyone here by saying obedience is abandoning possessions – not acquiring possessions. Before this, people assumed that God materially blessed good people as a reward.
But material wealth is never promised as a reward in Jesus’ teaching. Platt says the New Testament doesn’t mention it once.
This new theology of giving away our possessions was scandalous then and it still is now. Most modern Christians don’t give away all their things! That would be crazy. They spend on their church buildings, their homes, their families, their vacations.
In the Old Testament people built large and costly temples. In the New Testament, however, we are the temple.
God’s plan is to use our selflessness to change the world, not our affluence.
Jesus says wealth can be a barrier. The desire for possessions is strong and destructive.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:6-10
Possessions will always let us down. We get them and we still just die. We’re in bondage to ourselves and our stuff. In Mark 10 the man walked away – it was a tragedy! Because godliness with contentment is great gain. There is contentment in being freed from greed. We can be happy with necessities and nothing more.
It’s okay to work hard and make money.
I know a couple of people who have practiced radical generosity by quitting jobs and selling their possessions and living among the poor. They have amazing stories of what God has done with that, though sometimes they wish they still had the income to help fix the problems they see everyday and help the people who are now their neighbors.
God has called some of us to quit and trust, but others he has called to make the money and give. This might actually be the harder calling since the temptation to keep it is so real! Wealth is attractive and seductive. But there is power in having it and giving it away. We can place a cap on what we spend on ourselves and increase our standard of giving not our standard of living when we get raises. Rather then ask how much to give, we should be asking ourselves “how much do I keep?”
Easier said than done, I know. It’s easy to be generous with hypothetical money. We pray, “God, bless me with more than I need so I can give it away!” We get really pumped about radical generosity when it’s just an idea. But when it happens in the form of a bonus or large tax refund, we get second-thoughts.
“I didn’t really mean that God. It’s gonna take a little more. Don’t you want me to be responsible with this, not careless? Should I save it for a rainy day?”
But there’s people all over the world having a rainy day right now, Platt says. Our intentions and actions must line up.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:17-18
Generosity as a default.
Including generosity in our family mission makes those split-second decisions to help someone easy. Josh and I aspire to live on less so we’ve freed up more to give. We set money aside in our budget each month for the sole purpose of giving away. I don’t have to debate whether or not to give. I have a default response to be generous. Jesus says in Luke to “give to everyone who begs from you.” So we try to do that. The amount may vary, but the response is automatic.
Generosity is counter-cultural.
It will make people stop and stare. It is an easy way to change lives.
It’s about money. It’s about sharing your resources. They were given to you for spreading good to the needy. But it’s also about more than just money. It’s about sharing your time and opening your home and your life as well. Focusing on things other than just our own family and our own friends.
When we share our resources, we see things restored and healed.
Generosity must be at the heart.
People aren’t willing to listen to a gospel that preaches salvation if the preachers aren’t extending a helping hand to help them in their present situation.
It comes across as unloving and ignorant.
It comes across as hypocrisy.
Jesus did more than just preach. He was hands-on. He healed. He broke bread. He listened. He was generous.
Generosity is relative.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
My father-in-law once pointed out that in this story, what counts is not how much you give, but how much you have left. C.S. Lewis agrees, and raises quite a challenge to all of us:
I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am 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. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.
No one can tell you how generous you should or shouldn’t be. Don’t give out of guilt, and don’t give what you don’t have.
Generosity looks different to different people. It definitely includes non-monetary giving as well. If you don’t have finances, but you have time, give that. Volunteer at a food pantry. Help teach English to refugees. Tutor at an after school program. Donate clothes and blankets to homeless shelters. Help build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Use the resources you do have.
What matters isn’t the gift itself. What matters is the heart of the gift.
Have fun with it.
Once you decide to live a crazy generous life, there’s no telling what opportunities may come your way. You’ll become more aware of places to give. You’ll have a plan and an amount next time someone approaches you with a need. It will bless you just as much as it blesses the receiver.
We definitely don’t give because we feel obligated to. We give because we’re compelled to. It’s very different. We want to be a part of the amazing things God is doing in our city and around the globe!
The rewards are real.
In Mark 10, after the Rich Young Man leaves, the disciples essentially ask, “We’ve given up everything to follow you! What about us? What about this life?”
Jesus responds that he’s building a family. A family that will share and provide for one another.
In our time of need, we don’t need to be afraid. We’re supposed to rely on each other. We don’t have to live a life obsessed with taking care of ourselves when we have a community taking care of us.
At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality.
2 Corinthians a 8:14
Those are the benefits in this life. Not to mention the heavenly rewards that Jesus promises when we give.
Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.
Heavenly treasures are the best investment ever. Forget your diversified portfolio here on earth. Jesus wants to give us a different kind of treasure. It’s almost self-serving. In the end we get something that’s even better than money. Which do you want? Short term or long term? Even those of us who still struggle with selfishness should see the wisdom in a good investment like that.
The greatest feeling on earth is being absolutely sure that you just connected with God and it was real. When that happens, it’s a good idea to just surrender your fears and listen to him. That’s the coolest thing about giving – God meets you when you give. Radical trust and radical giving go hand in hand.
We don’t have it all figured out.
Josh and I are trying to follow where God leads and be willing to give as he tells us. But we don’t have all the answers. We felt the specific call several years ago to move into the city and open up our home as a place of rest. The results of this have been overwhelming abundance and contentment. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to be in the right place at the right time, following God’s call.
This is just the beginning. I’m encouraged and challenged by others who are out there giving up far more than we ever have.
I know businessmen who have given away their companies because they wanted to serve the poor and needy instead of work long hours.
I know several families who have left their comfortable suburban homes to move to the worst parts of the city in order to help restore safe communities.
I know of a family who sold practically everything they had and traveled to the poorest parts of the world, waiting for God to tell them where to live.
I know a couple who has given away all their savings and retirement.
These people aren’t being irresponsible – they’re being unafraid.
What does generosity look like for you? What resources have you been given for the sake of sharing with the world?
Books that impacted us:
Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: Moving from Affluence to Generosity
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical
Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
Strangers at the Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests
Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity
When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . . and Yourself