I want to share with you Sue Ann’s and my journey in giving to the Lord. Admittedly, there is a measure of discomfort in doing so. However, since I am preaching about generosity, I believe it is important that you know that Sue Ann and I faithfully give to the work of the Lord. There is always room for growth, but I want you to know how God has worked in our lives in this area, bringing us to where we are today.
I also want to make clear that being generous includes more than material giving. It includes being gracious in how we relate to and speak with others, it includes investing our time in the lives of others, it includes using the spiritual gifts and natural talents God has given us to bless others … it is an all-encompassing way of living.
So, what I will share with you is just one part of the bigger topic of generosity. It is the matter of giving money.
First, however, I want to remind us of what we have seen from God’s Word thus far in our sermon series, “A Lavish Life.” The kind of lavishness in mind is not a life of luxury and self-indulgence. Rather, it is lavishness toward others, an open-hearted generosity. The Bible reveals to us that God Himself is lavish—He is generously abundant in His works of creation and provision. Most especially, He is lavish in His love toward sinful man: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God gave His beloved Son to die for the sins of the world so that we, undeserving rebels, could be forgiven through faith in Christ.
God the Son, the Lord Jesus, showed lavish open-heartedness and open-handedness: “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). He gave more than we can imagine or understand so that, to the glory of God, sinners could be reconciled to God.
What does that have to do with being generous, with our practice of giving? The generosity of God is at the heart of our becoming generous. The way God has been generous with us motivates us to be generous. The more we see and understand the generosity of God, the more we will be changed to become like Him. (See Philippians 2:1-8; 2 Corinthians 3:18.) And, God says we are to copy Him: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2).
So how has God led Sue Ann and me in our journey in giving? Our starting point as a couple was this: we believed and practiced giving 10% of our income to the church. This was an “off the top” commitment; that is, we didn’t wait to see what was left at the end of the pay period and then determine what we could give. Rather, our tithe was a set part of our budget. Since this was the way we were each taught growing up, we carried that practice into our marriage, along with the understanding that a Christian’s first priority in giving is to give to his or her church. We are grateful for this biblical training we received in our younger years.
We continue that commitment. And, by a small margin, we have increased that percentage giving to the church over the years. However, where we have experienced greater growth is in giving to other entities outside the church.
First, we began to personally support missionaries and mission efforts on an ongoing monthly basis. I don’t clearly remember when or how that started, but over time friends we knew stepped into missionary work or we were made aware of mission efforts we chose to support. As time has passed, that number has grown and our “missions” budget is now about half again of what our “tithe” budget is.
Practically speaking, how did we do that? Let me give you an example of how that took place with the latest missionary we added. We had been subscribing to the Quad City Times newspaper for years. However, the subscription rate continued to rise, and rather rapidly as digital news outlets became more and more popular. Finally, we decided to cancel our subscription. Right about that same time, friends of ours from many years ago stepped into a “second career” as missionaries and we reallocated that subscription money to missionary support.
In other cases, an increase in pay opened the way to support a missionary or, sometimes, we just reworked our existing budget to take on a missionary.
Second, besides supporting missionary work, somewhere along the way, Sue Ann and I decided to set aside money each month to be available for spontaneous giving. As needs and opportunities arise, we use those funds to give. We have found that a very helpful approach situating us for unplanned opportunities.
Third, there are times when special needs and opportunities arise which are beyond that “spontaneous” giving budget. Sue Ann and I then discuss the situation, make a decision, and then take the money from another area of our budget.
Let me reiterate my discomfort in sharing our journey of giving. Giving is a private matter. But perhaps it will encourage you to read how God has led us along in our journey of giving. Generosity does not come naturally for me, and I still have a lot of room to grow. However, God has been and continues to be graciously at work in me.