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This is the last in a series looking more in-depth at the simple 5-part Rule of Life which I mentioned in a sermon recently (which you can watch here). You can find the past installments linked below, and as always, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!
#5 GIVE GENEROUSLY – Giving generously is integral to being Christian because giving is integral to God. As we hear in the Gospel of John, God so loved and so God gave his only Son — who in turn gave his life for us. Giving is God’s love in action. Giving is love made real and tangible. What’s more, the love that God gives us isn’t merely sentimental love. God’s love is a sacrificial, self-emptying, self-giving kind of love — and we are called to do the same. As we see in the story of the “Rich Young Man,” giving is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to our faith. We can believe all the right things, say the right things and follow all the rules, but if we aren’t willing to give of ourselves, then we aren’t ready to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t ask us to admire him, he asks us to follow him.
So if giving is so clearly a fundamental Christian practice, then why, of all the spiritual practices we’ve examined, why is this one easily the most challenging? Let me try answering that by sharing my own giving journey because I think I am a typical example of what it looks like to go through the different stages of giving:
No thanks, I’m still checking this out
When I first began coming to church, I didn’t give anything when that offering plate passed me by. I was still exploring church and faith. I had lots of questions about who God was, and whether really God loved me or not. Somehow I saw putting money in that offering plate, as an acceptance of something. Looking back I am not sure what that was exactly. I might have seen it as accepting God, or accepting Christianity, or that I wanted to belong to the church? I am not really sure, but I am sure that I wasn’t ready to say “yes” to any of those things. Somehow putting money in that plate meant I was literally “buying” into something I wasn’t ready for and so I didn’t give at all at first.
OK, what’s everyone else giving?
But then after several weeks of attending church and hearing the sermons and meeting the pastor, I decided I should probably give something. I was, after all, taking up space in the pew. I was hearing a good show of sorts – a good message that made me think, heard some good music, had a few laughs. It was a bit like doing to a Sunday matinee which at the time was about $10, so that’s what I gave. Plus, I remember looking in the plate as it went by to get an idea of what everyone else was giving. I saw $5 bills, $10 bills, and some twenties. So I figured, I guess $10 or so seemed about right. I fully admit, it sounds pretty silly today as I look back, but without anything other to go on, I had to start somewhere!
So tell me about my fair share?
Then some more time went by and was asked to help out, and so I was glad to help pour coffee once a month. (Which for anyone who knows me, you can imagine it was a GREAT job for me because it meant I never was OUT of coffee myself!) Serving with others also helped me get to know more people and I started to feel more connected. I began noticing the extent of the church’s staff and programs and so I began to ask questions like, “what’s the budget here? What does it really cost to run this place?” I was starting to feel like I was more of a member and so I wanted to be sure I was giving my “fair share” as they say — and I had a sneaking suspicion that $10 or $20 I would throw in what I came, probably wasn’t it. (I was SO right!)
Putting down roots
As even more time when by, the pledge campaign came around and I had to make a decision: Was I going to get serious about church and my place in this faith community? And more to the point: Was I going to get serious about my giving? I decided that answer was “yes,” and so I decided to make a pledge. I was seeing myself as a member of a community. I had gotten to know several people and they knew me, and I decided was ready to take this new relationship to the “next level” so to speak. Making a pledge that year for the first time was my way of putting down some roots and calling this place my ‘home.’ (Of course I also decided to get baptized and confirmed, but honestly, those things were easy. The bigger challenge at the time, the bigger turning point was deciding to pledge!)
My need to give
The final stage in my giving journey came when I realized that my giving shouldn’t have anything to do with what things cost, what other people are giving, whether my name will be on a plaque somewhere, or even what the church needs to reach its yearly ministry goals. All of those reasons were driven by something outside of myself or in some cases, my ego. Over time, giving had become a private thing between God and myself. Someone once said, and I have never forgotten it, “Giving isn’t about the church’s need to receive, but about my need to give.” In order words, the shift in my giving happened when I no longer looked at all of those outside motivations for giving, but instead began to give based on my love and gratitude to God. I found that the more I gave, the more I was able to detach from our consumerism and the rat race of more, and the more I found myself trusting in God.
Just another spiritual practice
Today I see my giving as a spiritual practice just like the other 4 spiritual practices in this series. Just like daily prayer or weekly worship, giving generously helps keep me connected to God and helps make God a priority in my life. I’m not as distracted by consumerism as I once was, nor do I get bogged down in fears of scarcity as I used to. Giving regularly and generously helps to keep me focused on the one through whom all blessings flow, and in so doing, keeps me in the flow of God’s mission of putting love in action.
If you’d like to talk more about giving and how it can be a spiritual practice that can help you move closer to God, let’s talk! (Email Rev. Chris Harris at email@example.com)