People living in a wealthy place need a survival plan to avoid being pulled into the deceitfulness of materialism. People living in a land where shopping is a religion need a strategy to avoid ending up worshiping at the altar of consumerism. Jesus gives us a big part of that strategy when he says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Do you want to avoid the emptiness of materialism and instead experience the kind of happiness that Jesus offers here? Pursue a lifestyle of generous giving.
This is the third in an occasional series of posts designed to help us live generously in an age of consumerism. We’ve seen that wealth brings with it danger. The love of money has the power to cool and even quench the love of God (Matthew 13:22). We must know this danger and respond by first affirming that all that we have isn’t actually ours, it is God’s. He is the Owner, we are his managers, not the other way around. Since we’ve become managers for the most generous person in the universe, and since his Spirit lives in us, we have hope that we can resemble him more. How can we grow in generosity?
Let’s learn a lesson from a foolish farmer. In Luke 12 Jesus tells the story of a farmer who hits the jackpot. He has such a good year that he doesn’t have room to store all the crop – what to do? This is a defining moment: What will he do with the extra? What would you do if you got a huge raise or a big inheritance? Look for ways to keep it and spend it on yourself, or look for ways to give it away?
This farmer could give the extra away, but instead decides to build bigger barns so that he can kick back, relax, and have a good time. God’s response: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Why is this farmer a fool? Because, Jesus says, he laid up treasure for himself instead of being rich toward God. How can we avoid being like him? We can pursue generosity for the glory of God. How?
- Ask the Owner. We are stewards, managing God’s property. Everything we call ours actually belongs to our heavenly Father. It is wise and helpful for us to regularly remind ourselves and God of this situation. Let us regularly converse with God by telling him that our time, possessions, money, and life all belong to him, and that we are ready for any instructions he has about what to do with these things.
- Listen to the Owner. Our lives are filled with voices offering happiness and security through stuff. It’s hard to resist without having an alternative voice to remind of us what is true and to persuade us to live differently. Scripture is God’s voice to us. Consider:
And [Jesus] said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share… 1 Timothy 6:18
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. Proverbs 19:17
- Work at growing in generosity. We can get better at generosity in the same ways we get better at playing soccer or writing software or cooking. We make a plan and get busy practicing. Here’s a starter list of ideas to get growing in generosity (I’d love to hear from you what’s on your list!):
- Begin using a budget for our finances. This allows us to plan ahead to give away money. (You can find out more about our Financial Peace University here.)
- Set aside savings money just for unexpected opportunities to give.
- Start where you are now, then ask yourself what it would look like to get to another level of giving. Could you give away a few percent more next year? Could you work to get out of debt so that you’d have more to give? Could you bump up the regular giving you do to your church or another ministry?
- When you prosper, when your income increases, consider whether this money has come to you to raise your standard of living or to raise your standard of giving (or some of both?).
- Tie your giving to a vision for serving others and encouraging ministry. I find, for example, that when I get a newsletter from a student I’ve supported in a short-term mission, I’m excited to see what they have to say because I’m invested in what they are doing, and what God is doing through them.
Living generously in an age of consumerism is possible because in Christ we have hearts set free from the death grip of greed and materialism. In the next post in this series (after we take a brief break to focus on discipleship) we’ll think about how to think about giving to church and about tithing.