“Christians are giving at 2.5% of income; during the Great Depression it was 3.3%.”(1)
After reading this, I was shocked and deeply saddened. How have we as Christians gotten worse at this beautiful form of worship called giving?
I won’t pretend to have the answers so instead I’ll offer up some potential reasons. I don’t think the church (as a whole not just at Valley) talks about money and giving enough. 11 out of 40 of Jesus’ parables are about money or used money and possessions to teach us spiritual things. If Jesus thought it was important to talk about, why don’t we have more open dialog on the subject? Unfortunately when we do discuss giving in the church it’s often stained by early Catholicism and TV Evangelists with unclear motives. Whether their heart was in the right place is not mine to judge; either way their influence has an effect on the church today. So how do we turn this around and change the Christian mindset on money and giving? Well, for me it has been looking at money and giving in a different way. It is worship. My life is worship and I want to be the kind of worshiper the Father seeks. Here at Valley, we define worship as extravagant love and radical surrender. I’d like to share how I see giving in both of those concepts.
When it comes to giving as extravagant love I immediately think of Matthew 25:31-46. This passage is about the final judgement and where Jesus says “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” I was a little surprised to read that a lot of commentaries for this passage focus on God’s authority, the finality of the judgement and the separation of the 2 sides. I do see all those things, but when there is a judgement it means an evaluation is happening. How are the people in this passage being evaluated? Surprising to some Christians it is not whether they read their bible everyday, prayed, spoke in tongues, sang hymns or modern worship songs. Jesus instead asks did you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the imprisoned or take care of the sick. Acts of love and care.
How does this apply to money and giving? I see my money as a multiplier for these acts of love. Not the only way but one of the ways. I can give to charities and organizations that specialize in feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, widowed, and orphaned, and bringing compassion to those imprisoned. I certainly can do all of these on my own at a micro level, but by contributing my financial resources to organizations with better leverage I can maximize the return for the Kingdom. Donating money and resources should not exempt me from personal acts of love and care, but rather enhance and expand my personal efforts.
Radical surrender is the hard one. We can easily get behind helping others and giving out of love. Realizing everything I own is not mine is way more difficult. King David in 1 Chronicles 29:12-16 talks about how wealth and honor comes from God. Matthew 6:19-20 Jesus tells us to store up treasures in heaven and not on this earth. He goes on to say in verse 24 that a person can not serve two masters, he will love one and hate the other. The interesting part of this verse is the two masters he says we choose between are God and money. Jesus doesn’t give us a medium ground to stand on either. He says you love the one and hate the other. My ability to surrender shows which master I’m serving at any given moment. This is so evident in the story of the rich young ruler. Matthew 10:17-27 tells of a man who asked Jesus, “How do I obtain eternal life?” After discussing the rich young ruler’s obedience to the 10 commandments or his ability to follow rules, Jesus asks a deeper question identifying the young ruler’s master. Jesus asks him to sell all he has and follow Him but the rich young ruler couldn’t do so because he was serving money. Another way to put it: he hadn’t radically surrendered that part of his life. Perhaps the biggest indicator of radical surrender for most of us is related to how attached we are to our money.
If we long to be the worshipers the Father seeks, we can no longer hold back certain areas of our lives. We can not avoid talking about them because we feel uncomfortable or question an organization’s motives. God is relentless in His pursuit of us and that extends into every part of our lives, even the uncomfortable parts. We must choose our master. I personally want to get to a place where nothing comes before or between my relationship with God and that requires my radical surrender and extravagant love…along with a good dose of humility and courage as I stumble through figuring this out.
We’re all on a journey as we pursue the Father’s heart in this way so drop a comment with your thoughts and ideas on how to facilitate more healthy, transparent dialog around money and giving.