Go Ahead, I Dare You…
By Deacon Ryan Jordan | October 8, 2019
Last Christmas Mallory and I were hanging out with one of her closest childhood friends. At one point in the evening, the conversation turned to my path through seminary and my future in the Church. Her friend, an unchurched millennial, then shared with us her experience of a Christmas Eve service her family had taken her to that year, and added, “I guess one thing I don’t understand is… you guys don’t really expect people to give ten percent of their income to the church every year, do you?” Her question caught me off guard. “Yes,” I replied, almost apologizing, “we do aspire to give at least that much.” Her jaw dropped.
I had nearly forgotten how strange a demand the Church makes of us when it asks us to give.
I have to give a disclaimer: meeting this demand was initially not even on my radar as a Christian, and it has never been easy. Mallory and I have never been far above the poverty line, and like many in our generation, we have an enormous burden of student loans between us. But we resolved early on in our marriage to practice generous and sacrificial giving as a spiritual discipline—no matter what our financial situation looked like.
This was a major paradigm shift for me. When planning our budget, giving to further the Kingdom of God was the first thing that had to be accounted for because we knew that if we waited until after we did the rest of our budget, the church would only receive our leftover scraps. We knew that it would mean giving up a lot of the little luxuries we had previously enjoyed or dreamed about having, at least at this stage of our lives… but despite this, Budget Planning Day at our house is not nearly as dreary or dreadful as it sounds. In fact, it’s a joyful and exhilarating exercise!
I think many people miss out when they approach giving to church like they approach paying their taxes: “If we just dutifully get it over with maybe God will leave the rest of my stuff alone. Then I can be happy spending the rest of my money on me and my family.” I think that attitude may have been behind the shock in our friend’s face. I can imagine her thinking, “It’s already expensive enough to live in Chicago! Why on earth would I want to carve out another substantial chunk of my paycheck to give to this institution?” The problem with this way of thinking is that it is looking at the issue completely backward. If my default goal in life is like the man in Jesus’ parable who only thought to build bigger barns for his wealth, to “increase my net worth” as it were, generosity will be a threat to me. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Mt. 6:24)” Which of these two am I putting first?
Neither can I pat myself on the back if my giving statement has a lot of zeros at the end of it. Something I have gradually come to learn is that generosity is a posture of the soul: a readiness to pour myself out for others in love and gratitude like Jesus did for us upon the Cross. Our generosity, therefore, is not measured by how much we give but by how much we withhold. That is why the widow’s mite was worth more than all the wealth the Pharisees could put into the Temple treasury. It has become a journey for me in learning to apply this posture to every area of my life (my time, my talents, my energy, and efforts), even though it began with my bank account. But I eventually discovered to my great delight that I don’t need to be wealthy to be rich—I have a lot of different ways I can give gifts to others. As St. Paul wrote, “we are treated… as poor, yet making many rich.” Only a rich person can enrich someone else. And the more I gave, the more I discovered that I had to give. But when I went back to my old ways of thinking and rationed all my resources out, I inevitably felt impoverished again.
Does that mean I’m recommending you to be deliberately irresponsible with the resources God gives you? Not at all! Rather, I’m suggesting you look at how the resources you have been entrusted with can be used to bless others and further God’s Kingdom first, and your own wish lists last.
Let me challenge you to try an experiment: the next time you’re feeling low on energy, think about how you can give away that bit of energy you do have to bless or encourage somebody else, and then see if your energy doesn’t multiply after you try it out. I’ll often call up one of my minister friends after I’ve had a long, exhausting week and give them a word of encouragement and pray for them in their struggles. Without fail these conversations actually reenergize me to serve God! All of our possessions, and of course our finances, have the same potential to become gifts to others that enrich us by giving them away. If you’re having that feeling crying out “there’s just not enough!” give away a little to help somebody in greater need than yourself, and see if you don’t feel a little richer. God blesses the generous giver every time: that’s a Promise.
Let’s be clear about something first though: does God need my money or my sacrifices? No! As the Bible says, “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” But I need to give—because worship that costs me nothing is not worship at all, and it certainly doesn’t make me more Christ-like. Once, when a plague was sweeping through Israel, King David went to a man named Arau’nah to buy his property, so that he could build an altar and sacrifice to the Lord. “All this, O king, Arau′nah gives to the king.”…But the king said to Arau′nah, “No, but I will buy it off you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. 25 And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD heeded supplications for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.” When I come to church on Sunday to receive the precious gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus that was sacrificed for us, I have to ask myself: Am I fully invested in God’s purposes for my life and resources? Or am I only seeking cheap grace from God? Ultimately anything that truly matters to me will cost me, and anything that does not cost me does not truly matter to me.
When we begin to see all our resources as gifts God has given us to bless others and advance His Kingdom, it is joy that we will sow. Go ahead, I dare you to prove me wrong!