A Snail Mail Lottery
I’m sure it’s not just me, but I still get a thrill out of checking the mail. You never know what you might find! This held particularly true for me one day when I was home for a summer in college. There was a letter addressed to me by a wealthy man who used to work with my mother. This man happened to the instigator of my interest in attending Texas A&M, and I had never received anything from him before. Enclosed in this envelope was a letter wishing me well at A&M – and a check for $2,000.
Two. Thousand. Dollars! From a man I had not seen or spoken to in two years.
Growing up as an only child of a single parent, we often found ourselves the beneficiaries of generosity from my mom’s coworkers. Usually, it was a gift card at Christmas or the lunch tab. This was extreme though. Why on earth was he giving me this much money? I was not abounding in cash those days; this money was a huge blessing.
That was eight years ago. Yet lately I have found myself thinking back to that money. I’m unsure why other than my husband and I’s recent financial strategizing.
As I was praying last week, I realized God may be asking Matt and me to develop some sort of generosity framework like it seemed this man had done. Regardless of how much we have, we ought still to be generous with what we are given.
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”Luke 18:9-14
First Things First
For us, a generosity principle starts by noticing from this parable (and others) that we cannot call ourselves good by tithing 10%. What a messed up system that would be!
Instead, we can choose to joyfully approach each day with the openness that God may ask us to give to something that He puts in our path. To choose to tithe and call it done, we fall prey to Tim Keller’s warning about trying to check a box on the spiritual to-do list:
“Careful obedience to God’s law may serve as a strategy for rebellion against God.”
Since not much else is as prescriptive of the ten percent rule laid out in the Bible, it can be tempting to give the ten percent (careful obedience) and not think about what we ought to give beyond that amount.
A Generosity Framework
That brings me to our current working definition of our generosity framework: Give in intentional abundance, with the long term in mind, as a model for others.
Give in intentional abundance …
I will never know why that man at the beginning of my story gave me that money, and I do not need to know. However, I can ask why God wants me to be thinking more about it now. Perhaps God is asking me to abundantly give to others as others have abundantly given to me.
Moreover, this abundant giving ought to be intentional based on where God is directing our time and money. After consultation with a few wise couples, we are discerning where we can invest deeply in one or two places.
For you, what ways might God be imploring to give abundantly to those who are most present right now in your life? To ascertain this, ask yourself what ways you have been most blessed by others. Pray and reflect on these moments in time.
…With the long term in mind …
Being able to give in abundance means we must take on what Richard Foster calls in his book The Celebration of Discipline, the discipline of simplicity. Just because we have more — as a result of a new job, a raise, a paid-off car loan, etc. — does not mean we should increase our standard of living. We named an amount when we got married that is what we expect to continue to live on until we have children. The rest should be given or saved.
“No one forsakes sin to trust and obey Jesus unless his salvation holds far more pleasure than sin.” John Piper
Furthermore, my husband and I hold each other accountable to praying and asking tough questions before we make purchases over a certain amount. Questions could include, Does it help us to trust and obey Jesus, as John Piper wisely says? Does this help me forsake the sin of idolizing wealth? Am I putting Jesus second, and my own comfort, status, or pleasure first, when buying this?
… As a model for others.
Finally, all of this should be done knowing others are watching us. With my husband having four younger siblings and me teaching college students, many people we love notice what we do. I bet your family and friends observe you as well.
Despite the odd aversion Americans and Christians in America have about talking about money, we consciously choose to be open about why and how we budget, our approach to tithing and giving, where we know we need to improve, and how we divy up the financial responsibilities in our marriage. We choose to plainly ask those we love how they are making these same decisions so that these open and honest conversations overflow into the lives of others.
No matter what amount of wealth you have, ask yourself: Who is looking to me as a model? Who can I ask to hold me accountable to my own or my family’s financial goals (including giving)?
Create Your Own Framework
If you are married, consider adding this topic to your next date night. If you are single, look at this area as a dating discernment: ask each other what your generosity framework is. Measure those responses by whether it is glorifying yourself or Him.
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”Luke 19:1-9
Jesus, increase our awe towards You like the tax collector who proclaimed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Make us so generous that we exclaim like Zaccheus in “Look, Lord!” May we be so zealous for You that we are eager to take the next step in radical giving like Zacchaeus did. May we dare to pray this boldly. In your heavenly and perfect Name we pray, Amen.