Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why We Give

Ask most Presbyterians to list spiritual disciplines, and the inventory will likely include praying, studying the Bible and worshiping regularly. With another moment to think about it the list might broaden to include fasting, meditating, walking labyrinths and perhaps exercising.

Financial generosity probably won’t make the list of spiritual disciplines. It should.

Spiritual disciplines are those time-tested practices of faith that deepen our awareness of God’s presence, open our hearts to God’s guidance and nurture our understanding toward Christian maturity. Perhaps Presbyterians aren’t accustomed to thinking of financial generosity as a spiritual discipline, because when our pastors speak about money, we suspect they are motivating us to meet the church’s budget. Thinking of financial generosity as a spiritual practice redirects our attention from the church’s need to receive and toward the individual’s need to give. This is why, at our best, we do not “take a collection” but rather we “receive an offering.”

Disciplined generosity unleashes the God-planted instinct to share. Intentional generosity is a foundational spiritual discipline.

Heart follows dollars

In Matthew 6:1-2 Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them . . . . So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do ….”

“Whenever you give alms,” Jesus begins, “And whenever you pray,” he continues in verse 5. “And whenever you fast,” he says (verse 16). Jesus takes the tripod of Jewish piety and prioritizes the legs in a specific order. Lest we think that Matthew’s order is happenstance, consider this: Jesus concludes in verse 21 with that juiciest of stewardship observations, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When I was in high school I told my dad that I wanted a car. He smiled and said, “Fine. Get a job and buy one.” So I got a job, but I didn’t buy a car. Something else suddenly seemed more important. I saved for college. My college education means a great deal to me because I helped pay for it.

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Hearts follow dollars. Dollars lead hearts. We assume that the heart works in the opposite direction, that first we care, then we share. So someday, we think, we will trust God to provide enough so that we can share with others. Someday, we think, when we have all we need, we will practice generosity.

Jesus says that if we want to trust that God will provide, we begin by trusting that God has already provided. Treasure first. Hearts follow. First we share, and in so doing we grow to care.

Step 1: Make a promise

Step 2: Share in proportion to your resources

Step 3: Be persistent in giving

- Excerpts from Presbyterians Today, September 2010, Karl Travis