This has always been an area of struggle for me. We have never had a significant amount of "discretionary income", so I have applied the standard logic of "when we have more, we will give more". But over the past few weeks, God has made it clear that this is not His picture of generosity.
"And He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And He called His disciples to Him and said to them, "Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."
My parents have, as far back as I can remember, been very good with managing their money. Although money was not something we talked about much while I was growing up, it was evident in the way they lived their lives that they placed high importance on the stewardship of their wealth.
Apparently that gene skips a generation.
As an adult, I have rarely (if ever) felt that we have had an abundance of wealth. Most months our, we zero out our bank account paying bills and raising 3 children. For a long time, I reasoned that I would give more when I had more to give-I mean God doesn't want me to skip out on my bills or not put food on the table, right?
But Mark 12:44 makes it clear that this is flawed logic in light of Christ's view of generosity.
So lesson 1 for me on generosity is: Don't give out of your abundance, just give.
If we view our wealth (including, but not limited to financial wealth) as a gift from God, then all of what we have is actually His, so it is more a matter of stewardship than "losing" what we have. See, generosity does not result in a loss (although that is what many people believe), but rather generosity results in an increase to the giver. An increase of joy and faith, hope and love.
In 2 Corinthians 8:16-24, Paul addresses giving in the church. This is a man who knew about giving. This is a man that, quite literally, poured his life into the people of the world in a tireless effort to bring the gospel to anyone and everyone he encountered. He did this with a joyful heart, even thought in frequently resulted in hardship for him. To me, one of the key verses in this passage is 2 Corinthians 8:24:
"Therefore show to them, and before the churches, the proof of your love and of our boasting on your behalf."
"Proof of your love". Those 4 words sum up, to me, the entire doctrine of giving. Generosity is the proof of our love-for God, for others, for the church and community. We pour out our love, God's love, on others by our generosity. Giving from any place other than from love is fruitless. Generosity is not borne of obligation or a spirit of competitiveness with fellow givers. Generosity, true generosity, can only come from a place of love and joy.
So the 3rd and final lesson I have learned on generosity is: Give with a joyful heart, or don't give at all.