Pastor’s Column: How Generosity Helps Make Us Wise with Money

GENEROSITY

At Thrivent, we believe we are called to be wise stewards of everything God has entrusted to us. We’ve spent time studying the scriptures to see what the Bible says about money. We’ve done research to learn how a healthy relationship with money is part of the abundant, surplus, full life Jesus promised his followers in John 10:10.

God’s (generosity) principles bring us the abundant, full life He promised.
We’ve also spent time having conversations with Christians about how their views on money influence their discipleship journey. Through the study of scripture, research and these conversations, three concepts stand out: grace, gratitude and generosity. For this article, I’d like to discuss generosity because while it is perhaps the least important of the three, it is the most actionable.

The mystery of generosity

For me, the principle of generosity is best summed up in Proverbs 11:24 (MSG): “The world of the generous gets bigger and bigger and the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.” The concept is that generosity leads to abundance, not loss. (This doesn’t necessarily mean monetary abundance, though.) Like many things in Christian teaching, there is a profound paradox here; by giving away, you get.  This is illogical in our minds—how can dividing something multiply it?

the connection between generosity and managing money is inseparable.
 But we see this played out over and over again: we give of ourselves in our relationships and they flourish; we share our talents and are then invited to share them further. Jesus applies the concept to our very lives – whoever gives of their life will gain it. It’s important to note that I’m not advocating Christians should be generous just so they can get more; this certainly isn’t a prosperity mindset. I am saying that God’s principles bring us the abundant, full life He promised when we model His many examples of generosity.

The connection between generosity and being wise with money

As CEO of Thrivent, I regularly have conversations with people about the connection between money management and generosity. Many don’t see them as connected. They see managing money and giving as two things that should be managed separately. Generally they manage money first and give from what is leftover.  (They’re like the rich Jesus contrasts with the widow with the two mites.) In this group, most give little, some of them tithe, but few give much. Then there is a second group who believes the connection between generosity and managing money is inseparable.  They regularly wrestle with the question of how much is enough for them, their family and others.  They see life is a discipleship journey and acts of financial generosity are a way of imitating God, who gave us all.

It’s human nature to focus on our own needs, wants and desires. As pastors, I’m sure you understand this truth better than others. But as Christians, we know God calls us to live a life serving others – it’s the example set by Jesus. As a society we’re often told through the help of marketing messages we’ll never have enough money and we will always need the next big thing to make us happy. These are self-serving messages.

…break our persistent desire for more when we choose to live generously.
We need something to break through these unhealthy messages to help us focus on serving others rather than just ourselves—and generosity does just that.  We break our persistent desire for more when we choose to live generously. And not only do we break our persistent desire for more, but we also begin to develop a deeper appreciation of the mystery of God’s provision in our lives.

We know that one of the biggest threats to the financial health of Americans is consumerism and spending more than they make. Buying things isn’t bad in and of itself. However, when people focus inward and begin to look for happiness in their possessions, they start a vicious cycle of always needing more – and they sacrifice their financial future as a result. It’s important to plan for retirement, save for college, and prepare for the unexpected like a job loss or even the unfortunate loss of life. It’s wise to prepare for the future while maintaining a mindset of stewardship. Generosity turns our eyes away from our selfish wants and desires and helps us make wise decisions to ensure we are preparing for our future while not pursuing the fleeting fulfillment of consumerism.

A practical application of generosity

I sometimes share a story from my own life to illustrate the power of practicing generosity. Years ago (when I was working for a church and before I was a CEO) we purchased a fractional ownership in a Colorado townhouse, which grants us two weeks of winter access. All year long our family looks forward to enjoying the Rocky Mountain grandeur. I count on it to sweep me into God’s presence and renew an appreciation of all His good gifts. But as we started to have more money when I changed jobs, the grandeur was being challenged with a less noble desire. One minute I would be thanking God for His blessings. The next I would be gawking at newer, bigger and better vacation homes and thinking, “I want one.”

To be clear, I don’t need one. Coming back to the familiar townhouse for two weeks always feels like a lavish blessing. By any measure we already have more than enough. Nevertheless, my gratitude can quickly be displaced by a longing for more. At the moment those misguided desires well up inside me, I face a choice. I can continue to stare at the thing I want.

Living generously is a whole life adventure.
I can obsess over it all the way home. I can calculate what a fancy new place costs. I can loudly convince myself that my family can afford it. Or I can act to break that cycle.

On the other end of the spectrum, my wife and I volunteer with Urban Homeworks in the Twin Cities. This nonprofit transforms foreclosed, condemned or boarded properties into decent places for people to live. One day we were assigned the task of removing soiled, wet mattresses from a new dumpster needed for other materials. Needless to say, it wasn’t much fun, but it was necessary. Not one time while I was volunteering that day did I ever stop to think about buying a new vacation home. Instead, I left the day feeling grateful for God’s provision in my life, and asking how I can do more to help others.

The path to joyful generosity

One of the most incredible mysteries of openhearted generosity is the joy it brings to our lives. Generosity is an act of the heart – but we often approach it as a practice of discipline of the tithe.  Living generously is a whole life adventure, not just a 10-percent command. The tithe is a calculation and an act of the head or will. While both are important, dealing with the heart is key principle here, particularly as we delve into the practice of generosity. We know from experience that if your heart isn’t in it, eventually your head will struggle and will often fail. The tithe is a great discipline to start, but Old Testament mentions several other monetary policies, including gleaning, first fruits and jubilee to name a few.  All of these are wonderful concepts of managing the gifts God gives us within a context of community and can bring us immense joy!

The solution to my yearning for a bigger and better vacation home wasn’t to ski to the bottom of the hill and write a one-time check to a worthy cause or to remind myself that I tithe.

…based on the idea of enough rather than fulfilling a constant need for more.
The long-term fix that brings joy to our lives is to cultivate a day-by-day pattern of openhearted giving and living. It’s pursuing a way of life that puts grateful generosity first. Openhearted generosity flows out of an appreciation for God’s grace, accompanied with deep gratitude, and brings a joyful contentment to our lives. When we do this, we make wiser financial decisions based on the idea of enough rather than fulfilling a constant need for more. My prayer is that each of you, and every Christian in your churches, experiences the full, abundant life Jesus promises us.

 

Brad Hewitt is the CEO of Thrivent.

Our Pastor’s Column Generosity Series is sponsored by Thrivent Financial.

1 Comment
  1. Is there a way I can share this article with the others serving on our church board and also the staff? I’m the chairperson and treasurer of Hope Church in Blaine MN.

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