Pastor’s Column: How Generosity Helps Make Us Wise with Money
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Brad Hewitt is the CEO of Thrivent.
Our Pastor’s Column Generosity Series is sponsored by Thrivent Financial.