Can you imagine standing there when Jesus turned the water into wine? The scripture says in the book of John that six stone water jars used for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons, were filled to the brim. Filled to the brim? By my calculation that would be between 120 and 160 gallons of wine. We don’t know how many guests were at the wedding, but that is a lot of wine.
Abundance is part of his nature. He fed the 5000 men (not to mention women and children) and guess what?—there were baskets of food left over. I believe we must be totally convinced that God is an abundant provider—not just sometimes when he is in a good mood but as a part of his nature he provides “more than enough.” It is how he does things.
Jesus and his party were accused of living in celebration and luxury. Maybe it was true. Why was he welcome at parties with the gluttons and drunkards? This would have been the wealthy people of the community in Jesus day. Maybe they invited him because they were hoping he would turn more water into wine? I don’t know.
What does it mean when the scripture says he delights in the well-being (sometimes translated prosperity) of his servant? “…The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well-being of his servant” (Psalm 35: 27).
It means it makes him happy to bless you financially and otherwise! God wants to give you the desires of your heart. Let me qualify that by saying that as you get closer to Him the desires of your heart are the same as the desires of His heart and your plans are the same as His plans. He wants to give them to you: May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed (Psalm 20:4).
An article in Forbes magazine (Sept 12, 2010) by Michael I. Norton was titled…Yes, Money Can Buy Happiness If You Give It Away. He and his colleagues developed a very complex formula to find out how much money it would take to make people happy. They found that once people reached a certain income level, additional money did not make people happy unless they started to give it away. They concluded that accumulating materials goods doesn’t make people happy but what really makes people happy is building relationships with others. For example, think of the wealthy person who buys multiple homes with numerous bedrooms but does not have any family and friends to host there. This is not fulfilling.
To test this idea they approached strangers on the street and gave them different sums of money to spend. Half were told to spend it on themselves and half were told to spend it on others. Those who spent the money on themselves bought things like coffee and food but those who spent the money on others bought gifts for family members or gave the money to the homeless. Those who spent the money on others reported feeling much happier at the end of the day than those who spent the money on themselves. It didn’t matter if the amount of money was large or small, it was the same result. It is not how much you spend but how you spend it that boosts the spirits1.
1 Forbes magazine (Sept 12, 2010) by Michael I. Norton was titled…Yes, Money Can Buy Happiness If You Give It Away.
Materialism is attempting to meet emotional or spiritual needs with material things. This is a hopeless pursuit. Material things will never satisfy the hunger of the soul. Money or material things are simply tools that the Father has given to us to accomplish our mission. Money must be viewed and used as a tool for His purposes vs. a tool for accumulating possessions.
For years much of the church has been living in the fear of materialism—that is, a fear that if God blesses us financially, it will somehow ruin us and cause us to fall away from Him. This view ignores the many great men and women of the Bible who experienced abundance and continued steadfast in their love for the Father. There is a long list: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Noah, Job, Daniel, Jesus and Paul, to name a few.
Job maintained godly character when he was wealthy, when he was destitute and when his wealth was restored again. Job was the same person no matter what his financial state. He maintained his integrity and refused to deny God (Job 27:5-6). If we believe the Lord is strong enough to keep us from lust, gossip and other sins of which we are tempted within our Christian lives, why is it that we are unable to believe He is strong enough to keep us from materialism? Is materialism too big or too difficult for Him to handle? Of course not!
A good friend of ours is a landlord. As sometimes happens one of his tenants was late with the rent and it was during the Christmas season of the year. My friend was stopping by the rental unit to try to collect his rent. As he was on his way, he felt strangely prompted by the Holy Spirit to stop and buy a Christmas gift for the tenant who owed him money. So he did as he was prompted. When he visited the renter, he found them still unable to pay the money that was owed. He still gave them the Christmas gift.
As he pondered the situation afterward he found the Lord was showing him an example of how God first loved him even when he had a debt to pay for his sin. Yet in spite of his inability to pay for his sin himself, God still gave him the gift of eternal life by sending his son Jesus. Though he still expected the renter to pay what was owed, his obedience to give a gift led to a marvelous revelation of God’s love and he has found God’s hand is on the rental property business as well and it has prospered.
Giving has the power to break the back of materialism. As long as we teach, exhort and practice giving, the nasty hands of materialism will never be able to grasp us in their clutches. I cannot emphasize this enough. As we hold money openhandedly and maintain a practice of liberal giving, we have an insurance policy against materialism and the love of money. If we try to hold on to money, it will ensnare us; but if we hold it loosely, money will never control us. We will control it! Having money will never bring joy, but giving money can bring great joy.
The scriptures teach in 1Timothy 6:10 that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. The “love of money” is a term that refers to materialism. Please note, this scripture does not say money is the root of all kinds of evil. If this were true, many of the Bible heroes would have been disqualified because they had abundant financial resources.
In verse 17 of this same chapter Paul explains further; “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” Here in this verse is found another illuminating definition of materialism: putting our hope in wealth. Instead, our hope must remain in God who gives us abundant provision for our enjoyment and for the completion of our mission.
He really loves us that much!
My one son played on many soccer teams. I was just like every other parent out there screaming and cheering him on. I encouraged him to play his best, stay humble and be successful. I did not tell him to “do well, but not too well.” I never told him to “score goals, but not too many goals.” No, I cheered him on to do his best and be successful on the soccer field. I use this example to introduce the topic of balance in this teaching of Biblical prosperity. Sometimes as I am teaching, people ask me what the balance is to understanding Biblical prosperity. The balance to prosperity is not poverty. Biblically, there is no such thing as a little bit of prosperity and a little bit of poverty to balance it out. Giving is the action that keeps prosperity in balance.
Giving will keep money from becoming an idol in our lives. The balance to prosperity is giving. Currency has in it the word “current”…it means it should keep moving like a river current. A little paradox is pointed out by the following funny story. Picture a businessman talking to a bum on the beach about the importance of hard work. He says, “If you work hard you will be able to sit on the beach and do nothing.” Of course this was what the bum was already doing. It is not about accumulating wealth to prop up our feet and relax. God wants us to be active in financing and developing his Kingdom.
Many financial advisers talk about getting rich so that you can retire early. In some cases a big fanfare is made of having a retirement party at an early age. I could not disagree more. This is the exact opposite of why I believe God wants to bless us. He wants to bless us so we can sow the finances we have received and empower others.
We have lived in a farming community for most of our lives, so we have been able to watch what farmers do. I don’t know of a single farmer that plants corn and doesn’t expect to harvest corn. No, they start planning for the harvest during the winter, long before they even plant the seed. I would dare to say that any farmer who planted seed but didn’t expect to harvest it would be the laughing stock of his peers. This is a biblical principle to expect to receive a return from the Lord when we plant our seed. Givers are blessed in this way.
A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor (Proverbs 22:9).
When my wife and I were first married we were living in an apartment building. Like many young couples we were starting to save for the down-payment to purchase a house. We were just starting to put money away, and we realized we had a long way to go. We felt like we should take a seed and sow it. Since seeds reproduce after their own kind and our goal was to own a house we wanted to give the money toward a building project of some kind. So we gave $500 from our meager savings to help build an orphanage in Brazil. Sure enough, a few years later, we moved into a new home that we had designed and built. God just brought the right people into our lives at the right time to help with the construction and purchase of the home. If you struggle with giving and expecting a return I would respectfully encourage you to take another look at the scriptures. Luke 6:38 states clearly:
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
How can this scripture be read to mean something other than what it explicitly says? Please let the truth of this scripture impact you and let it replace your feelings of false humility or wrong teaching you might have received. No, God is not a slot machine that you put something in and get something out. On the contrary He is a loving Father who has made a commitment to you which He desires to uphold. This is God’s desire and His promise to us. If we learn his economy our finances will be blessed.
The farmer does not wait until he is hungry to plant the seed. He sows it early and regularly so his harvest is there when it is needed. It is important to understand that a farmer would not usually eat his seed because he knows it has more value if it is planted. “I don’t have anything to give,” was what the widow told Elijah. But he told her the key to her provision was to first sow a seed of what she had.
“As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’” (1 Kings 17:12-14 NIV).
This precious widow followed Elijah’s instruction to give first, and then God provided a steady stream of provision for her and her family. Many of us are like this widow, she did not even realize she had a seed to sow until Elijah pointed it out. So give first.
Can you imagine the newspaper headline Elijah would have received if this event happened in the present time we live. Something like “Greedy Prophet Manipulates Women for Personal Gain”. However it was the spiritual truth of giving and sowing that Elijah was teaching this woman and it brought a breakthrough in her life. God’s economy is sometimes opposite of what people think around us so it takes courage and wisdom to see it work for us. I am just saying…give first.
How can you give cheerfully when someone is making you feel bad for owning a dog for your family to enjoy? I have heard attempts to motivate people to give to finance missions and outreaches by citing how much money people spend on dog food each year in America. These kind of financial pleas typically leave me with an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach.
Manipulated guilt is a bad motivator. It may work in the short term, but what is gained financially in the short term is more than offset in the long term by the feeling of violation it leaves and how it closes people’s hearts toward giving. Prosperous people find this to be a bad motivator because their financial experience has taught them they should not make emotionally based financial decisions. Giving by compulsion or manipulation is an emotionally based decision.
Why does manipulation close the potential givers heart? Because the scripture teaches us that God loves a cheerful giver. Why does God love a cheerful giver? When we give cheerfully, we are imitating him. Remember John 3:16, “For God so love the world, that he gave…”. When we give cheerfully we are functioning in his image, as we were created to do. Don’t give by compulsion and please don’t ask others to give by compulsion.
You will orient yourself as a giver or a getter in life. It comes down to this. You will find yourself on one side or the other. They are mutually exclusive. As you walk through life, are you looking for what you can get or what you can give? Tip your waitress at the restaurant generously; look for a reason to leave a generous tip and be a blessing, not a reason to give a small one. Quickly give your forgiveness to those who have wronged you. Give to your enemies.
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great. (Luke 6:35).
A few years ago, I was traveling on a trip and teaching in a pastor’s training school in Africa. While we were shopping in a street market, I had some money pick-pocketed from me. At first I felt a real violation and separation from the people of this country. How dare they steal from me when I had come all this distance at my own expense to help them? However, I soon realized that for me to do any effective teaching there I needed to “give the money away” and release the person from my judgments. Giving the money away immediately alleviated the separation and alienation I was feeling after being robbed, and reconnected me to the precious African people I was attempting to minister to.
Sometimes you are taken advantage of by those who literally choose to steal money or time from you. Even though something was taken, you can still “give it” to the individuals that are now in possession of your property. By doing so, you can remove the pain from the situation and actually be a cheerful giver which releases blessing in your life. You are forgiving the person who stole from you, even though this does not mean they shouldn’t be punished for what they did. I learned long ago that forgiveness does not mean the other person was right.
I have found that at times the Lord has directed me to give gifts, most often anonymously, to people I have struggled with in relationships. It has generally brought freedom into the relationship.
Since I teach on biblical prosperity people ask me all kinds of random questions about money. Someone asked me if I thought it was okay to spend a certain amount of money on a recreational item. My challenge to them was to hear from God about the purchase, but also to consider, have they ever given that much money away in a one time gift? In other words, have they ever given away this same amount of money they were planning to spend on the recreational item in a onetime gift to fund the Kingdom of God?
This might be a good standard of measure, however I believe the Lord would be grieved if my suggestion became some kind of a legalistic rule people are required to follow. But for some, it may be a practical benchmark to consider.
I sometimes encourage people to use the “one time gift” after their local church tithe as a method to challenge themselves. If you have never given $25 away, then stretch yourself to start there. If you have never given $100 away then challenge yourself to that level. If you have never given $250 or $500 away in a single donation then take that challenge on. We should posture ourselves to give. Live to give, not to get. Success is not how much you get, but how much you give. Can we continue to challenge yourself to give larger one-time amounts?
As stated previously…the core of God’s economy is giving. Give at every opportunity you get. Give! Give! Give to everything you can. I encourage people to go through their possessions on a regular basis and give things away that they are not using. Never let an offering go by that you don’t put something in: if you don’t have cash or your checkbook put your pen or pencil in the offering or tear a button off your shirt and put it in. Abraham was blessed to be a blessing and you are too. Be generous with your family, bless your kids, bless your waitress and bless your enemies. You will see the following scripture working for you.
One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed (Proverbs 11: 24-25).
Give your best
I glanced into the freezer in the garage as we were loading the car with our family to go to our small group meeting. My wife had just suggested that we take some ice cream along for after the meeting. There before me were two boxes of ice cream; one generic brand and one that was more expensive and richer tasting. In a split second I needed to decide which one to take. I realized that to give our best we should take the more expensive ice cream. It was less than a dollar difference, but it is a principle we want to live by. I grabbed the more expensive box.
Why should we give our best? God gave His best when he gave his Son. If you think about it, when he was deciding how to save the world and he could have sent an angel instead of his son. It meant more to us because he gave his best…we should do likewise when we give. Remember the terminology of John 3:16, “For God so love the world that he gave…” When we give our best, we are acting like him. This is how someone made in his image and filled with his Spirit should live. This is the very nature of God, and it will make us more prosperous when we give our best.