With the pound of a gavel following the final vote we had just approved a budget of over 40 million dollars. As I glanced around the room at peoples’ faces, I realized how important it was for every one of those dollars to be earmarked for a certain purpose. I sat on the board of our local public school district for nine years and we passed budgets of over 40 million dollars and all the money came from tax revenue. Our community members expected us to carefully measure and plan for every cost and expenditure that is made. Why? Because it was their tax money the school district was spending to educate the children of our community.
We can’t say, “We think the costs might be higher this year but we are really not sure, so just in case we are going to raise taxes.” This kind of approach would not go over well. The community members, and also myself as a board member and a taxpayer, expect every dollar to be budgeted and accounted for.
We expect government to have a budget. Every successful business has a detailed budget. We all would expect our churches to have a budget. You cannot borrow money from the bank without a detailed accounting for what it will be used for. Jesus even had a treasurer. So why do we find it hard to discipline ourselves to live by a personal budget? Some people feel like a budget is a limitation to them when the exact opposite is true. A budget gives you dominion over your finances.
I believe we need to give in ways that meet immediate needs but also create personal responsibility and ownership. Jesus himself said the poor will always be with you. There will always be needs which many times are genuine that we should give to, however look for opportunities that “teach someone to fish instead of only giving them a fish”. The following is a quote from Dennis Peacocke:
Educated people…seem to feel good about themselves when they “show compassion” and heap financial aid on the poor…Never mind that the so-called “good intentions” usually hurt the people receiving the aid in the long run…Look at what Swedish economist Fredrik Erixon pointed out on the effects of aid to Africa:
Africa received over $400 billion in aid between 1970 and 2000. Yet, the evidence presented in the study shows an inverse relationship between aid and economic growth— when aid rises, growth falls. In part, this is because aid supplants private-sector investment and undermines savings: there is also an inverse relationship between savings and aid— when aid increases, saving decreases. (Business Reform Magazine, Sept/Oct 2005)
The answer is to separate pure charity, which is biblical, from investment, which is also biblical. Supply essential food, shelter, and clothing and set up investment opportunities to train and employ people to acquire real skills and real jobs. Dignity is as important as care, and care that steals dignity by maintaining poverty is cruel.
Honestly, this is easier to say than to do. There are some very bright minds trying to develop ways to do this. It is possible. Micro-finance loan funds are small loans that help poor individuals in developing countries create jobs for themselves. This is one example of something that has been proven to work. The truth is we have to find more ways to do this. If we don’t, then people become discouraged with their giving. If they meet the need but it is still there again next month it can lead to weariness in giving. The truth of Prov. 19:19 resonates loudly.
Don’t rescue someone or you will have to do it again. Prov. 19:19
We understand giving as the core component of God’s economy. This core is central to the message of Biblical prosperity. Remember Abraham was blessed to be a blessing. Let’s ask God for wisdom in our giving.
We want to give to people who already have goals and who are pursuing those goals with or without our help. God likes and rewards initiative and personal responsibility. When we take responsibility He can get behind it. When people take responsibility for their vision and initiatives, in like manner, we can get behind them too.
When someone makes the statement, “If I had a $100 I would take my neighbor to the Billy Graham crusade,” they have not taken the responsibility yet. But when they say, “I am taking my neighbor to the Billy Graham crusade, it will cost $100,” this statement is saying something totally different, and it shows they are taking responsibility for their vision.
People who wait around and do nothing because they have no money rarely succeed or ever find the money they desire. My observation is that God does not give to people based on need. God blesses those who apply his principles and have faith.
For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him (Matthew 25:29).
Give to the people who are going to do it with or without your help. Empower what people are already doing instead of giving a risky handout to start something new. Get behind a project where they are already initiating. This is how God’s economy of giving works.
A lot of times we don’t give because we are looking at the circumstances around us instead of looking at God’s word. The scriptures speak to this specifically in Ecclesiastes chapter 11:
Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap. As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well. (Ecclesiastes chapter 11:4-6)
If we are waiting until the circumstances are just right to give we never will do it. What is going to happen to this seed? Does it look like rain today? Which way is the wind blowing? Is God birthing something for me? What does God have in store for me?
We do know that seed grows. But it takes some faith to step up to the plate and give. Seriously, I have put some checks in the offering plate with my hands shaking, my body sweating and mind going in circles. If we are pushing the limits as we should be there will be some fear that we will have to overcome. This is normal for steps of faith but far from comfortable. Sow seed in the morning and in the evening and see what produces…maybe both will.
All this talk about giving brings to mind a traditional American folk hero, Johnny Appleseed. Wherever he went, he sowed apple seeds. We picture him crisscrossing the east coast of the United States in colonial times with a big bag of apple seeds over his shoulder. On his travels, he planted apple trees that would bear fruit. Wherever we go, we should be sowing finances. To the one who is sowing, more seed will be given! His store of seed will increase. This Biblical truth is stated in 2 Corinthians 9:10-12:
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
A friend of mine once told me that his son worked his way through college by being a waiter at a very popular chain restaurant. He told his dad that the staff was reluctant to work on Sundays. “And why would that be?” his dad asked. “Because all the church people come in and they are notorious for not being generous tippers,” was his son’s reply. What a sad reflection and testimony this example places upon the church. We can do better than this. Don’t eat all your seed by spending or storing it all. Plant it. Expect it to grow and bear fruit. No successful farmer would ever eat his seed. He knows he will not have a new crop if he consumes his seed instead of planting it.
We briefly mentioned in a previous post the importance of giving first. Now let’s take a closer look at what the Bible teaches us about firstfruits giving. A lot of people, including myself in the past, confuse the tithe with firstfruits offerings. So what is the distinction between them? The tithe is what we bring after our harvest while a firstfruits offering is what we bring before our harvest. Succinctly stated…by honoring the Lord with the first and the best the whole or the rest is blessed. A close examination of the scripture finds firstfruits is always mentioned before the tithe in order of giving. The following are some scriptures that talk about firstfruits giving:
Honor the Lord with your possessions. And with the firstfruits of all your increase. So your barns will be filled with plenty. And your vats will overflow with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10)
And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law by the priests and Levites. (Nehemiah 12:44-45; See also Neh. 10:35-38 and Ezekiel 44:30)
The children of Israel would bring the firstfruits before the harvest was totally gathered. This honored God and by giving of the first fruits it sanctified the whole harvest. The tithe is what we bring after our harvest while the firstfruits is what we bring in the beginning of the harvest as a faith gift to the Lord. This is not a legalistic duty but another opportunity to give according to a pattern in the Word of God.
My wife and I recently had a revelation of firstfruits offerings so we gave 20% of the first extra check we received for the year above our normal income. We did this in faith but honestly we were surprised to see that gift multiplied with thousands of dollars of extra income within a month. Amazing. Then we gave a first fruits offering on this additional income as well and saw some more unexpected cash come in. This pattern of firstfruits giving and tangible results happened a total of three times that first year. I have been guilty of lumping together the firstfruits offering with tithes in the past, but I will not make this mistake anymore.
Firstfruits’s giving is not something we have to do but something we get to do. If we get a revelation of firstfruits giving I believe it will open up a whole new level of blessing to flow in our lives. We have believed in tithing for many years but this new revelation of the firstfruits offerings, as something different in addition to the tithe, has released a whole new level of blessing in our personal finances. We discovered another way to give.
Generally the firstfruits offerings are given to a spiritual authority or someone/something that is pouring life in to your life.
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.