When my wife, Jude, and I got married, I was making almost three times as much as she was (she worked in full-time ministry while I had a corporate job), and yet she had more money in savings, more money in investments, a paid-off car that was two years newer than my paid-off car, and she was giving away a higher percentage of her salary.
Some of this could be explained by the financial crash and burn I went through some years earlier and the four and half years I spent shoveling lots of money toward creditors to get things cleaned up. But not the generosity piece. Even though I’m eight years older, she was simply further down the road in the journey of generosity.
I think that’s the best way to describe generosity, as a journey. While I know of some people who became Christians as adults and suddenly started giving away a high percentage of their salary, for most of us, generosity is something we grow into.
What contributed to my slow start were all the years I spent unaware of the importance of generosity and then, after becoming a Christian, misunderstanding generosity as mostly an obligation.
Obedience is certainly part of generosity. After all, the Bible instructs us:
“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops.” – Proverbs 3:9
However, the joy my wife experiences in being generous has shown me a whole different side to biblical generosity.
We were designed to give
Secular researchers have found that generous people are happier than those who aren’t generous. That makes sense when you consider that we were made in God’s image and God is endlessly generous.
Generosity is part of our spiritual DNA. When we live generously we live in concert with our design, and in doing that, things go well for us. It’s like eating healthy and getting exercise. That’s how our bodies operate best.
Our hearts follow our treasure
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” When I first read that, I thought it should be the other way around, that what we set our hearts on is where we put our money. But I’ve come to see that the Bible is saying something much more powerful. Giving to Christ-centered initiatives is a proactive step we can take to build our relationship with God.
I remember a time when Jude wanted to support the missionary work a friend was involved in through a ministry in Bolivia. At the time, I had approximately zero awareness of anything going on in that country. But once we started sending some money there, my heart went there. I took a lot of interest in the newsletters my wife’s friend would send and I was drawn in to the powerful gospel-centered work happening there.
Giving is an act of worship
I really like Howard Dayton’s advice that when we give we should imagine we are giving directly to Jesus. Yes, you may be giving to your church or another ministry, but there’s something about imagining giving directly to Jesus that makes giving a more worshipful experience. It brings to mind David’s words about the gifts given toward the building of the temple.
“’But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.’” – 1 Chronicles 29:14
There’s a humility in those words, a recognition that it’s only because of God’s provision and grace that he and his people were able to be part of such an initiative. It has taught me that whenever we give to thank God for his provision.
Giving leads to blessings
Jesus explicitly told us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). And many secular studies have affirmed this, demonstrating that generous people are happier than those who are not generous.
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” – Proverbs 11:25
There are numerous verses that say there are blessings that come from being generous. It’s a little tricky teaching on this topic, though. You don’t ever want to come at generosity from a “give to get” perspective. That, I’m convinced, is unbiblical.
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” – Romans 11:35
However, there are blessings that come from living the generous lives we were designed to live. Far better to come at it from a “give because” perspective, though—because of God’s goodness toward us, because God designed us to live generous lives, because generosity enables us to live “the life that is truly life.”
The best return on investment
My day job is very focused on investing. It’s often a world of looking at rates of return or return on investment. It isn’t unimportant. But honestly, when I read updates about various ministries that we get to play some small role in supporting, those are far more exciting than any brokerage statement.
I remember reading the conclusions of one of today’s foremost secular researchers in the field of what’s known as positive psychology. People in this field study what makes for a meaningful, joyful life. He said, “A meaningful life is one that attaches itself to something larger than we are and the larger the entity to which we can attach ourselves the more meaning in our lives.”
That’s about as close as you can get to talking about God without talking about God! And it expresses very well why the journey of generosity is one of the truly great financial adventures.
Take it to heart: Here’s the most generous act the world has ever known: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
Take action: Spend some time in prayer this week, asking God what next step he has in mind for you on your journey of generosity.
Read more: Living a Better Financial Story