One of the great challenges of the Christian life is to become a giver—and not just a giver, but a cheerful giver. The Bible commends generosity, but generosity that is free from compunction or coercion, for “each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” We must not love money so much that we fail to be generous. Yet we must also ensure we are not giving merely as a way to assuage guilt or relieve external pressure. As is so often the case in the practice of the Christian faith, we need to guard against competing extremes.
It has long been my observation that it often takes some time for Christians to begin to give to the church (and/or to other ministries) and to do so in a way that is genuinely generous. And I think this actually makes a good deal of sense. The majority of people who come to Christ do so when they are young and in a phase of life when earnings tend to be low and a lot expenses loom before them. We can hardly criticize young people for thinking that good financial stewardship must involve prioritizing their savings account. Why give money to the church when you aren’t certain you’ll be able to afford next year’s tuition or put down first-and-last on an apartment? How does it make sense to give money away when you have so little and need so much?
It doesn’t make sense. At least it doesn’t make sense by any standard principle of personal finance. But then again, God’s ways are rarely consistent with the human mind and often push us to reexamine what we have always taken for granted. In that vein, here are a few things I would encourage young or new Christians to consider.
Consider that your money is actually God’s money. While your name may be on the bank account and stamped on the debit card, it is God who owns it. You merely manage it on his behalf. And so as you consider your finances, the controlling question should not be “What should I do with my money?” but “What does God want me to do with his money?”
Consider the human tendency to become captivated by money. The Bible warns that money can control us to such a degree that it competes with God for our ultimately loyalty. Every one of us will be tempted to try to find in money what God means for us to find only in himself. Is there something we can do to prove to ourselves and to God that we put him ahead of money? Read on.
Consider that God promises to provide what you need. One of the reasons we can become so easily enamored with money is that it seems to be the solution to so many of our problems. Money can put food in our bellies, a roof over our head, and so much more. Yet it is God who has promised he will provide these things. Yes, he is likely to use money to do it, but it’s important to ultimately trust in him rather than in the strength of our bank account.
Consider that God expects you to commit some of your finances to his causes in the world. He makes it clear that he expects each Christian to give—and to give primarily and as a matter of first importance to the local church. He expects his work to carry on through the means provided by his people.
Finally, consider that obedience fosters joy. When you do what God calls you to do, you experience joy rather than guilt or sorrow. Hence, if you give to the Lord’s work, you’ll find it a joyful rather than difficult experience. In fact, when you choose not to give, you are denying yourself the pleasure of doing so.
With all of those building blocks in place, it falls to you to take God at his word. You do that by giving, and as you give you are essentially putting God to the test (though in a good and acceptable way). As you give you can prayerfully say to God, “I have trusted you with my soul and am now choosing to trust you with my money. This doesn’t really make sense to me, but I trust you. So please show me that your ways are better than my ways. Please show me that you will provide even as I give to your work. Please accept this gift and prove yourself to me.”
And he will. God cannot prove himself if you will not give him the opportunity. But he can and will prove himself once you create the context. He will prove that he will provide not despite your generosity, but because of it. Because when it comes to God, the normal, accepted, and seemingly common-sense principles of finance just don’t add up.
How much should you give? That is a whole different topic. But briefly, the Bible does not provide an exact amount or percentage, though the Old Testament tithe of ten percent of your income is probably a good place to begin. (And no, don’t get all hung up on pre-tax or post-tax income—just pick one and go with it.) My recommendation—and, to be clear, this is me and not the Bible speaking here—is that you should give enough that you notice it in some way. It is one thing to throw a few spare coins in the offering plate but another to give an amount that is noticeable and that actually makes a difference in your life. Perhaps that means you cannot buy something you had hoped to buy or that you’ll be heading into a new semester with a little less buffer than you had expected. But God knows and God honors that. That small sacrifice is one you can lay before him and joyfully do without for the sake of trusting him and serving his cause.