I was talking to a friend about generosity a few years ago, when I said, “Yeah, I wish I could give more than I do.”
Maybe you’ve said or thought something similar. That statement tends to mean, “If only I had more, I would give more.”
My friend didn’t let me off quite that easily. He asked, “What do you spend on other things by comparison? How about what you spend eating out?”
It’s nice to have people around who’ll ask the uncomfortable questions.
Our talk progressed to all of those different life luxuries––
- eating out
- coffee shops
- home improvement & decoration
- entertainment in all its forms (Netflix subscriptions, music, movies, concerts, sports events).
Once it was added up, it wasn’t just a significant amount, it was more than what I had given away.
That was a humbling and convicting moment for me.
Now I’m not opposed to every luxury in life. I don’t join the ascetics who say that if I spent a dollar on luxury, it was a dollar I should have given to charity. But when my spending on life’s luxuries outpaces my giving, it’s disingenuous to say, “I wish I could give more than I do.”
We’re so often deceived by the same lie: “If only I had _____, then I’d be really generous.” Because whatever we have is almost enough to satisfy our needs. But when our means grow, our appetites tend to grow in equal proportion.
The Bible’s teaching on money consistently points toward simplicity and generosity. I’m convinced of that. But giving definition to simplicity and generosity is difficult. What exactly does it look like to live simply and give generously?
I don’t have any firm definitions. I’m not sure they exist, or would prove helpful. For me, at least a starting point was to acknowledge that if I’m spending more on my luxuries than I’m giving away, I can’t claim to be living simply and giving generously.
That was the beginning of a change in how I give. It was birthed out of conviction, not love. I don’t know that I could have been called a “cheerful giver.” But something interesting happened in that process…
As I changed some of those patterns, other things changed, too. I became more patient, less cynical, more willing to listen, less demanding of my own way.
Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“1 It’s interesting that he says it that way. We so often assume that we follow our hearts––“let your heart decide,” “go where your heart leads,” “give where your heart leads…” But Jesus suggests that our hearts don’t always lead the way. When I began to change where my treasure went, it began to change my heart.
- Matt 6:21 ↩