Spontaneous Generosity

Giving away money should be fun.

In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Cheerful could be translated hilarious. Yet, how often do we end up with a big smile when we drop our tithes and offerings into the plate? Most of the time, we give because it’s what we do as believers. We don’t put all that much thought into it. In fact, I know a couple who arranged for their tithe to be automatically deducted from their bank account. While that certainly simplifies things, it somehow lacks the personal involvement and excitement I believe God desires.

At the beginning of every year, my husband, Pete, and I sit down to figure out our giving for the next twelve months. We list all the ministries we want to support, starting with our local church. Then, we look at our projected income and budget. Of course, things can change, but you have to start somewhere.

There is a wide range of views on how much Christians should give. Pete and I  happen to believe that a tithe is just the beginning. If you add up all the “tithes” in the Old Testament, the Jews were to give away about a third of their income… and one tithe went to furnish food and strong drink(!) for a yearly party in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 14:26). Jesus exhorted the Pharisees to tithe (Matthew 23:23). In 1 Corinthians 16:2,Paul just said to set some money aside every week, according to one’s income, for the needs of others, and in Romans 12:8, he exhorts those with the spiritual gift of giving to give generously.

The years when we had no appreciable earnings, tithing off the money we did receive was quite a stretch, and we were unable to do more. Other years have been more bountiful, and we are able to exceed a mere 10%. The key is to give what God says to give, not necessarily to calculate 10% down to the last penny. (Yes, that means you need to listen to what the Spirit is telling you.)

Our church receives a tithe of our gross income (and some years it’s pretty gross!); then we look at the other items on our list. Can we afford to support any of them? If so, how much should we give? It’s a bit tricky. For a number of years now, we make our decision by praying. Pete and I each ask God how much we should give to a particular ministry or missionary. We wait for God to answer. And then we compare notes. It never fails to amaze me how often we come up with the same number. On the rare instances where we don’t immediately agree, we go back to prayer and wait for clarification. God always comes through. By setting our planned giving levels according to God’s will, it’s easier to then turn around and say, “OK, God. We’ll give this much away… but You’ll have to provide it in the first place!”

Giving according to a plan is satisfying. I’m glad we’re organized enough to do it. Budgeting our giving means that we don’t get behind, we aren’t swayed by the organization that sends the most appeal letters, and those that we support have a reliable source of income. There is joy in watching a ministry grow, a missionary win souls, a local church reach out to the community and the world beyond its doors. But somehow it isn’t quite what I’d describe as hilarious.

So, this year we are trying something a bit different. We are setting some money aside every month as a “petty cash” fund. It’s not all that much, but everything in there is available for God’s spontaneous leading. Of course, all our resources already belong to God, but having a separate fund already budgeted for makes it easier to give. I can imagine that some money might end up donated to disaster relief, such as the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, some might send a teenager on a short-term missions trip, and some might help a friend (or stranger) in need. But we really don’t know what God might have in mind.

We did this on a whim—and it has been incredible. I had no idea that spur-of-the-moment generosity could be so much fun! Over the next months, I’ll be relating some of our adventures. This is just too exciting to keep to ourselves.

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