You've probably seen statistics about how rich we are in America, and I know it's so true. We are blessed, and I am very grateful, truly, for where I live. We do in fact live in an incredibly wealthy country. You've probably also seen statistics about how rich you are personally (at least compared to the rest of the world). And again, there is so much truth embedded into that reality, and I'm very grateful. However, if you're anything like me, I certainly don't feel rich...far from it. Granted, I'm a pastor and I didn't exactly get into my career field for the money, but still.
I bet many of you who are reading this feel similarly to me - that money is a bit tight, and that you wish you had more for other things you want to buy or have. And perhaps you even pray that God provides more, especially in this Christmas season. I've prayed that many times, and on occasion God has provided in answering those prayers.
But something about this endless pursuit of more is alarming. Let me confess something personally. I have a really hard time letting go of what I subtly perceive as My Hard-Earned Money. I don't really like the idea of giving my money to someone else or spending it on someone else. In other words, I generally want to use all the money I have on myself and my family. And when I do bite the bullet and give to others, even then I am confronted with my selfish motives (sad but true). Now I get it, and I know this isn't right - and there is a disturbing truth hidden in my generalized greed. But stay with me without judging me too harshly yet.
You see, when I have stepped into an opportunity to give (whether it was to someone in need, tithing to my local church, giving toward a cause or a charity, etc.), I have experienced joy in the giving. Yet, when the next opportunity comes around, you would think I'd be all excited to get that joy "hit" again, but no. It's still hard to let go of the money. Argh! Why doesn't this get easier every time you give?
In moments like these, I not only realize how attached I am to earthly things, but also how detached I am from a core commitment to emulate the heart of God, which in its essence, is a giving heart. And though these moments are hard to be honest about, I feel compelled to engage the deeper realities of my heart, rather than resist the underlying meaning of such chronic closed handedness. And these unflattering reflections of my heart remind me how important it is for me to choose to give, even when I don't feel like it. Why? Well, for a lot of reasons. But for starters because it cultivates deeper trust in God. It helps me practice greater surrender and submission to God. And although I may not be the most cheerful giver, at least I will glean joy from the act of worship it is to offer what is ultimately God's anyways.
There is one thing that has helped me more than anything else in this journey of learning how to live and be generous. It is rooted in a greater understanding of the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul speaks about money, and connects it to a gospel perspective. He doesn’t command us to “be generous" simply because that is the "Christian thing to do." He challenges his readers to think about and view money with a radically different perspective, what I would call a gospel perspective.
In essence, Paul says this - if we're having trouble with money (we're anxious about it, clinging to it too tightly, etc.), then it's rooted in our lack of knowing, or one might say, the lack of deep and adequate understanding of the gospel. If we get anxious about our money, or if we find ourselves overly needing of money and constantly wanting more, then we need to rethink our understanding of the gospel.
If we really understand the Cross, we will see the profound nature of this truth - that Jesus Christ became poor so that through HIS POVERY we could become rich. If we really see this, we cannot edge ourselves away from being generous. Generosity is embedded into the gospel in such a way that if we really get it, then we have no other choice or response than to live with increasing generosity.
In essence, Paul is telling us that if you’re not openhanded, then you don’t really know the Christ who died for you at the ground of your being. You haven't grasped the gospel profoundly enough or rightly. If you had, then your unwavering response would be to live as generously as you could stand, constantly striving to give to others, and carrying the eternal perspective that only the Cross brings.
I urge you to remember that we're all in process in life, and so this conversation isn't one that should make us feel shame, but instead a conversation to move us towards clarity - of the nature and profundity of the gospel. Right gospel understanding cultivates a growing and deepening way of living that generosity flows inevitably and abundantly. When we experience God's remarkable grace at the deepest level through Jesus Christ, change doesn't come small. It comes radically.
I have learned along the way that when I'm not living generously, the Bible teaches that money is still my security. When I am not living openhandedly, I'm reminded that I don't really know that Jesus is my Savior at the deepest level of my being. And man, I keep finding myself living in the struggle and need to depend on God's strength and not my own.
The biblical writers don't just tell us to "do this right now," (implying, in our own strength). These writers don't say what Nike says, "Just do it." There's a greater context and deeper understanding that is laced throughout the Scriptures and which specifically applies to generosity. We can't just go "be like Jesus" as if it's in our power. Instead, the Bible calls us to admit that we can't be like Jesus and even that we can't live generously (by ourselves). When we really understand Scripture, we understand that this is a journey of G0d-dependence. It's a quest we're all called into, to let go, to trust God, to submit to his will and purpose. Will we become better versions of ourselves if we rise to the level of trust God calls us to? No. Will we become more enfolded into His heart and being? Yes!
God doesn't want our money, but He does want our hearts. And when we're challenged to give, what's really happening is this - our hearts and lives are being called out and tested - will we trust God with our money and with our lives? Will we lean on Him, depend on His strength, rely on his power that is at work in us? And to access that strength and power, we must see the Cross for what it really is - a picture of ultimate sacrifice, a picture of God who is so rich but made himself so poor so that we could possess what truly matters. Jesus takes your place on the Cross. Jesus sacrificed His life so you would find life. Jesus died so you wouldn't have to die. And when you really grasp this, you will be transformed. And when you are transformed, you begin to experience the loosening grip of money on your heart and you begin to live generously for the One who has been so extravagantly generous to you!