One of the greatest barriers to experiencing God’s rest is our relationship to money. We overvalue money and therefore overwork in order to accumulate more of it. In the thick fog of our seemingly unending exhaustion, we can even find ourselves dreaming about or creating schemes to gain it apart from legitimate work. We deeply fear not having enough money and therefore spend many of our non working hours worrying about financial matters. We desire for ourselves the amount of money others possess and become discontent with the amount of money that God has entrusted to us to steward well for Him. We get into crazy disputes over money, which then causes great friction within our relationships, particularly amongst family members. If we are to experience the rest God longs to give us, than we desperately need something to change with regard to our relationship to money. As has been often said,
“money can be a wonderful servant, but its a terrible master.”
God desires that we rest in His provision rather than “eating the bread of anxious toil.” (Psalm 127:2) Our hearts must be formed to receive the daily bread that our Father gives us rather than craving that which He does not offer. In order to form the hearts of His people, God calls us practice grace filled, Spirit-led giving, and avoid the temptation to embrace the lifestyle of constant accumulation. The ancient Israelites practiced this type of giving in a number of ways. They brought offerings to the Temple in the form of animal sacrifices, food offerings, and monetary offerings. They also made it a regular habit to practice generosity by giving to the poor.
Jesus affirmed how necessary generosity is in forming our hearts if we are to experience God’s Kingdom rule. In Matthew 6, Jesus urges His followers not to be consumed with worry over financial matters, but rather to
“seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
The word “righteousness” means “right relationship.” It refers to the practice of giving to the poor. Jesus is teaching His disciples that the way to cease worrying over financial matters is to practice generosity, trusting in our Great King to meet our every need. Jesus taught that the practice of giving is not intended to be a divine tax to fill up God’s bank account, but rather is a divine grace that results in true rest for God’s beloved people.
While generosity should be practiced at various times at the spontaneous prompting of the Holy Spirit, there is also great wisdom in adopting a basic rhythm of generosity that helps bring Kingdom of God principles to bear on how we manage our finances. Developing a basic rhythm of giving forms our hearts to be even more receptive to the Holy Spirit as he prompts us to meet the needs of those whom God loves.
God commanded those who followed him in the Old Testament to observe a specific rhythm of generosity by calling them to give him the “firstfruits” of their harvest. What a trust forming rhythm! Though they weren’t sure if a storm would come and ruin the rest of the crop, they gave him their best at the very beginning of the harvest season, thereby demonstrating their trust that their Creator King would provide for them and for those they loved. The Apostle Paul also encouraged a regular rhythm of New Testament generosity when he directed every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income...” (1 Corinthians 16:2 NLT) This giving was not to be a grating duty, but rather an act of joyful worship. He goes on to share with these very same disciples that “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) This rhythm of joyful giving formed the routines of rhythm of generosity has continued to shape each generation of disciples who have followed in the Corinthian disciples faith filled footsteps. Jesus’ followers of today are also graciously offered to experience the liberating joy that comes from rejecting the practice of calculating down to the penny how much of our Savior’s money we can keep, and instead embrace a lifestyle which actively seeks to give more and more of Christ’s incredible riches away so that His Kingdom will be advanced.
If we believe that everything we have belongs to the Lord Jesus and has been freely given to us according to His abundant mercy and grace, what changes do we need to make to develop a rhythm of grace filled generosity? First, we must remember that we who have experienced God’s forgiveness are no longer bound to the Old Testament law. We have been set free from having to give out of compulsion. We can now experience the incredible joy that erupts out of giving to God from the wellspring of our great love for Him. This sacrificial love for God then overflows out from us as we love others and meet their needs out of our super-abundance. Secondly, Jesus never commanded His disciples to tithe. We are commanded to move from the Old Testament percentage to a New Testament proportion. As we make more, we get to give more away! This freedom we receive in the Gospel from the tyranny of money keeps us from adopting “lifestyle inflation”; whereby we spend more on ourselves as we make more money. Kingdom servants are given Kingdom resources for Kingdom purposes! Thirdly, we embrace Kingdom generosity as we meet the needs of the poor. Unlike the Old Testament faithful, we don’t cap our contribution towards meeting the needs of the poor at a certain prescribed percentage. Instead we look to meet what ever needs we can as the needs arise. This is Gospel driven generosity. Lastly, we are invited to invest in causes which will pay dividends in eternity, not only in the here and now. Listen to Paul words as he exhorts the church at Ephesus.
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” -Ephesians 6:8-10
When was the last time we asked ourselves in a moment of complete transparency and truth, “What opportunities do I have to support the inbreaking of the Kingdom right here and right now?”. It is in asking that question of God’s Spirit that He speaks to our hearts and provides direction so that our precious funds are spent well and wisely.
Our friend Gary Hoag summarizes the Kingdom perspective on money well when he says;
”I am finding that God’s love is what empowers me to empty myself in service to others; that participating with God in his work by sharing generously with my spiritual leaders brings me joy; that remembering the poor, especially Christian brothers and sisters, is one of the most meaningful privileges of my life; and, the only way to take hold of eternal life is to let go of all that is in this earthly one.”
Today’s disciples need a regular rhythm of generosity to form our hearts in relationship to money. We shouldn’t think that we must give money every time we gather to worship God. There is freedom for each of us to discern exactly what our regular rhythm will be. But whatever the rhythm you decide to adopt, it will provide a needed pathway of heart formation that will lead to rest. As we practice a regular rhythm of giving, we will find our lives increasingly marked by deeper contentment and greater generosity instead of debilitating worry and consuming greed.
As author Randy Alcorn once famously said, ‘God is far more interested in raising your standard of giving than your standard of living”.
An Excerpt From The Five Stones: An Everyday Guide To Following Jesus