Christmas is the time of year when probably more than any other we can feel financial stress. The madness of Black Friday, with near riots in some shops, is evidence in itself that the priorities of western society are out of whack. Christmas advertising is constant, every charity mugger is out to get us, and the price of Christmas trees seems to be rising at a rate far in advance of inflation! Those who know me would vouch for the fact that I truly am ‘Mr Festive’; but even my extreme Christmas-enthusiasm can grow a little weary with the financial pressures of the season. (Accompanying sounds of Jennie spluttering with disbelief in the background.)
I am convinced that the way to handle our finances well – in all seasons – is within the framework of generosity. Generosity is liberating. Here’s how:
Generosity is a mark of maturity
The state of our finances affects everything. Having one’s finances in order is an important part of having life in order, because disordered finances tends to cause disorder in every area of our lives. However, having ordered finances requires real discipline – it is not something that just happens by itself. As disciples this discipline should be something we embrace, and the church is one of the best places in which to learn financial discipline. With initiatives such as the CAP money course, and many local churches offering practical help with things such as budgeting, there is plenty of help available. The message is simple: If you need help with ordering your finances, ask!
Financial maturity means acting with both prudence and liberty. Prudence is about handling our finances in a way which means we actually have some money available to do things with. As Proverbs 13:11 expresses it, Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gains little by little will increase it. The prudent person learns to add ‘little to little’ in order to accumulate something.
Financial liberty means we trust in God’s ability (and willingness) to meet our needs. As Jesus famously instructed, Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Mt 6:25)
Financial maturity doesn’t use prudence as an excuse for meanness though. Sometimes people claim to be acting with prudence when in reality they are just tight. At the same time, maturity doesn’t use liberty as an excuse for irresponsibility, spending and buying what is not needed and cannot be afforded.
Generosity is the guide that helps us hold the tension between prudence and liberty. To be generous requires prudence, because without prudence it is unlikely we will have anything available with which to be generous! But generosity also thrives in an atmosphere of liberality, which trusts our Father for his supply. The financially mature know how to add little to little, and they know how to give big!
Generosity fights fear
Generosity is a spiritual issue because very often being generous requires a conscious decision to fight our fears. Followers of Jesus are called to live in freedom, not fear, and overcoming our fears is an act of spiritual warfare.
A large measure of the power of ‘mammon’ is its ability to make us fearful. Money speaks to us, ‘You can’t live without me. You’ll be lost without me. Once I’m gone you’ll never get me back.’ In contrast, generosity trusts in God’s limitless supply and believes that money given away is never lost, merely sown. Every time we are generous with our money we are winning the fight that it really is, ‘in God we trust’ rather than in money.
Financial fearfulness, or lack of trust, tends to dress itself up in all kinds of ‘prudent’ attitudes. We can fail to admit our fear for what it is, and try to deceive ourselves that we are acting with financial prudence, when really we should be going to war against our fears by growing in generosity.
When we are generous it is a statement of our trust in God, and this makes generosity an act of worship. I sometimes talk to church members who are not generous in their giving to the church and who dress this up with prudent concerns about how the church spends the money. It is important that churches have robust financial systems in place – we need to be whiter than white on this one, and to act responsibly with the finances we have – but there is a sense in which what happens to money given in offerings is of no consequence to the giver. As a friend of mine once famously said, it doesn’t matter if the elders choose to burn it! This is because what really counts is our act of worship in giving our money away, and trusting that God will still be able to supply all we need.
Generosity just does it!
Because we tend to be self-deceiving about our finances we say things like, “I’ll start to be generous when….” But “When” never comes! I talk to young people in my church who say they’ll start giving generously when they have a deposit saved up for a house. But they then get the house and find that owning a house involves all kinds of expenses beyond simply paying a mortgage, so they then say they’ll start giving generously once they are more established in their careers. But by the time they are more established in their careers they have started having babies, and life has got more expensive again. So they say they will start giving generously once the kids are older, only to discover that teenage children are exponentially more expensive than little ones. When the kids have left home then, comes next – but then there are college fees to pay and the seemingly never ending demands upon the bank of mum and dad. It is very easy to go through life saying “When” and find that when really never does come.
The solution, of course, is just to start! If I had started playing the guitar when I first thought about it thirty years ago, and had then kept at it reasonably regularly, I would probably be a fairly competent guitarist by now. But I never started, and I still cannot play a note! Don’t let this be true of you when it comes to generosity. Generosity doesn’t procrastinate. It just does it.