One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
Another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
A generous person will prosper;
Whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.—Proverbs 11:24,25
When we become followers of Jesus, we place our trust in Someone we can’t see, in a God who is invisible. And we stake our future on something that’s impossible if there is no God: resurrection from the dead. We stop living for material things, things we can see and touch, and we begin to live for spiritual things that we can’t always prove. In short, the Christian faith is a faith, and it doesn’t always make sense to our rational minds.
Take, for example, the above statements from scripture. This past weekend at Community Church, we finished an eight-week study in the book of Proverbs, and this coming Sunday we’re beginning a new three-week series called Thankful and Generous, so these verses from Proverbs 11 seemed like the perfect thing to reflect on this week. Solomon says that when we are generous, we are blessed. Our needs are met and more. These are beautiful promises from God. They are also a great example of what it means to live as a person of faith, because they are utter nonsense if there is no God.
If there is no God, it’s crazy to say that when we give freely we gain even more, or that we will grow poor by holding onto everything we earn for ourselves. How can giving away what we have bring us more? How could selfishness make us poor? If you take God out of the conversation about finances, all you have left is math, and math tells us that when you give away what you have, you have less. It’s common sense that if you want to get rich, you save every penny.
When we become believers, we discover that there is something greater than common sense: there is God. The God who created the universe, who is living and active, who is wiser than we can fathom and free to do as He chooses, is not limited by things like the laws of mathematics and physics. He invented math and physics, and they are useful tools to keep the universe running smoothly, but they do not tell the Creator what He can and cannot do. If God says we gain more by giving away what we have, it will be so. If He wants selfishness to be punished rather than rewarded, that’s what will happen, regardless of what the numbers say. And because generosity is in His nature, because He is kind and merciful, He has written into the very fabric of His creation the rule that generosity brings blessing. It is as real as the laws that bind atoms and molecules together.
It is easy for us to forget this rule. Personally, I am not by nature a generous person. I am selfish, and my natural inclination is to protect my time, my money, and my possessions because I have specific plans for those things that I don’t want messed with. I know this isn’t a good thing, but I have come to see that this is who I am, and there’s no point in hiding it. For me generosity is a discipline, not an instinct. I have to be reminded to be generous, and then when I am obedient and share the things I’m tempted to hold onto, of course life goes better. I discover that I didn’t really need those things as much as I thought I did. God provides for my needs; He replaces what I have given away and more. Other people are blessed, and I am blessed by the joy of being a blessing, and for a time I am committed to a lifestyle of generosity. Then I drift back into old ways of thinking, and I have to be reminded again.
Last month, a team from our church went and served in Paradise, California, helping people whose lives were shattered by the Camp Fire three years ago. We advertised for weeks, recruited the team, made the financial arrangements, and were all prepared to go. There was only one detail we hadn’t thought about: who would drive? We made plans to meet at the church office and carpool, and it was only the day before that I realized a couple of us would have to drive, and we hadn’t arranged for who that would be.
At that moment, a thought passed through my head that I’m not proud of: I hope someone else volunteers. I didn’t want to bring my truck. I didn’t want to buy gas, and I didn’t want to put the miles on my vehicle. I wanted to be selfish and benefit from the generosity of others.
Of course, I knew this was wrong, and the Holy Spirit didn’t let me get away with it for long. It quickly became clear that my vehicle was the logical one to take, and so I drove. And then after we arrived and the work started, I saw what I should have known earlier: it wasn’t just about the transportation to and from Paradise. In a week of manual labor at various work sites, my truck became useful for all sorts of reasons. At one point, we were driving between jobs and I was finally connecting the dots, realizing that I was actually glad I had driven, that this was exactly the kind of thing a truck is for, and I felt God saying to me “Why do you think I gave you a truck in the first place? For yourself?”
Most of you are probably way ahead of me, but I’ll make the obvious statement for anyone who is slow like I am: It’s not my truck. It’s God’s truck. He gave it to me to be a blessing to others, as much as possible, for as long as I have it. If I refuse to do this, I’ll just drive it back and forth on selfish errands for a few years, and then one day it will wear out anyway and I’ll have to get something else, and I will have wasted countless opportunities to help others.
When we are selfish, life shrinks. Our world becomes small, and we spend our time fixated on things that aren’t worthy of our energy. When we are generous, life grows. Our world gets bigger as we give and receive blessings, as we love others and are loved by them. And because He wants it this way, God gives us more and more so we can continue to be generous like He is. We don’t regret saying yes to hosting the small group in our home, or sponsoring a child, or getting a gift for a friend to let them know how much they mean to us. But we might regret not doing those things. This week, it’s a safe bet God will give each of us opportunities to give freely, to refresh others. Let’s say yes to Him, trusting that we lose nothing when we imitate His generosity.
“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”—Matthew 16:25