Wanting to be generous and living generously are two very different things.
Most of us have a desire to give. We want to help those in need. We just want to make sure that we aren’t burned in the process.
I used to work in a downtown office building. Occasionally, I would get out of the office and just walk around for a while. Each time I went out, I could count on running into one particular man. He was probably in his mid to late sixties, but because of his time on the streets, he looked more like a ninety year old.
This guy always cracked me up because of the way he asked for money. While he was leaning on his cane, he would get a big, goofy grin on his face and try to catch the attention of anyone nearby. Then, with an even bigger smile, he would say, “Gimmie a dolla.” If he knew the individual and had been rejected earlier, he would change his line to “Buy me a cup of coffee.”
While his smile was intriguing, he needed to work on his punch lines. Maybe it would have helped to soften the appeal a little bit. FYI – if you ever get to the point of begging on the streets, “Gimmie” is not the word to start with.
Once or twice, I actually helped that guy. But most days, I didn’t want anything to do with him. During my ventures away from the office, I would intentionally plan to avoid the block that he canvassed.
Why do we do that? Why is it that so many of us move away from opportunities for generosity?
Let me offer a few observations:
1. We avoid generosity because of fear.
Sometimes we fear the person who is asking for help. We fear that they will take the gift and use it the wrong way. Or maybe we just fear getting close to those who are not like us. Shane Claiborne has said, “The great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, but that rich Christians do not know the poor.” I think that is probably tied to the fact that we fear things like mental instability and the desperation that comes with poverty.
Beyond that, we wrestle with the fear of giving away too much. We rationalize our lack of generosity by saying things like, “What if give away too much and am not able to pay my bills?” We ask, “What if something unexpected comes up later this week or later this month?” So, we allow fear to dictate our generosity.
2. We avoid generosity because of poor planning.
Have you ever been in a situation that you really felt compelled to give, but didn’t have the resources? Unfortunately, many individuals simply cannot be generous because they have not built any margin into their lives. They have no time to help a friend or invest in their family because they are working too many hours. We operate our lives like the airlines operate ticket sales. We overbook and generosity is bumped to the standby line.
When it comes to financial generosity, many people miss the joy of giving because they fail to plan for generosity. We have a spending plan (budget), we have a savings plan (investments), but how many people have a giving plan?
3. We avoid generosity because we have never really considered the generosity of God.
Philip Yancey says, “There is but one true Giver in the universe; all else are debtors.” For all of us debtors who want to follow in the ways of God, it only makes sense that we live generous lives. However, it’s much easier to follow the ways of society than it is to follow the ways of God.
4. We are more concerned with impressing our neighbors than we are with pleasing our Savior.
I know. That one stings. Unfortunately, it’s true. Most people I know have some desire to be generous. We tell ourselves that under the right circumstances, we will give. But, our constant getting gets in the way of our giving.
In the book Crazy Love, Francis Chan points out that “Lukewarm people give money to charity and to the church as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living.” In other words, we value our standard of living – and what others think about our standard of living – more than the One who “became poor for our sake so that we could become rich.”
Those four things have all been true in my life at one point or another. What about you? What keeps you from imitating the generosity of God?