i don’t have enough for that!
I’m so busy. I don’t have time to exercise. I have so much to do AND I only slept four hours last night.
I have thought and said and done all those things in my life. But I’ve also realized the futility of borrowing health from the future to get through the present. And (probably) because I’m a pastor, I have seen correlations between my attitudes on exercise and sleep and my attitudes on giving. Therefore, I want to suggest that giving is a spiritual discipline that is as essential and vitalizing to our well-being as regular exercise and sleep.
The word “discipline” is helpful for me. Giving is commanded in the Scripture, but I know how easy it is to lose motivation when I try to get by on sheer rules, duty, and law (kind of like a no-carb diet or most New Year’s resolutions). But for a spiritual practice to really stick, like anything else it has to become a lifestyle and part of who we are. That’s what a discipline is: something that teaches and trains and re-shapes us. How does that work when it comes to giving? Well, setting aside a portion of what one makes or sells is hard to do. It requires thought and commitment and more than a few difficult decisions. It’s like making time for exercise and sleep in that it requires us to examine and possibly rearrange our priorities. Is it more important to buy this or to give to the Lord? Is it more important to eat out tonight or grow in this discipline?
Here are three things Scripture teaches about giving in Deuteronomy 14.
1) Giving is an Act of Worship— “…that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.” (vv.22-23) Giving is an act of obedience that forms a healthy reverence and respect for the Lord. Giving cannot save us, but it is a spiritual practice that instills a reverence and respect for God “so that we may learn.” It teaches us how to prioritize and arrange our life and time and finances in order to put God first.
2) Giving is Enjoyment of God—If the distance was too far to bring their offering from the field, God’s people could exchange it for money to spend on an offering of “whatever your heart desires… and you shall eat it in the presence of God and rejoice.” (vv. 24-26) This is extraordinary! It tells me that giving is not so much about checking off a ritualistic action, but about the enjoyment of God. The list even includes wine and strong drink – can you imagine? Now certainly that sort of thing could be abused, but do you hear the amazing idea behind it? Giving is not a tax; it is a habit that is supposed to be wrapped up in enjoying the presence of God.
A real-life example: Once a year, my close friend Kelly comes to visit and stays with us for the week. He loves our family and DELIGHTS in bringing us gifts of chocolate or coffee. He can’t wait to give the gifts! It’s not a payment given in exchange for room and board, but something he enjoys giving and sharing with us as he “toasts” our time together. What if we could think about giving like that?
3) Giving is Love of Neighbor – “Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town…” (v.27) Old Testament giving was meant to provide for spiritual leaders, but also for those in need: “…the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town.” (v. 29) This is one of the connections between giving and the local church, but is even more noticeably a tangible expression of the Great Commandment. Not only does giving demonstrate a reverence or love for God, but is directly intended to care for and love our neighbors.
So, far from being a legalistic tax, biblical giving was intended to teach a reverence for God, the enjoyment of Him, and to provide for those in need. It was and continues to be a spiritual practice given by God for the blessing of His people. Through giving we come to know God better and thus are blessed by Him.
So, two takeaway questions:
- What stands in the way of me practicing the spiritual discipline of giving?
- How can I make regular giving a spiritual lifestyle?
The Rev. Dr. Robert Austell has served as pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, since 2002. Check out his writing and links to other endeavors at his blog (robertaustell.blogspot.com).