In a blog I wrote years ago, How much should Christians give?, I asked the all important question: How much of what we as Christians own, belongs to God?
Hopefully your answer was the same as the man to whom I addressed that question, “All of it.” Well, if God owns all of it and we are merely his money managers and trustees and writing his checks for him, then we have some very hard questions to ask such as:
Would God ever direct us to write a donation check to a secular university or other non-Christian charities that may promote worldviews completely antithetical to God’s?
With an estimated 13,000 people dying from preventable diseases or hunger every day, do you think God would prefer we give his money for a new cafeteria for our grandchild’s local Christian school, or to feed the dying?
Would God write a check to your church, if he didn’t attend there? In other words is loyalty to one’s church an adequate reason to write checks on God’s account?
The quick answer to these questions may actually be a “conditional yes”. But, before we address those questions, let’s step back and take a look at the big picture. If we read all of scripture, there seems to emerge a priority of what’s important to God.
That the whole world knows of the one true God and gives him the glory he deserves. “Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.” Psalm 115:1 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
That God’s people be his agents to uphold justice, live by his laws and care for the poor, the helpless and the powerless of this world on his behalf. “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalm 146:7-9 “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 “He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:33-36, 40
The expansion of his kingdom and his church. (The Book of Acts and almost all the New Testament informs us of this great priority.) “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. ” Matthew 28:18-20 “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 3:10-11
Is that it?
No, those aren’t all the things close to the heart of God, but I believe they are the most important things. If you agree, then our primary giving ought to be aimed at this sweet spot. I’m not sure God cares what kinds of ministries we “enjoy.”
The Bible obviously doesn’t address Christian schools, church buildings (at least not in the New Testament), church budgets, 501(c)3 para-church ministries, or even secular organizations and colleges. So, it will take prayer and spiritual maturity to think through our response to these types of ministries. Some ministries and missions are clearly in what I believe are the “top three” – others obviously aren’t. So then, how do Christians decide where to give?
Investing for God
I know men and women who spend months investigating and thinking about where they ought to invest “their” money. They read prospectuses, financial projections, get the advice of attorneys, CPA’s and trusted friends. Sometimes hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars are spent “getting it right”.
It’s my experience that rarely do Christians spend that much time investigating where God would have them invest. Most of us give the way we were raised to give and just assumed we had the right to decide based on “where our heart is”. Frankly, until I started thinking about this more deeply many years ago, that’s how I thought. As a result, we gave money away for many of the wrong reasons.
The wrong reason to give
We give because we or our family are the beneficiaries of our own generosity. I’ve known people who have given to capital campaigns at their church because, they promised more comfortable seating, or better sound system, parking or a jazzed up youth ministry for their kids. Almost none of these reasons may be important to God.
We give because people who we know ask us and we either hate to disappoint them or desire their admiration. For years I often gave to impress or please others, rather than out of heartfelt conviction from God. Giving anonymously is the best antidote for pride giving.
We understand U.S. ministries better, particularly local ministries. By the most trusted mission statistics, 96% of all money given by U.S. Christians stays in the U.S. If God loves the whole world as much as he loves your neighbor or the people in your city, do we really think his asset allocation would be 96%/4%? Are not the needs of Christians in Central Asia as important to God as the needs in your city? As his manager I’d be shocked if God thought that an American’s well-being was more important to him than the needs of a Mongolian, or Indian, or whatever.
It takes a lot more time to thoroughly investigate international ministries. That’s true, which is why I recommend prayerfully considering giving to only a few international ministries that you can get to know well enough to truly be an intelligent donor.
It’s hard to break old habits. Some of us have found ourselves in the, “I’ll go to your ministry banquet, if you’ll go to mine” rut or, saving the financial requests which are filling your mailbox right now, until the last week of December and writing a small gift to each because you just don’t have time to investigate all of them. So how do we break some of these habits and be far more intentional about thinking about giving from God’s perspective? Next week A blog on The Value of Having a Family Stewardship Statement.