Last November the church was going through a series on finances. I don’t remember the series name, but with our life groups we were using a book called the ABC’s of Financial Freedom. I remember I was in my office reading the book, preparing for how we would use a particular chapter when God opened my eyes to something I had never seen before.
I wasn’t generous.
I did a pretty good job of looking the part. Karen and I have tithed since we were first married, and there were times this was hard to do. We support several friends who are missionaries oversees. If you ask me to help you, I will. If you have a baby, we will bring you a meal. You get the idea.
I read my actions and concluded I was generous.
Here is the danger in this thinking. In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told a story about a Pharisee and a tax-collector. The Pharisee gave immensely and prayed a lot. He entered the temple and talked about all he had done. On the outside he looked the part, but he did it so people (and I’m sure God) would say, “Look at him and all he does. He must be good and generous.”
Contrast this with the tax-collector who stole from people, only looked out for himself, and was a traitor to his own religion. He knew what others thought of him. Yet, he didn’t come to the temple flashing a big donation he could have easily given out of what he had amassed for himself. And those who didn’t know him would have said, “Look at him and all he does. He must be good and generous.”
Instead, he entered the temple and talked about all he had done wrong.
When it comes to being good and generous, God isn’t looking for us to hit a certain number or percentage. He isn’t looking for us to sin less than however many times a day. He looks so much deeper. The tax-collector realized what we all need to realize: God looks at the motive of our heart, the why we do something instead of the what we do. And seeing things from this new perspective brought him to a place of humility before God and what he found was grace, mercy, and love freely given from the One who mattered most.
As I sat in my office back in November, I remember being overwhelmed by the realization that I wasn’t generous. God was revealing to me something I hadn’t understood.
Being generous isn’t about duty, it’s about surrender.
I had always given out of duty. I had struggled with sharing my things with others since I was a kid. I cringed when my wife wanted to give a gift every time someone had a birthday or got married. I even budgeted for those things to fulfill my duty. But if we went a penny over, I was so upset. See I hadn’t surrendered my money to the one who gave it to me. I was willing to give him 10%, but not 100%. I forgot it wasn’t really my money anyway, it was His!
I wept aloud that day. I know exactly how the tax-collector felt. I beat my chest like he did before God and said, “Be merciful on me, for I am a sinner.” And my prayer was that He would give me a generous heart.
I’m writing this today to tell you He did. I’m far from perfect when it comes to being generous, but I’ve come a long way. We still tithe as a couple, we still give gifts, and make meals and it really all looks the same on the outside. But, it is way different on the inside. I am grateful for the opportunity I have now to give back what God has given me to manage. We actually changed our whole budget around and live off less so we can give more.
Please do not read this and think, “Look at Heath and all he does. He must be good and generous.” It has nothing to do with me; it has 100% to do with the power of Christ alive in me. I am not naturally generous. I am naturally greedy, but God is super generous. If we will surrender to His generosity in our lives, then it will rub off on us.
If I keep writing, I’ll be sobbing in my office again. But I won’t be sobbing over my sin and brokenness, I’ll be sobbing over the undeserved generosity God has graciously given me. I hope His generosity brings you those same tears. Those tears are the reason the tax-collector left the temple justified before God. Surrender and see just how good His generosity can be.