I still remember the time, several years ago, when I sat in my newfound church and heard my pastor, Pete McKenzie, challenge everyone in our congregation to give to at least two missionaries on top of our regular giving. I was excited about the thought of investing more fully into Kingdom work. I also understood the need, after meeting many full-time missionaries around the world while participating in short-term missions. At the same time, I wondered how I was going to pull it off. I was in my 20’s, teaching at a Christian school, and making extremely meager wages. I remember the Spirit compelling me to take a step of faith to give, not out of what felt like abundance, but out of what felt like little. For me, giving generously of my time and talents was easier and much more natural; I would feel giving financially in a much different way—a more sacrificial way. What I had little idea of at the time was how much God would use this practice of generosity to teach me and form my heart, in ways that would go far beyond what I ever imagined.
Generosity is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “a willingness to give help or support, esp. more than is usual or expected.” Generosity, obviously, isn’t limited to financial giving, but finances are one way it’s expressed. Giving help or support might look like giving tangible resources. It could also be giving of our time. It might be giving to others out of our gifts or abilities, or may mean giving relationally or emotionally. In any of these circumstances, the kind of generosity I’ve seen as heart-transforming is not the kind where I’ve spent very little of my resources or didn’t change anything in my current lifestyle; transformation has occurred in those times when giving was more of a sacrifice—more than was usual or expected in my particular circumstances.
The ways in which Jesus lived, loved and gave of himself were the ultimate example of generosity. Generosity was his way of life. It was the way of his heart. He didn’t limit generosity to one area, but was generous emotionally, relationally and spiritually, as well as with his time, his resources, and his ultimate earthly life. He also humbly allowed others to be generous towards him, knowing that this was part of the Spirit’s work in their hearts—which was another act of generosity.
What Generosity Does in Us
When we’re invited by God to practice generosity, the very thought of it often holds a mirror up to our hearts. It forces us to ask ourselves, “Am I willing to be generous with every kind of resource God’s entrusted to me, or am I only willing to do so with some—the kinds of resources that feel comfortable?”
There’s some sweet fruit that can result if we allow God access to our hearts by stepping into a discipline of generosity, particularly when it’s done sacrificially. Practicing this kind of generosity trains us to let go of those things we can be tempted to hold onto so tightly—those things that we trust to fill us. We learn to let go of what we hold onto for self-protection or self-preservation, and to know God more deeply as our Protector and Preserver. As we walk in generosity and experience God as Provider, we can become less anxious, less fearful, less controlling, and walk in greater freedom. We can give abundantly of our hearts, our time, and our resources, knowing that God will give us what we need.
We end up gaining joy, not only in blessing others and expanding the Kingdom of God, but also in growing to know God and trusting him in a deeper way. Our love for God increases as we experience more of who he desires to be for us. Our love for others also grows, because we’ve become invested in their lives. (So often we think we give because we love, but sometimes we grow to love because we give.)
The expanded faith and trust God formed in my heart through generosity has enabled me to make major changes in my vocation for the sake of Kingdom investment when God’s asked me to. Although I currently make less money than in certain times past, I walk in more freedom and less fear when it comes to my finances, even compared to times when I made more, because of what God’s done in my heart.
The Spirit not only forms the person who is giving, but uses generosity to form the person receiving—sometimes more than we know. I grew up with a mother who could give sacrificially to others, even out of the little she had, but who had difficulty believing she was worthy to receive. She went to church and knew about God’s love for her, but it wasn’t until her dying days, when others gave so generously to her from their physical, relational and spiritual resources, that she shared, with a joy in her countenance I’d never seen before, “I’ve never felt so loved by the Lord.” God used the generosity of others to penetrate the soul of my mom, helping her to know his love experientially. It was truly heart changing. Out of that place, I saw my mom let go of what she had held onto so tightly, and become more relationally generous herself. Experiencing generosity can breed more generosity in us, since we have experienced first-hand what God does in our hearts as the recipients.
When I look back at the challenge to generosity given by my pastor those many years ago, and the work God’s done in me since, I walk confidently—knowing that allowing God to form our hearts when it comes to generosity is worth it. It’s worth it even when it’s uncomfortable—because Kingdom investment is worth it. Hearts and lives are worth it. God is worth it.
How might God expand his Kingdom if we as his people were willing to be generous whenever and however he calls us to be?
REFLECT AND RESPOND
Consider the following questions with God, asking his Spirit to reveal what he desires when it comes to his forming of generosity in your own life.
- Is there an area of your life where God might be inviting you to develop sacrificial generosity? (i.e. your time, your talents, your finances, your relational, spiritual, emotional or material resources?)
- Who might God be calling you to impact with generosity expressed in this way?
- Ask the Lord what generosity would specifically look like if practiced in this area and with this person or people.
- What will you have to give up or lay down in order to practice generosity in this way? What will you have to trust God for or about?
- Ask the Lord if there’s something he wants to either form in your heart or root out of your heart as a result of leaning into greater generosity.
- Talk with God about whatever comes up about these things. Share your thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes. Practice dependence on him by asking him to empower you by his Spirit to walk forward in this.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ellen Burany leads the ChurchNEXT ReNew Team, a CRM ministry working to strengthen the souls of Christian leaders so they can thrive in every season of life and ministry. She lives in Tustin, CA.