Generosity is one of many godly traits associated with Christians. We give because we desire to help others and because so much has been given to us through forgiveness, grace, and redemption. We associate generosity as an act of kindness, which is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
But, have you ever considered generosity as an act of faith?
Several years ago, while in line waiting to check out at the grocery store, I noticed the woman in front of me, with her kids in tow, and a cart full of groceries. When it was time to pay, she couldn’t find her money. She dug through her purse, searched her pockets, and asked her kids to look around on the floor. Still no success. A quick thought occurred to me to pay for her, but then the reasons not to pay quickly filled my head: we had our own groceries, I hadn’t paid the bills yet, our budget was tight, and our funds were limited because we still had two weeks until payday. I’m more than embarrassed to admit I played it safe and didn’t pay for her groceries. After some thought and talking with my husband about it, I regretted my decision not to help someone who needed assistance. Though I may have been reasonably justified for not paying for over $100 worth of groceries for someone else, my decision reflected the condition of my soul – faithless, fearful, and greedy.
So, how could paying for someone else’s groceries have been an act of faith? Had I been generous with my money and ignored all of the valid reasons, then I would have shown God I was trusting Him to provide for our needs. I didn’t. I depended upon my limited knowledge rather than trusting His plan.
I wrestled with these facts for several days. I know at one point in my life, I had been a more generous person who trusted in the Lord to provide for my needs. What happened? Why was I hanging on so tightly to my money? It’s not like my family and I ever had to go without – our needs had been provided for, even when we were short on faith.
Fear also influenced my decision. This makes sense as faithlessness and fearfulness are constant companions. I was fearful we wouldn’t have enough money to cover our bills, groceries, and whatever else popped up before our next payday.
I also had to admit to myself that I was a bit greedy with my money. Could I have spared my money to help someone? Yes. We could have tightened our budget a bit more or gone without for a few days. Knowing I was greedy with my money shocked me the most. I didn’t like who I had become.
When looking at my faithlessness, fearfulness, and greediness, I realized these issues were rooted in the same thing: control. When my finances were tight, it stressed me out. By trying to control my financial situation, rather than allowing the Lord to, it showed how much I doubted God. I didn’t have enough faith to believe he would provide for my needs (see Psalm 23:1, Mark 6:31-32, and Philippians 4:19). By focusing on my needs, I missed an opportunity to serve someone who needed assistance. When we try to control our circumstances, we are telling God we do not trust Him and, therefore, lack the faith and kingdom-focus necessary to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
The Poor, Generous Widow
In the book of Mark, there is a story about a poor, but generous widow. One day Jesus and His disciples decided to sit down near the Temple and observe people as they placed money in the offering box, which would be used for charitable purposes. Throughout the day, Jesus watched as people placed donations into the box, including many affluent people who contributed substantial amounts of money. At one point, a poor widow approached and placed her last two coins into the box. Jesus pointed her out to His disciples and said “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:44). I believe He said this because, not only was she generous, but she gave her last bit of money knowing God would provide for her. She had faith in God. Though it does not explicitly say “She had faith,” her actions indicated she did. Who gives away their last bit of money unless they know their needs will be provided for?
The story notes how the rich people donated “large sums” of money to the offering box. Jesus said they “contributed out of their abundance,” meaning after their donation, they still had plenty of money to provide for their needs. Their donation, though appreciated, wasn’t a sacrifice.
Jesus points out how the widow “out of her poverty had put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Her donation required a sacrifice on her part. She gave away her last two coins without hesitation. He pointed out that she “put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.” What did Jesus mean by she “put in more?” Her contribution of her last two coins required an act of faith. She trusted the Lord to provide for whatever needs she would have in the future. She believed her two coins, which combined equaled a penny, would benefit someone in need – someone who needed them more than she did. She also trusted God to provide for her needs, whatever they were.
Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We may think we are pleasing God by playing it “safe,” but we’re not. When we cling to our possessions, such as money or time, rather than sharing them with those in need, we are not acting out in faith or reflecting the character of God.
The Lord is always generous to His children. Much has already been given to us through the sacrifice of Jesus - redemption, grace, mercy, and love. When we give to those in need, especially if it requires a sacrifice on our part, then we are loving others the way God loves us. We have died to our selfish desires and allowed the Holy Spirit to work through us. Great things happen when we allow Him to work through us. And that’s the key right there – we have to allow Him to work through us. As I look back at my shameful moment, I realize the initial thought I had to pay for the woman was the prompting of the Holy Spirit, which I quickly dismissed because I was too focused on myself and my needs.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about the churches in Macedonia and how generous they were (2 Corinthians 8). Despite having many difficulties and being poor, the members of these churches gave everything they had, and then some, to help others. They generously (and joyously) gave in the face of affliction and poverty, knowing the Lord would supply their needs. He goes on to say in the next chapter that “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work,” (2 Corinthians 9:8). What he’s saying is that God will provide for us at all times so that we can continue the good work He has set before us. Again, this is proof that He will provide for us as we provide for others.
Finally, in 1 Timothy 6, Paul is instructing Timothy on what to teach to the church members, particularly the rich. He says “…charge them not to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy,” and “…to be generous and ready to share…” (1 Timothy 6:17-18). More proof that since God provides everything for us, we are to be prepared to share our belongings. Not only does He provide for us, but He richly provides for us, giving us everything in abundance.
Though my reasons for not paying for the woman’s groceries may have seemed practical to me, we have to remember we serve a God who loves to work through the impractical. My failure to show generosity is one of those regrets that has stayed with me, but in a way that is beneficial. It reminds me of where I once was and encourages me to continue my walk in faith and generosity. In those times where I have chosen to be generous, I have seen how He provided for me afterward. Generosity is not just a Christian discipline we should practice, but rather an act of genuine faith that shows the Lord we trust Him and His plan. An act that shows us that we do not fear for the future. An act that shows the world the love of God.
What about you? Do you hold back on giving to others because you fear you won’t have enough?