I had forty bucks. Sweet. That meant a lot to me because I was a broke college student who made ends meet with token pay checks here and there. My wife worked a modest little job as a paralegal. Suddenly, at the end of the month and bills and everything else that guzzles down money, I had forty bucks left over free and clear. It had floated down into my lap via school reimbursement. My wife didn’t seem to care what I did with it. Like I said…sweet.
The mind swims with possibilities during moments of unexpected surplus. Let’s see. I could update my fishing gear. Get some books I’d wanted. Order four and a half pizzas.
Then I went to church that evening and heard how there was a financial shortfall in the ministry and building fund. And if everybody could offer just thirty extra dollars…. Well, my family had already done its part. We had already tithed. But the church wasn’t asking for tithes that night. This was something above and beyond. On the way home I felt those folded tens in my pocket rapidly becoming an issue of the heart. This isn’t fair, I told myself.
For two days I silently mulled over it. It was weird. I played both sides of the debate, like a movie where one actor plays several roles. As God I would tell myself if I were truly committed to Him, I’d give the money and wouldn’t want to spend it on a thirty-six dollar board game. As me, I would reply, Yeah, but I want that game.
I knew all the maxims like, “You can’t out give God,” etc. I have friends who quote these jingles every time you pull their string. And some of their repertoire is Bible-based. I’m thinking of “He who sows little will reap little” (2 Cor. 9:6) and lots of similar verses preachers like to use when they talk about giving. Maybe I didn’t love God that much. I certainly didn’t care to have my “forty converted into eighty.” I just wanted to spend my forty, thank you.
My wife finally butted into the conversation with this gem: “Doesn’t your lack of willingness sort of spoil the whole thing? I mean, what kind of offering would it be if you gave and then wished you hadn’t?” The Lord butted in, too, with His typical deep impression on my heart. Seems He hadn’t been given any voice on the subject of the money (Remember, I had been acting out His role in this drama).
Did I command you to give the money through Scripture or in fellowship with you?
Then why do it?
Because it’s a free-will offering.
But your free will says you don’t want to do it.
No, I don’t.
Then why do it?
Because I would feel guilty if I didn’t.
In an effort to be good and religious and heroic, I was bordering a guilt-based, shame-based relationship with Jesus. That’s a life of giving stuff up out of duty and living under a cloud when you fail at it. I don’t think anybody wants a relationship like that. God certainly doesn’t.
The most sacrificially-minded book in the Bible is Leviticus. It looks like twenty-seven chapters of blood and guts and endless giving. God commands in great detail exactly what the various sacrifices should look like, but the New Testament reader needs to keep in mind that all of those sacrifices are symbolic of Christ Himself. That’s right—Jesus Christ—the ultimate gift to trump all gifts. God’s original gift of His Son started the whole giving bandwagon.
First we received more than we could ever spend—“Of His fullness we have all received and grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Then we were called to sacrifice. Our relationship became giving and receiving and giving and receiving. You could say it turned into a grace loop.
One thing is certain—if you want to throw a kink into the works, get a death grip on something so that your fingers need to be pried from around it. Let resentment saturate your heart. Or try to “give up” stuff that’s not part of the grace loop. Under those circumstances, you might succeed in handing something over to God, but rest assured, it is still in your hands.
I kept that forty bucks and God didn’t mind. I bought a war game, played it a few times, and then got bored with it. I see it occasionally, whenever I go down to the basement where it’s squirreled away with some other stuff. Now it seems silly, especially in light of the fact that I’ve had to handle so many more complicated and painful things.
But you never forget the lessons you learn about a God who loves to give and then loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7).