Giving Rhythms and the Spirit of Generosity

My Lemonade Stand Story

When I was around eight years old, my best friend and I set up a lemonade stand on the end of her street. We spent the bulk of the day standing in the grass on the side of the road. We smiled, waved our marker-and-poster-board signs at every passerby. Thanks to the kindness and good humor of friends and neighbors, the two of us raked in a whopping $42 that day. A few days later, we dropped off our earnings–mostly in the form of quarters and dollar bills– into a local food ministry.

I remember that as a small child, I felt pretty proud of myself. We had done something good for someone else when we easily could have spent that $42 on books, toys, or ice cream (my guilty pleasure to this day). What generosity! Even now, as an adult, it is tempting for me to view giving this way… As if being a generous person is about acts of compassion or giving up a regular treat to help someone else.

Generosity vs. Charity

I think that many people, including Christians like me, tend to think about generous giving as acts of mercy, compassion, or charity. These are the terms we use and labels we embrace. Yet as Pastor Tim Keller notes in his book Generous Justice, in English, “the word charity conveys a good but optional activity. Charity cannot be a requirement, for then it would not be charity.” Yet Keller continues to say that this view is not consistent with Scriptures.

Instead, the Bible calls giving to the poor “acts of righteousness” (Matthew 6:1-2). In that case, the opposite, not giving to people who are poor, isn’t just stinginess. It’s unrighteousness. And unrighteousness is a violation of God’s law. Keller writes that the description in Job of a just and righteous life “calls every failure to help the poor a sin, offensive to God’s splendor and deserving of judgment and punishment” (Job 31:23, 28).

Give Food to the Hungry

Yikes! Those are pretty harsh words.

Yet as Keller remarks, it is remarkable that Job asserts that thinking of our possessions as belonging to ourselves is a sin. The problem is that we often think about our money, goods, or time as ours. When they aren’t. They are God’s. And God is very clear about how he wants to use resources. As it is written in Psalm 146:7-9,

He executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, he lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves those who live justly. The Lord watches over the immigrant and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Incidentally, Psalm 146:7 is the same passage that inspired Food for the Hungry’s founder, Larry Ward, to establish an organization called Food for the Hungry. The organizational mission has always been to execute the kind of generosity that God calls for in Scripture. In order to do that, we must operate not out of a “charity” mindset that involves one-off acts of compassion.

Instead, Christians glorify God when we do not think about our resources as our own, but generously use them to obey God in his calling to care for people who are poor. We care for the vulnerable because God cares for the vulnerable.

Rhythm Instead of Event

The spirit of consumer holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday wants us to think about money as ours, to be used on material things that will make us happy. I’ve got a full Amazon shopping cart myself. But this Giving Tuesday, what if we pursued righteousness? Generosity should be a rhythm, not an event. But just like passing the offering plate in church is a reminder to tithe, I think of Giving Tuesday as a reminder to obey God by giving to help the precious people whom God loves.

Will you join me?