Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Becoming All-Out Givers

My husband, Austen, and I have been on an interesting journey over the course of our 8 year marriage. When we were first married, we were still a part of church, but we will both tell you that God was not the main priority of either of our lives. As we began to get hit with the trials the world can bring you as an adult, we began making an effort to put God front and center, and for us this included becoming more consistent in our financial giving.

However, it wasn't until we heard a message by Ed Young (at Fellowship Church in Dallas) about being a steward rather than an owner, that we became faithful tithers. His message was that we don't truly own anything, but that everything has been given by God, and we are merely stewards (some synonyms: custodian, manager, administrator, representative). That word really sunk in with both of us at the same time, which is so providential of our awesome God, that we as a newly married couple were unified in this decision! It was a big chunk of money to begin sowing, but the knowledge that we were privileged to bring this 10% back to God to support His local church, was enough to keep us going.

We continued as regular tithers for a few years and picked up monthly support of a few additional ministries along the way, as well as participating in occasional church-sponsored community outreaches. Most in the religious community would call these our additional offerings, above and beyond the tithe. We stayed at this level in our giving until my sister gave me a book by Robert Morris called, The Blessed Life.

In this book, Pastor Morris talks about the three levels of giving: tithe, offerings, and extravagant offerings. He said that most people who get to the first level of tithing will proceed to the next level of offering, but that very few would cross over into extravagant offerings. He joked that a friend of his actually called them tithes, offerings, and painful offerings! Why is this important you may ask? "If I'm giving my tithe, or even making an effort at giving my tithe, then I have done my duty and don't need to do anymore." The problem with this is then you aren't quite following the gist of God's purposes for us as believers in this world. We are not to be reservoirs of His Goodness, financially or otherwise; but rather, conduits or funnels, getting our resources to the places He directs. What's more...reaching the level of extravagant offerings is where things get a little risky, and dare I say it, fun!

After coming across this book, we were highly motivated to give anywhere and everywhere God directed. We have crossed over into the extravagant level a few times (cars, furniture, etc.), and it can be a bit nauseating but always exhilarating, as you trust that God will provide for your needs instead of your well laid-out Dave Ramsey plan. Now I'm not advocating that we abandon Dave Ramsey's principles; they are extremely helpful and appropriate for people who are out of control to get back into a balanced financial state. But beyond that, I believe, they limit the church. We need to become believers who listen to the Holy Spirit and give as He directs, not as our plans direct us.

Austen and I have ratcheted up our giving in many areas, to the point where Turbotax regularly tells us we have audit risk because our charitable giving is so high in proportion to our income; but we have never seen our needs gone unmet. We have continued to see increase, sometimes extravagantly and sometimes just in the nick of time. This is not meant to be a brag-session on us, merely a tale of the journey it has taken for us formerly marginal givers to become all-out givers. The purpose for the journey is that we show ourselves trustworthy to God, that money not have a hold on us, that He might put more resources into our hands to be funneled into the Kingdom. Can you imagine what the church, and by extension, the world would look like if more believers operated this way??

Luke 6:38 - Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The River

A current theme in my life has been that of a river, but not just any river, "the" river of the Holy Spirit - our comforter and teacher. There is a song out by Bethel Church called Deep Cries Out that expresses it this way: "If it goes to the left, then we go to the left! If it goes to the right, then we go to the right!"

In a world full of so much uncertainty, isn't it comforting to think there is a source of all stability and wisdom constantly flowing with new provision that flows directly from the throne of Almighty God? See the following passage from Ezekiel which is mirrored in Revelation 22.

Ezekiel 47:1-5 - The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.
He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side. As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.

Revelation 22:1-5 - Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

Our task is to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit and where He is going. Just as in the natural - a river already has its path laid out, already knows its pace and current, and only takes people downstream that are willing to go with its flow. Let's be people in tune with what the Father is doing and follow the river wherever it goes, rather than sticking to some formula or pattern of the way things have always been. He is an ever-changing and ever-advancing God, and I want to be a part of His purposes in the earth!

When we cooperate and follow the Holy Spirit within us, then the river will flow from us as well, producing fruit that will be nourishment to many. I'll finish with a quote from Jesus, who of course, provided our access to the river:

John 7:38 - "Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”