David Lose: Practicing Generosity


Christians know a secret about generosity. Generosity is not the fruit of success or happiness or security. It is, instead, the source of all these things. Actually, it's not only Christians who know this. Seth Godin, one of my favorite thinkers, puts it this way:

Here's conventional wisdom:

Success makes you happy. Happiness permits you to be generous.

In fact, it actually works like this:

Generosity makes you happy. Happy people are more likely to be successful.

Christians have sometimes named the "conventional" wisdom Godin talks about "worldly" wisdom, as it expresses the sensibilities that governs the world rather than the "kingdom logic" that Jesus announced during his earthly ministry.

Truth be told, however, it's easy for us to forget this. Not that we set out to be miserly or actively believe that we have to be wealthy before we can be generous. But there are so many conventional, worldly messages to this effect that it can be difficult to put into practice Jesus' teaching. Indeed, the primary message of the world is one of scarcity: there is not enough time, money, love, security, and more. Therefore, runs the conventional, worldly wisdom, we need to look out for ourselves first, making sure we have enough before we tend to others.

Jesus saw things differently. Addressing his disciples, Jesus told them not to be concerned about anything because they knew God loved them and would provide for them (see Matthew 6:25ff.). Similarly, the Apostle Paul, caught up in Jesus' kingdom logic, argues against such anxious living by urging his friends in the community of Philippi to, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!" (Phil. 4:4). He goes on to tell them the following: "Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (4:6).

The interesting thing about Paul's injunction is that he makes it while in prison. That's right, while he's sitting in prison with no sure guarantee of what his future may hold, he instructs his friends to rejoice rather than to worry, trusting that God will provide, and to share with each other and all those in need.

While it's easy for us to assume that Paul must have been some kind of a spiritual giant to offer such counsel, the truth is somewhat different. As Paul himself says, "I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need."

Paul's secret, like Jesus' counsel to his disciples, is to trust God. But what I find most interesting about the Apostle's confession is that he had to learn to be content whether he was well-fed or hungry. Paul didn't start out this way, he learned through practice.

We, also, can learn to be more trusting and more generous through practice. What would it be like for a congregation to take time each week to reflect back on the acts of generosity its members had performed, witnessed, or experienced themselves? What if we returned some of our offerings to our youth group and gave them the assignment of finding a worthy charity to give it to and then report back the impact of our collective giving? What if we sought volunteers willing to try to buy less and give away more and surrounded them with prayer and listened to what they learned? What if we made space in our newsletter and Sunday service for people to share stories of generosity? What if....

The possibilities, of course, are nearly endless. And as we practice generosity we'll move more confidently from the conventional wisdom of the world to the kingdom logic Jesus taught.


Note: This post first appeared as an article on the Luther Seminary stewardship site in anticipation of its recent Rethinking Stewardship conference.

From David's blog, "...In the Meantime"