I grew up in a home that was financially stable and while our family wasn’t rich, we had all our needs met. I had never seen anyone really live in poverty before. We lived in a four bedroom home with two bathrooms and a large backyard. It was in a nice neighborhood in Southern California among other homes similar to ours. I did have a few friends who lived in small apartments, but in my childhood mind I never saw that as poverty stricken. In my limited understanding I figured that if someone had a roof over their head and a little black and white television then they were living pretty good.
When I got married, we lived in a small apartment in Reno, Nevada and I still didn’t think we were living in poverty. We didn’t have a car and couldn’t afford to go to the movies, but we had a roof over our heads and food in the fridge. We then moved to Northern California where our lives took a turn for the worse. We lived in a very tight budget and had to apply for welfare. I greatly disliked those years of our financial instability. If people tell you that living on welfare is a spoiled entitlement lifestyle let me tell you how our finances were. We had two small children and could barely cover the few bills we had, including rent. I often had to do all our laundry in the tub and hang the clothes and towels all over our apartment to let them dry. We had to ride the bus or walk everywhere we went until we made friends who had cars. I had to sign up for agencies that helped buy us food and baby formula. We would never have been able to afford diapers, wipes, and everything else a baby needs. Thankfully we had family help during those years. There were plenty of times I wished we could have given to the poor and during those years I realized that we were the poor. I grew to dislike asking for assistance and we had ran out of resources as agencies established rules that they could only help you once a year and some only once in a lifetime.
We had serious issues during the first six years of our marriage and battled with addictions that almost ripped our family apart. By the grace of God we began to work our way out of that pit and relied less on agencies and family as we grew more prosperous and practiced strict frugality. Eventually, we were able to be on our own financially and only needed help in emergency situations. One evening, we were out to dinner with a couple who asked why we lived so meagerly. The gentleman remarked that for a couple like us who were so smart and talented that we should be able to own our own home. We had invested a lot of our weekly paychecks into other people’s lives and not worried about owning a home. A large portion of our income was dedicated to our kids’ private school tuition as well as to the church.
We eventually found ourselves realizing how strict we had remained with our budget; to the point of going without basic needs just to be sure the church got that specific percentage of our gross income. Months would go by that we were wearing clothes with holes in them, worn out shoes, and no savings to help buy a new air conditioner (which is very important while living in a community where temperatures reach 115 degrees). There was no reason for us to be living that way.
We searched the bible diligently for financial principles to see if we had missed something along the way. Surely God would not want us to live so tight while the church building was lavished with crystal chandeliers, new décor every few months, and spoiling visiting preachers with brand new suits and vacations to Hawaii. It’s not that I wouldn’t want those preachers to be blessed and enjoy life, but in our minds we couldn’t figure out why God needed us to live like we were poor just so they could live off our money. It no longer made sense that the building ‘needed’ new carpet and fresh paint so often, while we desperately needed an air conditioner to survive the squelching summers.
We searched the bible diligently and discovered so much more than just the principle of sowing and reaping. We discovered the freedom that Christ gives us to choose where to invest our money. He fulfilled the Old Covenant of the tithe and we no longer have Levite priests to collect the tithes and offerings. Jesus is our First Fruit.
So we began to follow the Spirit’s guidance in how we believe Christ has freed us to give to others. This is when we started to really enjoy our giving more than ever before. We no longer felt bound in our giving, nor resentful. It’s too easy to become resentful about your giving when you don’t like how the leadership is spending your money. It’s even worse when the spending is lied about and the congregation is manipulated to give more than what they can even afford.
Now we make up our own minds who we want to invest in. Sometimes it’s a single mom, an elderly couple, or the children in our neighborhood. Our giving is our own business and we get to help people on the spur of the moment, because our money isn’t tied up in religious obligations to build yet another building with extravagant fixtures and debt inducing insurance policies.
We feel confident in our giving and in turn, we get to enjoy the spiritual reward of our giving as we enjoy our blessings with others. There are times when we bless a family intended for them to enjoy the gift and other times we join them in the blessing. We can have a family over to enjoy a meal with us instead of just giving them a gift certificate to the grocery store (even thought a gift certificate is a very good thing to give). For a family who doesn’t do a lot of cooking, a home cooked meal and fellowship is worth more than one bag of food. We enjoy giving in traumatic situations as well. It’s good to know that we have some available funds from time to time to speedily send some money to a family in crisis.
While all this kind of giving is good and people are thankful for the gifts and help, we do not have to go without just to fund their need. There certainly is a deep satisfying joy found in sacrificing our own luxuries in order to help people in need, but we cannot possibly meet every need our there. If we work ourselves into debt just to provide for all the poverty stricken families out there then the budget gets totally out of balance. We need to provide for our own needs first. I liken this principle to an analogy from an airline stewardess. She informs the parents on board that if the masks fall from the panel they are to put their oxygen masks on first before they put them on their children. If the parents were to put them on their children first, they could pass out and leave the children stranded without their parent’s assistance. If we give all that we have away to everyone else, we would need someone else to bail us out again. This is a dangerous cycle of unwise and irresponsible financial giving. God does not ask us to lose our own homes just to make sure the church building can buy new pews or pay the electric bill on a building nobody lives in. We should never be so strapped by our religious giving that our first financial priorities to our own families are neglected.
Now we are at a place in our lives where we can both give and enjoy the fruits of our own labor. We own a home and while it’s a modest home, we have chosen to have a small home so we can travel more. We want to share our travels with others so we can enjoy these blessings together. I don’t think God ever intended that we live in poverty out of obligation. If people choose to do so because their hearts are with the people they serve then bravo for them. At the same time its bravo for us to live as we see fit as well. In Jeremiah we see that God told him that he had plans for him was to prosper. Why would God (who is the same yesterday, today, and forever) not also offer us the same prosperity? Who said that God would decline us the opportunity to prosper in the physical world? He blessed Solomon with great physical wealth! He gives us opportunities to become educated, he gives us wisdom liberally (as much as we ask for), and why not use our education and wisdom to prosper financially?
I’m not saying that everyone can sign up for a “Get-rich-with-God-quick” scheme. I’m just saying: If we do become wealthy, why not enjoy it and help others to enjoy life too? We have the freedom to designate our giving by wisely investing into lives that we believe will benefit from it. It is at our discretion who we give to and why we give to them. I’m not boasting of our giving, for I believe we shouldn’t let our ‘right hand know what our let hand is doing’. I’m just exercising our freedom in Christ to spend our money the way we desire to.
This is what we believe about ‘giving’ in our journey through organic faith. No need to have a doctrinal chain of bondage to imprison us into obligations we can’t afford to live up to. In giving with this kind of freedom, we have come to enjoy the Kingdom so much more.
And no, this is not a ‘prosperity gospel’. I don’t believe that money saves a person’s soul. I just happen to believe that we have the freedom to enjoy what money can do for us.