To Give or Not to Give — Is that Your Question?

Maybe it’s happened to you. You see someone on the street, looking as if life has kicked them around pretty hard. He’s got a cardboard sign summarizing his sad story. She has a haggard look that says more than any sign could. An extended hand, an empty hat, a pained look – all stir within you a desire to give.

But should you?

What if they’ll simply use your gift to support an addictive habit? What if they’re really scam artists? What if your gift will be squandered? What if _______?

Truth be told, most of us simply cross the street to avoid the awkward question in the first place and order a smaller size latte to assuage our guilt.

But the question is a real one we encounter often if we’re engaging the needy world around us. As a steward of the stuff God has given me, where does my responsibility end? Is it enough that I gave – and now feel better for it – or is that simply my own selfish desires gone awry once again? Should I just wait until I’m rich to give?

And why did I give anyways?

Aargh! It’s enough to make us go bury it all and wait for the Master’s return. Except that approach didn’t work out so well either. And I don’t recall Jesus ever crossing the street to avoid awkward interactions.

So what are we to do when we’re not sure if we should give?

To Give or Not to Give

I don’t claim to know some magic formula to determine legitimate giving, but here are a few principles I would suggest we remember when asking whether or not we should give.

  1. We are but stewards. Caretakers don’t actually own anything, although it sure can feel as if we do. Like Lord Denathor, the errant Steward of Gondor in Tolkien’s tale The Lord of the Rings, it’s easy for the caretaker to think he owns it all. Yet all that we have has been given to us for the sole purpose of expanding the reach of the gospel. Whatever the answer to each scenario, we must start by reminding ourselves of this truth that we are forever prone to forget.
  2. God gave us no detailed direction. Like it or not, Jesus didn’t give us detailed giving instructions on when to give or not to give. True, we’ve got the widows and orphans thing. That’s clear enough. But John 7:13 doesn’t say, “And when you enter the city on the third Tuesday after the Feast of Weeks, you shall give two shekels each to every other beggar you encounter, provided they are facing east and not wearing the color purple.” If only…. Such instructions would be helpful – if we’re simply trying to check the box to soothe our conscience. Which brings us to the most critical realization:
  3. Our giving must be led by the Spirit. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the Sons of God.” To some critics, citing the leading of the Holy Spirit may seem a cop-out, but it’s not. It’s actually the hardest part of this whole stewardship thing. To be led by the Spirit, we must daily cultivate our relationship with him. We must be ever growing more sensitive to His still, small voice, recognizing his gentle prodding of our hearts, and continually surrendering our desires to His. Nothing easy about that.
  4. We must be willing to mess up. When it comes to money, mistakes can be scary stuff. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira. For some of us, it’s the fear of failure, not the fear of poor stewardship that keeps our wallets and purses closed. To paraphrase a saying from Andy Stanley, we’re afraid that if we don’t really check out the person to whom we give our (sorry, His) money, God won’t ensure it gets used to accomplish His work in His way. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for due diligence. But using it as a chronic excuse not to give probably isn’t the right place.
  5. When in doubt, give it away. The bottom line is that we will often by left in this grey area when it comes to giving. Perhaps we’re sensing the Spirit’s prompting to give. Perhaps we’re mistaken. But if our own motive is pure, isn’t it best to err on the side of generosity and let God discern the thoughts and intents of the hearts on the other end?  It’s not as if God only has so much stuff to spread around. Go ahead, give all you want. He’ll make more.

The unfortunate truth is that our reluctance to give is often more about our own pride, idols of control, and a lack of faith than about our concern for being good stewards of God’s stuff.

At least that’s true for me. It’s only when I quit clenching God’s stuff so tightly that I can be truly led by His Spirit to give it – or not give it – as He sees fit.

Do you ever struggle with this question of when to give? What principles and practices have you found helpful in figuring out when to be generous? 

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