Have you ever gone through a drive-thru and arrived at the window to pay for your order, only to find out that the person in front of you had already taken care of it? Wow! Not only are you completely surprised, but you now have a smile on your face and an emotional boost to your day. If you are like me, you want to race through the parking lot, find the person, roll down your window and say, “Thank you so much. You didn’t have to do that!”
Of course, they didn’t have to pay for your food. But that wasn’t the point, was it? No doubt, as they drove away, they were imagining the look on your face when the drive-thru attendant gave you the news. They probably also remember the smile on the attendance’s face when they paid your bill. After all, that is precisely why they did it. To cause you to smile for a reason that you didn’t see coming.
That, I think, is the essence of generosity. You and I are generous when we give some of what we have to someone else simply because we want to, not because we have to.
The person in front of you at the drive-thru didn’t buy your breakfast for the recognition. Instead, they did it so they could look in their rearview mirror and see your look of surprise and the smile on your face. Then they drove away. And they were probably already planning the next time they were going to do the same thing for someone else. Generosity can be addictive.
Generosity, of course, is not limited to our finances. We can be generous with our time, our resources, our expertise and even our relationships. It seems to me that in order for our actions to be generous, though, our gifts must be tangible.
A lifestyle of tangible generosity can be found throughout the pages of the Bible.
In Genesis, we see Abraham’s hospitality generously expressed to his three unexpected guests.
The closing chapters of the same book describe a shockingly generous Joseph interacting with his selfish and self-centred brothers.
Jesus tells the story of a father who is remarkably generous with his wayward son who returns.
And, of course, the widow at the temple gates is a profound example of sacrificial generosity.
Why, though, would you and I choose to live generous lives? What would motivate us to live that way? A lifestyle of generosity is deeply rooted in Scripture. We can discover a potentially life-changing truth expressed in Deuteronomy 8:17–18:
“You may say to yourself, My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God…”
Nothing we have is ours. Everything we have is actually a gift from God, either directly or indirectly.
Wait a minute, you may be thinking to yourself. I am the one who goes to work every day. I am the one who has invested my time, money and energy to earn what I now have. Me.
Yes, you and I work hard every day and we produce a lot of…stuff. But who gives us the ability to work, to create, to achieve, to produce? God does.
The context of the verses in Deuteronomy 8 is significant. The Exodus has happened. The Law has been given. A glimpse of a prosperous new future has been shown. In other words, God has been (and will continue to be) generous. And then, a warning:
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you.… Do not forget the Lord your God…. Otherwise, when you eat…, build…, settle down, and when your herds…grow…and your silver and gold increase…, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:10–14).
“Remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth”
Generosity is our response to God, and it reflects who we think he really is. “Remembering the Lord” is not the result of our generosity (i.e., God gets the credit), rather, it is our motivation for generosity. When we are generous with others, we are acknowledging the sovereignty of God and are thanking him for his generosity toward us.
In a sense, as followers of God and imitators of Jesus, we are blessed with the amazing experience of spending someone else’s money and sharing the gifts that someone else has given to us. In a very real way, our generosity actually costs us nothing, but it changes and blesses the world around us. We are simply redistributing what God has given us, whether finances, time or abilities. That is exciting!
Perhaps, then, there are a few questions we need to ask ourselves:
Big questions, aren’t they?
We are generous, because we know the difference our generosity will make in the lives of others. The more generous we are, the more lives we impact (mission). The more generous we are, the more effective our churches, schools and ministries become at affecting lives (multiplication). And the more generous we are, the more our own lives are changed for the better (transformation).
How would my world be different – how would the world of the people and ministries around me be different – if I were to make a lifestyle of generosity?
I know what I’m going to do the next time I drive up to the window and there is someone placing an order behind me. And as I make a quick getaway, I won’t be the only one with a huge smile on my face!
A drive-thru is just the beginning. Will you join me in a new life of generosity?
—Mark Wessner is president of MB Seminary.