The Bible calls God’s people to be generous but isn’t exactly clear what precisely God expects. How much should we give? The Old Testament set the standard of a tithe, giving 10% as an offering to God. In the New Testament, Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Zacchaeus gave half of what he had. Jesus praised the widow who gave pennies, though it was all she had.
So, which is it? Does God want 10%, 50%, 100%, or whatever we have to offer? The apostle Paul said we should give with a cheerful heart. So, should we wait to give until we feel happy about it?
Actually, I think we miss God’s desire when we try to pin down his commands and find precise guidelines. After all, whatever we have is already a gift from God. As author Andrew Murray said, “How different our standard is from Christ’s. We ask how much a man gives. He asks how much he keeps.”
I think God’s prescription for giving is found in the Gospel of Luke. “Give, and it will be given to you,” Jesus said. Theologian Scott Rodin calls this “a beautiful arrangement.” When we see a need and respond out of obedience and joy, Rodin says, we receive “an eternal reward for this act of faithfulness.”
A few years ago, my wife Reneé and I were astounded by the reality of this truth. We decided to send funds for a special gift for each of our sponsored children during Christmastime. Since I became president of World Vision in 1998, I have accumulated more than a handful of sponsored children. This Christmas gift wasn’t going to be cheap.
Over the next few months, however, Reneé and I laughed and cried with joy as we learned what these children and their families did with their gift. One by one, letters with photos came to us full of thanks and appreciation. What gave us the most joy was to see how meaningful these gifts were to those children and their families.
One boy received his first mattress to sleep on. Another sent us a hilarious picture of himself in plaid shorts, a plaid sports coat, a new hat, and new sneakers. He stood next to a large cow and wore an enormous grin. In the letter accompanying the photo, he wrote about his new clothes and “this fine bull.”
Those letters provided Reneé and me with tremendous joy as we discovered how our sponsored children used the gifts they received. It was also addictive — we wanted a little more of that joy. For me, those letters illustrated Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38, “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”
Many World Vision supporters have found giving generously so addictive they’re encouraging others to joyfully join them, realizing the truth in the promise of “Give — and it will be given to you.”
World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns is the author of The Hole In Our Gospel and Unfinished. Follow him at twitter.com/richstearns.