What would you do with million dollars?
(For the sake of this question, I don’t know exactly how you got this million dollars, but you got it legally and ethically. Let’s say it was an inheritance from a relative you didn’t know you had, so you’re not really sad about it. It’s just $1 million that fell into your lap!)
What would you do?
Well, the first thing you should do would be pay taxes on it. And if you don’t think you would, maybe you should read this real quick.
So you pay taxes on it. Now, what would you do with $600,000?
Would you take an amazing trip? Would you pay off your house? Pay off your student loans?
Maybe you’d something really good with it?! Maybe you’d tithe on it, or go above and beyond the tithe on it!
But the real, most-likely possibility of coming into a million dollars is that it would ruin your life. You would probably have no idea what to do with it, and it would hurt your relationships and cause a whole lot of resentment, and you’d end up wishing that you never got to begin with.
But guess what?
You will see a million dollars in your life, just not all at once probably, and it holds the same risk that it will ruin your life.
It’s a risk that is commensurate with how much money you make, or receive.
And the real problem for Christians is that the more money you get, the more likely you are to rely on it, and to let it pull you away from your relationship with God.
In fact, most of Jesus’ teachings about money are precisely about that.
But it’s not all bad news. It never is with Jesus.
He has provided us with a solution.
When you make giving a priority, something happens inside of you. Especially when it’s financially challenging to do so.
We are all enmeshed in a value system that says, “Money is the key to life and happiness and safety.” And to some degree, we all believe it. But giving is the biggest thing that makes that false value system loosen its grip on us.
We all have some number in our minds that we say, “If I had this much money, I’d be set.” But money is like a bully that keeps moving the goal line. No matter how much more we make, the amount we think we need to finally have made it gets bigger, and we never do.
Giving helps us to see that the magically moving goal line is imaginary.
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus says,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
And that is really Jesus’ main concern with all of his teaching about money. His primary goal isn’t to fund his church, or even to do good things for the world. His main priority is your heart. My heart. Because he saw, just as we’ve all seen, that money can lure people away from God.
But the solution, as we’ve also seen over the past four weeks, I hope, isn’t: give all your money away and live in a commune. Jesus shows us that by giving, by being generous, we can avoid the pitfalls of money, grow closer to God, and as an added bonus, feel better about our finances in the end.
And we do it by following 3 principles.
The first one is that giving has to be a priority.
Jesus wants to develop our character more than anything else, so that we are generous as second nature. Isn’t that the kind of people that we want to be? The ones whose generosity is as natural as breathing? Not the ones who agonize over it, or take selfies while doing it.
Well, that happens by making giving a priority. The best way to make giving a priority is to make it the very first check you write every month. Before the mortgage or rent. Before groceries or clothing. Even before saving.
It’s like going to the gym first thing in the morning, but for your relationship with money.
So do it first because that’s what you do when something is a priority. The second principle also starts with the letter P.
Our giving percentages are a much better indicator of our relationship with money and God, than amounts.
“Percentages give a better reflection of whether you have control of your money or your money has control of you.” -Andy Stanley
So what percentage should you give? Well, the Bible writers have a lot to say about the tithe, which means, “tenth” or 10%. For some people, that’s extremely uncomfortable. But so is a colonoscopy, and those save countless lives. It just depends on how badly you want to protect yourself from the side effects of having money.
That’s one of the things that Jesus was praising in this story from Luke 21: 1-4
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
The widow was more generous than the rich people because the percentage is more important to God than the amount. It’s the percentage that shows where you are with God.
The most important thing is to start somewhere. Even if it’s just 1%. Seriously, start there!
Or if you think of your giving in terms of a number of dollars, and you are giving that consistently, figure out what percentage it is of your income and start thinking about it like that.
It’s not an all or nothing proposition.
It’s not tithe or nothing. It’s more important that you consider your generosity seriously, and then stick to your decision consistently, than that you give spontaneously because you are caught up in a moment.
There’s nothing wrong with spontaneous giving! But if it doesn’t turn into a habit, it doesn’t change your heart. And that’s what God is after.
God doesn’t need your money, but he does want your heart.
So whatever percentage you give, the third P is for you too.
If you want lasting change in generosity, then this is for you. To be progressive means that over time you raise the percentage. As your financial situation changes throughout life, increase your giving percentage along with it.
This means that if you give 1% this month, you move up to 2% next month. If you’ve been giving 10% for so long that it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice any more, move up to 12 or 15%.
Because the great thing about giving is that you do get used to whatever you’re giving. It becomes comfortable. And while financial comfort is a good thing, it can also make you more vulnerable to the side effects of money. So progress in your giving.
Those are our three principles for giving.
Make your giving a prioirty.
Base it on percentages
And make it progressive.
If you do this, you will feel better about money. You will stop putting your hope in money, and start putting it where your hope belongs, in God who provides all your needs.
If you are struggling to give, take just one step, and in a way that works for you. You don’t have to give in the hardest way possible for it to count, or for it to change your relationship with money.
Figure out a percent you can make work in your life right now and commit to give that much. Even if it is only 1%. Even if it is only half a percent. But set that amount, and stick to it.
When it comes to money, and especially to giving, it’s really not all or nothing. It’s not giving everything or giving nothing at all. You don’t walk away with a million dollars or walk away empty handed. It’s one step at a time, one dollar at a time.
It’s about choosing each day to be a little more generous, and a little more trusting of God’s care for us.
About the Author
David Collins is the co-pastor of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find him on Twitter @davidrcollins