How many of us want to get to the end or our lives and have people gather at our funeral and talk about all the things we accumulated during our lifetime? How many of us want people to stand around talking about all the cars, houses, collections and investments that we left behind? My guess is that most of us don’t really want that. Most of us would want people sharing stories about how we gave our time, energy, passion, talents and money in ways that significantly changed people’s lives.
If you have children or grandchildren, how many of you want to see them become more generous people? How many of you want to see them more willing to give, more excited to give and more passionate and generous in giving? How many of us what to feel more excited and passionate about giving? How many of us want to be more generous?
For the next four weeks we are going to address some of these issues as we learn some lessons about what it means to give. We will learn what can motivate us to give, what effect giving can have on us and the people and world around us and how we can learn to give more. My hope is that these four weeks will challenge us all to live life differently and that we will find ways to give more of ourselves to God as well as our family, friends, community, church and world. To learn about giving I am using the word G.I.VE. which stand for Generosity – Inspiration – Vision – Effectiveness. Each one of these words will teach us something about giving and today we are going to start with Generosity.
The word generosity comes from the Latin word generosus which means of noble birth and up until the 17th century the word was used exclusively to talk about people born into nobility and came from the right blood line. During the 17th century, however, the definition changed and generosity came to mean having a noble spirit or character. A generous person wasn’t just someone born into the right family but a person whose life was characterized by noble virtues like courage, strength and kindness. By the 18th century the world changed again and focused on just one of those virtues which was the giving of money and possessions to others. What is important about all of this is that being generous isn’t just be something that we do – it should be a reflection of who we are.
Today we are going to define generosity as giving good things to others freely and abundantly. So there is an attitude involved in generosity – we give freely and without thought of return or reward. We don’t give because we are forced or compelled to give but because we choose to. So there is attitude involved in generosity but there is also action – we give something and whatever we give we give a lot, or in abundance. Now when we talk about giving this month I want to be clear that we are not just talking about giving money. We can and need to give money because it is a valuable resource that is part of all of our lives and unfortunately money has the power to take hold of our lives, but we can also give possessions, time, attention, help, support, emotional availability, forgiveness, encouragement and many other things.
So we can give many different things, but how often we give is also important because generosity isn’t a onetime gift as much as it is a lifestyle. Remember the word generous talked about the entire life of a person not just one action. What makes this really important is understanding that it is when we give freely and abundantly day after day, week after week and year after year that giving has the capacity to shape our hearts and lives in ways that a single gift cannot. So generosity is a way of living that leads to a lifetime of giving.
A lot of what I want to share on generosity comes from this new book called The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson. In 2010 they did an extensive survey of 2,000 Americans and here is what they found out. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own standing. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away we ourselves move toward flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching, it is a sociological fact.
None of this should be a surprise to us because we have read this in the scriptures. Look at Proverbs 11:24-25, Malachi 3:10-12, Luke 17:33
So the scriptures echo this very idea that giving in some way improves our lives and so what Smith and Davidson did was look at 5 areas of life that are improved when we give. Those areas are:
• Physical Health
• Purpose for Living
• Avoidance of Depression
• Interest in Personal Growth
What they discovered is that the more people gave of their time and money, the more they experienced positive results in these areas. People who gave more were happier, healthier, had a greater sense of purpose in life, experienced less depression and a greater desire to learn and grow. So let me ask – do you want any of these things today? Do you want to be happier and healthier? Do you want a greater sense of purpose and meaning in life? Do we want to overcome anxiety and depression and have a greater desire to learn more, experience more and grab hold of more in life? If we do, the answer is simple. We need to give generously.
Studies have shown that it’s not just giving that makes people happier and healthier but it is giving generously. People who gave 10% of their income away were happier than those who gave less. People who volunteered 6 hours a week were less depressed and had a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life than those who volunteered 3. There is a very real correlation between giving generously and being happy and healthy. If you are wondering why this might be, let me give you two answers, one is physical and the other is emotional.
Studies have shown that when people give generously of their time or money it releases chemicals in the brain that increase pleasure, reduce stress and suppress pain. Oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and endorphins are all released as people give and these chemicals make us happier and decrease stress and anxiety which in turn makes us physically healthier. Giving literally makes us healthier and the studies show that the more we give the healthier and happier we are. Now this doesn’t mean that we won’t get sick, battle cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Clearly there are many different factors that contribute to our physical well-being, but statistically it is shown that giving helps us and the more we give the better off we are.
Generosity also fosters and reinforces positive emotions which leads to greater happiness and a sense of well-being. We simply feel better about ourselves when we give. Think about how good it feels to serve someone? For those who walked in the Crop Walk on Sunday, you might have been tired and worn out, but didn’t you feel good emotionally? When we do our serving our seniors day in the spring the comment heard over and over again by volunteers is how good it feels to help someone. Giving generously helps us feel good about ourselves. We feel valuable and worthwhile which helps lift depression and gives us a greater sense of purpose.
Giving to others also connects us to people which expands our social network of real relationships. These are not facebook friends that we may never meet, but real people we can sit and talk to, hold their hands as we pray together and find ways to connect. Real personal connections have been proved to increase a sense of wellbeing in just about every area of life.
I hope you can begin to see the evidence of how powerful and life changing generosity can be. When we give freely and abundantly we get so much more in return and we get those things that money can’t buy like happiness, health, mental health, a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Now here’s the thing. We understand this, we see it, we have heard it from God’s word and many of us have experienced it, so why don’t’ we live it out more faithfully and consistently?
In their study on generosity, Smith and Davidson found that only 4 or 5% of Americans give 10% of their income away and while as a nation we do a better job with giving our time (27% of people will volunteer), ¾ of our nation doesn’t volunteer at all. Now there are some very good reasons many people may not volunteer, like health, mobility and age (either too young or too old), but there are still a large number of people who simply choose not to give their time and 86% or our nation gives less than 2% of their income to any kind of church or charity.
The bad news is that these figures are very close to what we find in the church as well. According to a 2012 Survey by the Barna group, those who tithed or gave 10% of their income to the church was about 5% and according to The Paradox of Giving, the number of volunteers in the church is still about 27%. I don’t say this to shame us; it’s just the truth we need to face up to. While we don’t give for many reasons, what we fail to remember is that when we don’t give generously we are actually hurting ourselves. When we don’t give we are cutting ourselves off from happiness, physical and emotional health, a greater sense of purpose and an interest in life. We know we should give more, we know we would feel better if we would give more and we know God is calling us to give more, but we don’t and we need to wrestle with why.
One reason we don’t give is because giving generously is hard work. According Smith and Davidson they say that generosity requires us to learn something different, something that may not feel natural and requires real personal change. Generosity does not come easily and it is not what we see around us which means it requires us to confront some deep questions about what we want in life, what we need and what will bring us security, stability and success. In other words we have to do some soul searching and ask God how He wants us to live. How much money is enough? What are we saving for? Is our faith and trust in God or in our investments? Are we giving enough of our time away or maybe too much time away? These are not easy questions for us to explore.
Beyond soul searching we have to do some decision making. Can we make the hard decisions to start giving more of our money and our time? Can we give 10% to the church not just once, but every week and every month and every year? Right now that might seem absolutely impossible, but is it? What might we have to do in order to be more generous with our money or time? Can we start doing something this week?
So generosity calls for some tough decision making but then we have to keep it going with generous living. Generosity calls for learning new routines, implementing new practices and embracing a new lifestyle. Again, generosity is not a onetime gift – it’s learning a new way of life where we consistently give in ways that shape who we are. Giving once is great, but it doesn’t shape our hearts and lives the same way that giving day after day does.
Jesus did some soul searching, decision making and generous living. Jesus spent time in prayer where he asked God how He wanted him to live his life and how much he was to give and where he was to place his faith and trust. Jesus had to make some difficult decisions about what to do with his time, energy, love and power. Jesus didn’t have any money to give, but he gave generously in other ways that forever changed people’s lives and our world. Jesus also did some generous living. Day after day Jesus gave all he had to those around him and because he was willing to give each day when he got to the end of his life he was able and willing to joyfully give himself completely to the world.
The Communion meal we share today is a place where Jesus generously gives himself to us and as we receive these gifts of bread and wine, God is calling us to give what we have to give. When we share in communion we are saying that we want to follow in the way of Jesus who said, those who want to find their lives will lose it, but those who are willing to lose their lives, (those who give and live generously) will find life. Studies prove this is true. God has said this is true. Jesus shows us this is true. So let us give and live generously so that we might find life.
G.I.V.E. ~ Generosity
Read the following scriptures that talk about generosity and giving:
• Psalm 112:5-7
• Proverbs 11:24-25
• Malachi 3:8-12
• Luke 17:33
• Acts 20:35
• 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
How much money do you currently give to the church?
• To community agencies that help others?
• To meet the needs of our world?
How much time do you give volunteering in the church?
• In the schools?
• In the community?
Can you increase the percentage of money you give to the church?
• What would it look like if you gave 10% to God this month?
• What is holding you back from making this decision?
Studies have shown that generous giving increases our:
• Physical Health
• Purpose in Living
• Avoidance of Depression
• Interest in Personal Growth
Identify one area where you would like to experience a greater sense of well-being. How might generosity help in that area?
Check out the book The Paradox of Giving for a deeper look at how in giving we receive and in grasping we lose.