The Call to Generosity

The Bible issues an unequivocal call for us to be generous.

If anyone is poor among your people... do not be hardhearted or tight-fisted toward them. Rather, be open-handed and freely lend them whatever they need. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27-31)

A family stand outside their bamboo home in the Philippines

God calls for our lives to be marked by an extravagant generosity that flows from a wholehearted commitment to a world where everyone has enough to live the life God intends

This call to generosity is driven by a vision of a world where every person has sufficient to maintain good health, belong to a community, enjoy strong and supportive relationships, be free from danger and free to worship God.

When Jesus speaks of the coming of God’s kingdom it is this type of world he has in mind. Followers of Jesus are called to make this vision their own, to “seek first the kingdom of God”. We are called to make it our life goal to do all we can to bring this world into being. Our interest will not be in acquiring goods but in expending what we have on feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the stranger (Matthew 25:31-45).

The Scriptures do not call for occasional acts of generosity. Rather God calls for our lives to be marked by an extravagant generosity that flows from a wholehearted commitment to a world where everyone has enough to live the life God intends.

Becoming Generous

The challenge for us is to truly own this. We live in an age of extraordinary affluence where it is assumed that the good life is to consume as much as possible. Our incomes have risen threefold over the last fifty years, but rather than becoming more generous we simply spend more on ourselves.

Imagine if at the turn of the millennium we had said, “We are already living very well. From now on any new income we earn we will share with the world’s poor”. Instead of the paltry $4.26 per week that we donate to charity, by now Australian households would have been donating an average of $300 a week!

How do we become more generous?

First, we need to own the fact that we are greedy. We may like to think of ourselves as kind and generous, but the reality is very few of us are. This becomes clear when we realise how much we spend on discretionary goods and services in a world where millions cannot even fill their stomachs.

Second, we just need to get on with it. In Matthew 6 Jesus teaches that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, our hearts will follow our money. Accumulate riches and that is what will occupy your time and emotional energy. Invest in the poor and that is what you will soon begin to focus upon.

Third, we need to allow the biblical vision of the good life to become our own; to see our life purpose as creating a world that conforms to God’s will, which includes ensuring there is sufficient for all. If we immerse ourselves in the Gospels and in stories from those living in poverty that show the change that is possible, we will begin to we see this world coming into reality, become emotionally invested in it and will want to give all we can to make it happen.

Fourth, most of us will find it too difficult to make the quantum leap from where we are now to where we want to be. But perhaps we can get there incrementally. For example, why not lift your giving today and then make an incremental increase every six or twelve months?

Giving Well

When it comes to giving, it is helpful to be aware of what makes for good giving. There are many organisations appealing for your money. Though they might all have good intentions not all have good outcomes.

Consider orphanages

Australians love to support them. We are moved with compassion for orphaned children and funding an orphanage is a very tangible way to care. It’s even possible to visit and meet the children. But individuals and churches are often unaware that orphanages are, more often than not, harmful.

A recent UNICEF study found that over 70% of children in Cambodian orphanages are not orphans, a figure replicated in studies of orphanages around the world. Most children are placed in orphanages by impoverished parents who believe that the orphanage, with its greater resources, will provide better opportunities for their child than they can. This is so tragic as the orphanage system is not only dividing families, there is substantial body of research showing that orphanages are quite detrimental to the healthy psychological, social and emotional development of children.

Australian supporters would make a much more significant difference if they directed their money to programs that help poor families develop livelihoods and keep their families intact and support foster care programs that provide vastly superior care for those who are orphaned.

Three things to look for in programs that are truly transformational

Be aware of the difference between welfare and development. Look for projects that build a community’s capacity to meet its own needs and avoid projects that depend on outsiders doing or providing things.

  • Welfare is the provision of things such as food, water, money, etc by outsiders. Short term welfare is important after a disaster such as an earthquake or flood, but when it is provided long term, it creates unhealthy dependencies
  • Development is the mobilisation of communities to grow their own food, earn their own income, care for their own children, dig their own wells, etc. Development however creates sustainable, long term transformation because it builds up people and communities

Be aware of best practice principles. In the last fifty years we have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t in helping communities grapple with poverty. Do a little investigation to discover what is considered good practice within the sector. We have already noted best and worst practice approached with orphanages.

Be aware of the importance of good governance. The money you provide can easily be diverted for uses other than the reason you gave it. Look for projects that have good governance structures and strong lines of accountability.