Disciplined Giving in The Era of AutoPay

You guys left some really thoughtful, really insightful comments on my previous post about charitable giving (I would expect nothing less from you smarty-pantses). Your comments have been rolling around in my head for the past few weeks, and have sparked some new ideas, so here’s a follow-up post, and I’m sorry if it rubs you the wrong way.

A couple of you expressed a similar point, and that’s that giving isn’t about me and my growth (or us and our growth), so much as it is about providing for the needs of others, and I have to admit, at first I was a little stung by the implication that I’m giving selfishly. But then I thought about it some more, and there’s a couple things I see happening:

  1. I didn’t explain my thoughts completely the first time. This is a bad habit for me. This might sound like a cop-out, but here it is: in my head, one idea expands into a giant web of interconnected ideas so quickly, that I rush though explaining how I got from point A to point B (and C, then D, then E), in favor of writing everything out as quickly as I can, lest I forget everything. The result is too many big ideas that lack sufficient background or explanation. I’m trying to improve in this area, but also, I want to keep my posts under 500 words, so….It’s a tough compromise.
  2. I bit my tongue, and censored myself, because I don’t want to piss anyone off, or alienate you wonderful people. I have some things to say about automatic giving, and I’m afraid of how it will be received. More on that in a moment.

That all being said, let’s do this thing.

To the point that “giving is about meeting a need, and has nothing to do with what get out of it:” I don’t think God is concerned with the bottom-line, when it comes to giving. An easy example of this is the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44, wherein she gives far less amount-wise, but far more in terms of sacrifice. This shows her great faith and gratitude. Jesus says she gave more than all the rest, though in dollars, she gave a fraction of a penny. So when I talk about not giving “enough,” I don’t mean enough in terms of the dollar amount, but in terms of expressing my faith and gratitude. In this regard, my family is very much like the wealthy folks in that story, throwing in our excess money and not even thinking about it. And boy, is that humbling.

Giving is a Discipline. Disciplines Take Practice. (Maintain a Loose Grasp.)

Our nature (and this is strictly my opinion here) is to keep a firm grasp on what “belongs to us.” You can see this in children, who are reluctant or unwilling to share toys, out of fear that the toys will never be returned, and the feeling that those toys belong to them. I think grown-ups are kind of like that, only that we’ve learned to put a smile on, and share just enough to be socially acceptable.

Because of our very human inclination towards maintaining a tight grasp on our material possessions, I know that I need to practice giving. I need to practice putting my hand into my pocket, pulling out some money, extending it to another person, opening my hand, and not expecting a single thing in return. I need to practice remembering that none of what I have “belongs to me,” and I need to practice letting that understanding overcome my will, and my desire to give just enough to be socially in the black.

(Question I like to ask myself, to check-in on the state of my heart: “How tight is my grasp on “stuff” and money, right now?”)

Automatic Giving/ Auto-Tithing Stunts Our Spiritual Growth

Someone in the comments said that automatic giving is great, because it shows that I’m “disciplined” in my giving. I would argue that the opposite is true. It’s not “disciplined giving” if it’s automatically withdrawn. “Discipline,” by definition, results from training, and training takes effort and thought. (Interesting that “discipline” and “disciple” share the same root.)

Automatic giving/auto-tithing circumvents a spiritual process of recognizing that what I have is not really mine, and really only serves the legalistic purpose of meeting the bottom line. And like I said, I don’t think God is at all concerned with the bottom line. I think God can, and does, work miracles with even the smallest portion, given from a full and loving heart. (Loaves and fishes, for example.)

I think God is more concerned with the condition of my heart, than whether or not I’m giving a lot of dollars, and in that regard, giving is more about me than meeting a need. I think God wants me to go through that process every single time: saying thank you, counting my blessings, and giving what I can for the benefit of others. And I can’t do that if my church is automatically drafting tithes from my bank account. The very reason people use auto-tithe is because it simplifies the process, and they are assured that they’ll fulfill their giving obligation for the month. And I just don’t buy that line of reasoning.

(The pastor of the church my family used to attend would remind folks, in the weeks running up to summer, that they should consider enabling auto-tithing before they go on summer vacation, that way they don’t “forget to give.” This would always make my ears ring “so the money is more important than the act of worship?” Perhaps, rather than treating the symptoms (tithing slows to a trickle over the summer), we should treat the illness (congregants don’t understand giving)?

(Um. Also, how reverent is my worship when my automatic-tithe gets the same amount of my attention as my student-loan payment?)

Giving is an Antidote to Greed.

This one is pretty easy. Habitual, intentional giving breaks us of our habit of greed, and keeps us from tightening our grasp too much. And one of my favorite things Jesus said, can be found in Matthew 6:19-21 — “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Bingo. I’ve heard this said and re-said (“Want to know a person’s priorities? Take a look at their checkbook”) so many times over the years, and it is as true today as it was when Jesus said it.

Other Assorted Bits That I Can’t Be Bothered to Organize Right This Moment:

Giving is meant to be a joyful expression of thanks to God from the heart, and not a legalistic obligation.

Amy (in the comments of my previous post) said “I think sacrificial (truly joyful) giving comes from a truly thankful heart. If we come to understand that everything given us is completely unmerited, then I think GIVING then becomes a true act of worship. It’s not the amount…not at all…it’s our attitudes behind the gift.”

And now I’m 600 words over my self-imposed limit.

I hope you’re happy. 🙂 But seriously, I want to continue this conversation, because I think we’re beginning to touch on some really sensitive issues. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve heard anyone address finances in a church-setting (not counting Dave Ramsey), and I think there’s a lot of unresolved tension in this. Wanna sort this out with me? Lord knows I have more blind-spots than I can count. Say what’s on your mind in the comments, below.

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Let’s be friends!

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