Give even when it hurts
Amid redundancies, spending cuts and mounting debt, how can a Christian keep giving? Marianne Clough finds a new way to think about generosity...
Back in 2008 the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, challenged us to see the imminent recession with fresh and hopeful eyes. He said our greedy consumerism had worn away the glue that held our communities together.
Two years down the track, the latest report from the Charity Commission says that 19 per cent of charities have seen an increased demand for their services, while 59 per cent say they have been adversely affected by the downturn.
In the same way that people who have experienced real evil in their lives can be quicker to recognise a good thing when it comes along, the recession gives us the perfect backdrop to show that Christians do things differently.
The gift of life
I was sitting quietly in church before a service recently and became aware that everything around me was soaked in God. The wood in the pew: grown by Him. The air itself: breathed by Him. Every heartbeat of the people near me: powered by His choice to give us the gift of life.
Whatever we give needs to be motivated by a fresh remembrance of the powerful God of John 1.3 and from cheerful thankfulness to Him. We can't out-give God, so we need to aim to give as if directly to Him, not with a spirit that says, "Good, conscience abated," but rather, "Lord, this is yours, as everything I have is yours. Thank you for letting me keep the rest."
In Mark 12 the widow didn't have anything to give, yet God looked at her heart and measured her gift by her motive. So before we sign the direct debit, we need to examine our hearts or we risk being like Cain, whose offering was notably inadequate.
Christians Against Poverty's CEO Matt Barlow says, "It might sound far-fetched, but getting your bank statements out could be the beginning of a great work of God."
A generous spirit
However your personality may rage against it - as mine does - getting your finances organised and setting a budget is the only way forward. It's then that can we decide how sacrificially we can go.
One couple I know does this rather differently: they have an account set aside just for God's work. With impressive discipline, they pay into it through the year then look forward to a set day when they sit surrounded by leaflets they have picked up at various events and prayerfully decide where to aim it. "The anticipation of what God will do with it is genuinely exciting," they say.
In this spirit of generosity, here are some suggestions to help us make the most of what we give:
- Pray that God makes our gift fruitful and magnifies it.
- Tick the GiftAid box, if possible. For £10 given, it will add £2.50 in re-paid tax for the charity plus a government supplement of 3p per £1.
- Some 4.3 million people received a surprise payout from the Inland Revenue this autumn. If we received a cheque, perhaps we can give some away to help those who will feel the pinch.
- Give more to fewer charities. This keeps down the costs of mailings, which is considerable. If we're getting post that hits the recycling bin before a word is read, we should ask the charity not to send it. It may not feel like giving, but we will be saving them cash.
- Make extra money for others while shopping online. If everyone did this with their Christmas shop thousands would be raised for good causes. See if a favourite charity is listed at with Give As You Live at fundraisers.everyclick.com, or shop at: buy.at/christiansagainstpoverty
- In a similar way, save stamps as they come in and pass them onto a charity. One is stampsforevangelism.co.uk
- The most precious thing we can give anyone is our time. We can volunteer in a hundred ways, train for a sponsored event or even do a Tony Hancock and give an armful: blood.co.uk
As a cash-strapped Christmas approaches, I need to imagine myself in someone else's day and see what God does with it. Few people take time to think beyond their own existence, so it really stands out:
- Babysitting can give a couple real marriage-building space. Listening to a child read can increase their confidence. What about texting someone "goodnight" when we know they are on their own? Or making a meal for a single parent?
- One church I know encourages its members to make more Sunday lunch than they need with the intention of inviting someone back after the service. At worst, they say, you can freeze the surplus if there are no takers. Nothing is wasted.
- Write a letter expressing thanks or giving someone an unexpected giggle. Unlike an email, a hand-written communication will be valued and re-read. Many churches offer listening services that are very popular, proving that some people just have no-one to talk to.
- One of the nicest presents a relative gives me each Christmas is £100 to spend in a supermarket from stamps she's saved up all year. Her present is a year in the making.
- Most importantly, we need to be generous with what God has taught us. Be on the look out for people wanting to be where we are. For example, invite teenagers on work experience, give out a contact name or do a job at home more deliberately so a young person can learn and take part. Show an older person how to use their new digital TV.
And don't forget the promise God gave us in Luke 6.38: "Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
- For information about CAP's money management course, visit: capuk.org
Marianne Clough runs the Bradford Media Hub, part of the Alliance's Forum for Change. She is also national PR officer for Christians Against Poverty.