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Practicing Generosity as a Family

Children Managing Money Parenting

Practicing Generosity as a Family

Money can have a strong hold over us. Giving it away breaks that hold.

Once, as our family headed out the door to welcome some new neighbors, gift basket in hand, I wasn’t in a very good mood. I had a lot I wanted to get done that day and had forgotten to add this errand to my packed schedule. After ringing the doorbell, I did my best to put a smile on my face. By the time we returned home twenty minutes later, my mood had shifted completely. The other family’s happiness over our small gesture was infectious, lifting my spirits considerably.

There’s something very satisfying about contributing to the good of others. I guess that’s why Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In more recent years, countless secular studies have backed that up, demonstrating very clearly that generosity is an important part of a joyful life.

For example, in the book Happy Money, Elizabeth Dunn, associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, and Michael Norton, associate professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, describe a study in which the spending habits of hundreds of Americans were analyzed. Dunn and Norton conclude, “The amount of money individuals devoted to themselves was unrelated to their overall happiness.

What did predict happiness? The amount of money they gave away. The more they invested in others, the happier they were.” And that was true no matter how much income people earned.

God made us in His image. And because God is endlessly generous, that means generosity is woven into our spiritual DNA. When we’re generous, we’re expressing one of the most fundamental aspects of our nature and living in sync with our God-given design leads to a more fulfilling life.

Some people even trace material blessings to their generosity, an idea that may be affirmed in
Proverbs 11:24-25: “One person gives freely, yet gains more; another withholds what is right, only to become poor. A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water” (HCSB).

Now, we need to be a bit careful here. I do not say this to encourage a give-to-get approach to giving. Popularized by the so-called prosperity gospel, giving in order to get something in return is not at all what the Bible teaches. As the apostle Paul asked, “Who has given a gift to [God] that he might be repaid?” (Romans 11:35). God is the Giver. Everything we have is a gift from Him.

Our giving is best done because of our gratitude for all that God has done for us and as an act of worship. If we benefit in any way from living generously—even if just by experiencing more happiness—that’s just one more reason to continue down the path of generosity.

Your Heart Follows Your Wallet

One of the more interesting lessons the Bible teaches about generosity is that we don’t need to wait for warm feelings of kindness to wash over us before acting generously toward others. The Bible says that our hearts will follow our wallets: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

When I first read that verse, I thought it made more sense the other way around— that our money will follow our hearts. We get excited about a certain car, and before we know it, we’ve spent our money to buy it. While things do work that way sometimes, biblical truth is both less intuitive and more powerful.

For a time, Jude and I provided some financial support for one of her friends, who was doing missionary work in Bolivia. Before then, I paid approximately zero attention to Bolivia.

Honestly, I would have had a hard time quickly locating it on a map, and I certainly had no idea what was happening there. But when we started sending some money there, I took a lot of interest in each update my wife’s friend sent us, and I began to notice every time Bolivia was in the news. My heart went there because some of our treasure was going there.

Money can have a strong hold over us. Giving it away breaks that hold. It redirects our thoughts from ourselves to others. Regularly investing in the people and issues that are on God’s heart is a financial habit that can’t help but deepen our relationship with Jesus. Don’t know where to start?

Here is some practical, biblical guidance.

Put First Things First

Managing money well is largely about deciding what’s most important. If our lifestyle is most important, which is what our consumer culture tells us, spending will come first, and debt will follow close behind. If our financial future is most important, which is what financial planners tell us (“pay yourself first”), saving will come first. But for wise builders, our relationship with Jesus is most important. That means investing in God’s Kingdom work is our first financial priority: “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce” (Proverbs 3:9).

Firstfruits refers to the first or best portion. Produce spoke to the agriculture-focused nature of so many people’s livelihoods when the book of Proverbs was written. The King James Version of the Bible says to give “the firstfruits of all thine increase” (emphasis mine). I take that to mean we are to give back to God the first portion of any money that flows into our lives, no matter what the source.

Think Percentages

In both the Old and New Testaments, we see the principle of proportionate giving. Everyone was not instructed to give the same amount of money. People were instructed to give based on how much they’d received: “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you” (Deuteronomy 16:17). “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2). As he may prosper. The Living Bible translates this as “the amount [of your giving] depends on how much the Lord has helped you earn.”

The Old Testament law described in Leviticus gets more specific: “Every tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the trees, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord” (Leviticus 27:30). A tithe means “tenth part,” or 10 percent.

In the New Testament, Jesus didn’t abolish the standards of Old Testament law. He came to fulfill that law. But He made it clear that the Christian life isn’t about mechanically following the letter of the law. He wants our hearts involved. Didn’t kill anyone today? Well, that’s good. But do you have anger in your heart? Didn’t commit adultery today? I hope not! But did you look at anyone with impure thoughts? (See Matthew 5:17-30.)

Jesus applied that same standard—that our hearts must match our actions—to tithing: “Yes, woe upon you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders—hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but ignore the important things—justice and mercy and faith. Yes, you should tithe, but you shouldn’t leave the more important things undone.” (Matthew 23:23, TLB)

Giving 10 percent of our “increase” to Christ-centered purposes is the historical biblical starting point for the generous lives God designed us to live. And because the Bible speaks about tithes and offerings, tithing is clearly not His intended stopping point.

Partnering with Jesus

For help deciding where to give, here are some of the issues God cares about.


After Jesus’ death and resurrection, His final instructions to His disciples were about telling
others about Him: And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)


God’s heart for the poor is written throughout the pages of Scripture, including in Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”


Pastors and others involved in full-time ministry depend for their livelihood on the generosity of the people they serve. Therefore, “the one who is taught the word [of God] is to share all good things with his teacher [contributing to his spiritual and material support]” (Galatians 6:6, amp).

The local church is a natural focal point for our giving because it is typically all about spreading the gospel, helping the poor, and teaching God’s Word. Of course, there are many other issues God cares about as well, from disaster relief to helping persecuted Christians, from rescuing people from sex trafficking to strengthening marriages and more.

We would be wise to be attentive to the ministries and individuals the Holy Spirit brings to our awareness and puts on our hearts.

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