I love that I can have the joy of the Spirit; conversely, I can also grieve the Holy Spirit. My salvation has not just been an academic pursuit of the facts about God and theology. It has been a passion-filled, love-filled, and grace-filled walk with Him. There have been days when raising my hands in praise was easy; but there have also been days of sorrow, reflection, and, frankly, tears when I know I have disappointed my Lord. My point is simply that we are emotional beings, and because of that emotional component, God has commanded that we do some things in a manner that is detached from our emotion. I believe that one of those important areas is our giving: we are to give systematically.
I believe that one of the challenges younger pastors will face in years to come, and may be facing now, is that our culture is becoming more emotional than in the past. Yes, that is a judgment call by an old man, but I believe that others have observed the same phenomenon. In an article for USA Today, Erin El Issa of NerdWallet writes:
“Almost half of Americans (49%) say emotions have led them to spend more than they can reasonably afford, according to a recent NerdWallet survey. Among Millennials, that jumps to two-thirds (67%), making them the generation most likely to emotionally overspend.”
We are all familiar with the peril of emotional spending that can lead to debt, but the broader truth is that people today are more prone to spend when they are emotionally motivated. That is true in the world of the consumer, and I believe that there is an application in the local church concerning giving as well.
Increasingly, I speak with pastors who tell me that in their churches they have givers but not necessarily tithers. If there is a project, a need that touches the heart, or even a crisis, people will give because they are emotionally motivated. However, as far as regularly giving to meet the needs of the church ministry, that is just not as appealing. In another survey by Lending Tree, Kira Brecht reported:
“Millennials, even more than older generations, turn to their favorite online store for a happiness boost. Nearly half of Millennials (48%) report buying something recently because they were feeling down, upset or angry.”
People spend when they need a happiness boost! That may not be a new phenomenon, but perhaps it is a growing trend that pastors and churches need to help people deal with. We must be careful to resist falling into the trap in our churches of feeding the emotional craving of believers, by always providing a social and emotional project to give to. We must teach them to practice systematic giving, even when it does not provide an immediate emotional reward.
If we teach emotional crisis giving, we develop emotional crisis givers. Can a genuine crisis occur? Of course! And believers ought to respond cheerfully to meet the need. However, I am convinced that there will be far fewer moments of crisis if we teach and practice systematic giving.
I believe God’s Word teaches us to give compassionately in a systematic way. Let me offer three reasons we need to share that with believers today.
1. Emotional giving can be motivated by the giver’s desire to feel good about himself or look good to others. A few pictures that pull at our heartstrings, a story about suffering or need, and before we know it, our American hearts can feel true compassion but also guilt. I in no way want to discourage people from responding in a compassionate way to real need, but we must realize that our gift in that moment will most likely not bring an end to the need. Where will we be next week, or the next telethon? Will we walk away feeling that we have done our part, and now it is up to someone else? We must stay engaged; and systematic giving does not let us be “one and done” but instead says, “I will be here this week, and the next one, and the next!” Systematic giving is more about solving the problem than feeling good in the instant and caring once.
2. Systematic giving is a New Testament principle. Note what Paul says to the church at Corinth:
Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.—1 Corinthians 16:1–2
My emphasis is not on what type of giving this was but on the phrase “upon the first day of the week.” There was a time to bring the offering and there was a place as well. It was to be a purposeful part of their Lord’s Day worship. By the way, Paul had given the same direction not just to the Church at Corinth but also to the churches of Galatia, according to verse one. So much of our Christian walk needs to be systematic, routine. Our devotional walk is to occur daily, our church attendance is to be practiced carefully lest we forsake assembling together (as some were doing and some still do), and our giving is to be systematic. We are to be constant, faithful—just as our God is to us and for us.
3. Systematic giving is a habit that honors God.
I often hear people say, “You cannot out give God!” To which I say “Amen!” Not only can you not out give God, you cannot find a time God is unwilling to give. God is in the habit of giving. He giveth more grace, He daily loads our lives with benefits, He has mercies that are new every morning. God is a systematic giver and He is habitual about it! He is moved by compassion, but He does not need a crisis to give to us what we need. How honoring to Him to develop the same habit of giving that He manifests!
We are emotional beings and we have a salvation that we can “feel.” But we are to be engaged in giving and serving, not only when we are moved emotionally, but because we desire to be like our constant, faithful, habitually-giving God!