When You Give

leaning treeTwo of a mans most precious commodities are his time and his money. For the average man both are difficult to come by and even harder to keep. For that reason we tend to be very particular about what we do with both and who we allow to impose upon our supply.

The American Revolution was sourced out of the Colonists resistance to taxation without representation. It’s safe to say that their jealousy for their time and treasure is what fueled the Revolution. They refused to allow King George to take their money and waste their time while offering nothing in return.

It’s a fundamentally American trait. We don’t want anyone to make demands on our time or our money without adequate reason or our consent. So it’s no surprise that most American Christians are resistant to their Pastors and Bible Teachers encouraging them to give of their finances to their local church.

Jesus addresses our habits of giving and gives us instruction in The Sermon on The Mount when He says,

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)

Jesus tries to change our point of view when it comes to giving. He wants us to take our eyes off of the temporary and instead focus on the eternal. Giving helps us fight the lure of the immediate in favor of the promise of the eternal.

When we give of our finances to the Kingdom of God our eyes are not on the Earth but on Heaven. We use our finances as a tool to help us realign our hearts with the things that really matter. Jesus explains further in the sixth chapter of Matthew,

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 ESV)

There are two truths here. First, what you give to God is never lost! The treasure that you commit to His trust cannot be taken from you. Investments in this life can be broken, be lost, be undervalued, devalued and stolen. However, whatever you invest in the Kingdom of God is secure “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal”.

The second truth is that giving is an indicator of the inclination of your heart and the inclination of your heart matters. If a tree is going to fall, it’s going to fall the direction it leans. Jesus wants us to lean towards Heaven and our habits of giving is an indicator of that inclination, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. That’s why 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “God loves a cheerful giver”. He wants giving to change the inclinations of our heart and replace duty with joy!

We were created for Gods glory. Furthermore, everything I do for Gods glory will also serve my joy. That’s the way God designed us to be most fulfilled and most at peace. That’s one of the reasons that Jesus prayed that our joy may be full (John 16:24). Because our joy is an indicator that we’re living our life for Gods glory.

Giving is for joy!

So, WHEN YOU GIVE:

Jesus said, “WHEN you give”, not “if”. The implication is that His disciples will be giving people. Giving is evidence of faith. It takes faith to give God a portion of your finances. Faith that the remainder will be enough to meet your needs and faith that God can do more with less! Knowing how important and necessary money is to every person it is no wonder that Jesus calls giving “the practice of righteousness” (Matt.6:1,ESV).

Jesus goes on to say, when you give, don’t give to be seen of men. The aim of someone who gives ostentatiously and explicitly is to be seen of men is to look pious and religious, to procure a reputation among their peers and community of being a righteous person because, again, giving is what Jesus called “the practice of righteousness”. Jesus calls that hypocrisy.

Our giving should be sourced out of our love for God and our love for our neighbor. Giving itself is not the goal but rather giving that is sourced from genuine heart change.

John the Baptist gives instruction regarding repentance in Luke 3. He gives his listeners three ways to show the “fruits of repentance”.

1) Share food & clothes with the poor (vs.11).
2) Tax collectors shouldn’t take more than they’re allowed (vs. 13).
3) Soldiers should be content with their wages & not extort money (vs.14).

Notice, they’re all related to how they handled money and possessions!

So now we have been presented with giving as the “fruit of repentance” and “the practice of righteousness”. Giving is important to the spiritual health of every believer!

The point of giving is genuine heart change, evidenced by a persons giving of their finances. We see this illustrated in a great way in Luke 19 in the life of Zacchaeus. After talking with Jesus, Zacchaeus the tax collector decided his life needed to change.

“And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I [will] restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house…” (Luke 19:8-9, ESV)

Zacchaeus had not repented yet. He had not yet been baptized. But Jesus viewed his commitment to generosity as evidence that there had been genuine heart change in Zacchaeus. When his heart towards giving changed Jesus said it was evidence that salvation had come to his house. Giving is about heart change.

Finally, Jesus goes on to teach His disciples to give as privately as possible. Privately to such a degree, that if you can prevent your left hand from knowing what your right hand is doing, do so when you give!

Jesus knew that the temptation is there to make a spectacle of the poor or the needy in the self interest of the givers reputation. In order to be seen as “practicing righteousness”, and gain a reputation as a generous person, some people would be inclined to make a public show of the poor and the less fortunate. It shows we are unconcerned for the dignity of the poor, we disrespect their personhood, when we make a spectacle of giving to them.

“Look at how poor they are, and how righteous we are, to be giving them these simple things they cannot even provide for themselves!” Jesus taught that is not the right spirit of giving.

He said to give privately. Avoid the show and the spectacle of generosity. That definitely means we shouldn’t post our generosity and giving on Facebook! He said give privately and our Father in Heaven will reward us openly. God rewards those who are givers, give cheerfully and give out of pure motives.

Randy Alcorn, in his bestselling book, The Treasure Principle, leaves us with six scriptural principles concerning giving.

  1. God Owns Everything and I Am His Money Manager
  2. My Heart Always Goes Where I Put God’s Money
  3. Heaven, Not Earth, Is My Home
  4. I Should Not Live Merely for the Moment but for Eternity
  5. Giving is the Only Antidote to Materialism
  6. God Prospers Me Not to Raise My Standard of Living, but to Raise My Standard of Giving

I don’t believe giving should be a chore. It should not be a duty. Giving should be a delight. Everything I do for God’s glory will also work for my joy and giving is one of those things. Giving is for joy.

One of the greatest steps of faith you can take is to trust God with your finances. If you do, be sure of this, He will bless those who bless His kingdom.

When You Fast

Farm House Table.jpgFor all of our failings, if there’s one place Western culture succeeds it’s indulgence. We are, after all, the home of the cafeteria, the smorgasbord and the all-you-can-eat buffet. Where else, but in the USA, would a place like Ryan’s be a commercial success.

We, especially in The United States, have engendered one of the most self-indulgent, gluttonous and consumptive societies in history.

Our forefathers were hunter-gatherers, we’re just gatherers.

As Dave Ramsey says,

“We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”

What’s worse is that we all see it yet we continue our self indulgence. We know we’re selfish, we know we’re gluttons, and we just can’t stop.

We’re not alone. Every culture that has ever enjoyed a level of prosperity has eventually been given over to decadence. It was the downfall of Rome, the decline of Greece and the blinders the British wore. We have everything, we need nothing and so we become numb to our ultimate and greatest needs.

Knowing this about humanity, Jesus steps into our story in His Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew chapter 6 He teaches,

“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18 ESV)

He takes it for granted that His disciples will fast. He doesn’t say, IF you fast, but WHEN. Fasting is assumed as a basic Christian activity. Prayer and fasting are fundamental to a victorious life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In Matthew 17 Jesus and His disciples had an encounter with a family that needed a spiritual victory,

“And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you. Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:14-21)

They were reminded that simple faith can accomplish great things. Jesus revealed to them that very small faith could move very large things, even mountains. Indeed, the effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man “availeth much” (James 5:16). However, when it comes to winning spiritual victories against spiritual enemies you need the added strength of natural hunger. You need to add fasting to your prayer. Jesus said spiritual victories are won through prayer and fasting!

This was precisely what God was reminding Israel in Isaiah 58.

“Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord ? “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” (Isaiah 58:2-11 NLT)

God, through His prophet Isaiah, calls out Israel on their hypocrisy. He sees through their actions and highlights  their motive. They pray and fast, making themselves miserable, hoping to pry good gifts from the hands of God. They get it all wrong.

He says they “act pious” and they “pretend to be near me” but they’re only fasting to please themselves. They’re not really fasting to please God. They’re trying to use religious activity to cajole God to take their side and God rebuked them for it. That’s not how God works.

Fasting is not leveraging God for your interests. It is not divine arm twisting to get God to take your side. To the contrary, fasting doesn’t get God on your page, it gets you on His. It’s about you, humbling yourself, letting go of your self-interest and getting your will aligned with His. Fasting takes the most basic and vital physical need we have, food, and willfully denies the physical man in order to put the spiritual man back in control.

We often forget that we are physical and spiritual. We need to nourish and maintain the health of our entire nature. CS Lewis famously said,

“You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”

The truth is, we are engaged everyday in the care and feeding of our body. Sleep, showers, breakfast, lunch, dinner, radio, music, books, sports, shopping, clothing, friends, vacation and on and on. We do most of what we do to respond to the needs and maintenance of our physical self, often to the detriment and neglect of our spiritual self.

We’re washing the car but we’re not changing the oil. We’re a house of squalor with a manicured lawn. We monitor the externals but we neglect the internals which are exponentially more important and, consequently eternal. The only thing that can treat the malaise of this natural world is both prayer and fasting.

John Piper powerfully writes in His book, A Hunger for God,

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20).

The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

So, in Matthew 6, Jesus gives us instruction for, “When You Fast”.

The first thing He says is, When You Fast, don’t do it for men to see. If you fast only to procure a reputation as a pious and religious individual Jesus said you’re just a hypocrite and the praise of men will be your only reward. However, if you want to fast the way God intends for believers to fast, do it in private.

Don’t fast so that men compliment your piety or applaud you for religious activity. Fast so that your heart seeks the heart of God. Fast to submit your physical man to your spiritual man. Fast, not just to open the hands of God but rather, to hear the voice of God. Fast for joy, and men can’t give you joy.

He then, almost humorously, goes on to say, “wash your face”. When you fast clean yourself up, brush your teeth, do your hair, and use some product. Why? If you’ve ever fasted for several days you know, because you’ll need to!
Also, because you’ll be tempted not to. That will leave you open for questions as to why your appearance is the way it is.

Make no mistake, fasting is not easy on the physical body. You will likely be, if on an extended fast, (what my wife and I refer to as “hangry”) hungry, irritable and possibly a little weakened. It is, however, restorative. Many medical doctors even encourage fasting for it’s beneficial effects, a sabbath of sorts, for your digestive system. Fasting breaks down the physical man to ensure that the spiritual man remains in control of your life.

So, When You Fast, Jesus says let  your fasting have one focus, not the applause of men, not divine leverage, but aligning your will with your Father’s will that the joy of the Lord would be your strength.

When You Pray

park bench.jpgThe most comprehensive collection of Jesus teaching is contained in The Sermon on the Mount. In what is regarded as some of the most beautiful and challenging teaching in scripture, Jesus addresses the issues of the human condition.

He teaches about envy, lust, anger, murder, adultery, divorce, prayer, fasting, finances, anxiety, hypocrisy, promises, enemies, the poor, war, peace and a myriad other topics.

In Matthew 6 Jesus addresses three specific activities that should be present in the life of every committed disciple. He tackles When You Pray, When You Fast and When You Give.

Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matthew 6:5-13, KJV)

Prayer is one of the most basic, fundamental activities of the faithful Christians life. Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray. Prayer is how we build a relationship with God. A relationship where there is no communication or worse, only communication when someone has a need or want is dysfunctional at best and essentially no relationship at all. When we only talk to God when we need something we rob ourselves of the depth available in relationship with God.

In Genesis 3 we learn that God had a relationship with Adam and Eve. He walked and talked with them in the Garden of Eden. However, after they sin, God comes looking for them and they try to hide themselves from God (Gen. 3:8-9). Sin has a way of keeping us from the presence of God in prayer.

Thats what prayer is; walking and talking with God. It’s the primary manner by which we build a relationship with Jesus Christ. The amazing truth is that prayer is a shadow of the relationship that God’s redemptive plan aims to restore. What Adam and Eve lost in Eden God wants to restore with you!

So Jesus teaching says, When You Pray. Not IF you pray, WHEN. The implied message is that His disciples will engage themselves in prayer. Believers are praying people. It should be expected and normative that the healthy Christian is a praying Christian. It’s the health of your soul.

Singers sing, writers write, teachers teach and Christians pray!

Jesus goes on to say, in verse 5 of Matthew 6, that, when you pray, be sure to talk to God, not men. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for praying in public places “to be seen of men”. He called that hypocrisy, it’s not genuine prayer. Prayer should be directed towards the ears of God, not the ears of your fellow man.

There is a very real temptation for Christians to only pray when we gather together. We have a strong sense of identity within the Christian community and it’s often important to look like a believer, to look pious and religious. Jesus steps into our hypocrisy and highlights our motive. We don’t really want God to hear us, we just want other people to know we pray.

Jesus said, when you pray, talk to God. Go somewhere private and pray to cultivate a relationship with God, not to procure a reputation with other men. I don’t know any serious Christians who believe the only Biblical location for prayer is in a closet. What Jesus meant was, go somewhere free from the distractions of the day and the ears of other men. Get alone with God and talk to Him.

Jesus then goes on to instruct His listeners to not only talk to God when they pray but to talk to God. Talk to God. Open your heart and mind and try to hear from His heart and mind.

Prayer does not have to be complicated, ritualized and performed in the King James English. The act of prayer itself is not redemptive. God is not interested in getting us to repeat cliches ad nauseam while on our knees. It’s less about the talking and more about what you’re saying. It’s about relationship with God.

The people who think prayer is about what you say and how you say it are missing the point. Jesus said they think they will be heard for their “much speaking” and “vain repetition”. They don’t understand that God’s interested in quality not quantity. Jesus said, “Don’t be like that.”

After all, prayer is not so much about what God needs to hear as it is what we need to say. The truth is, God knows what we have need of before we even ask (verse 8). So praying is not about keeping God up to speed or in the loop. We’re telling God all the things we’ve decided to turn over to His trust.

In the end, prayer is an act of faith. Faith that I can take everything in my life and trust it into His hands. Faith that even when I’m insufficient, He is more than enough. Faith that refuses to let natural evidences out weigh a supernatural promise. Prayer says, there are things that I believe about God that mean more to me than the things I see in my world. You build your relationship with your Heavenly Father and put your faith in Jesus Christ when you pray.