Year-end appeals. Giving Tuesday. Matching gifts. Tax incentives. The pleas for donations multiply as the holiday season approaches. We ignore most of them, letting them blend in with the rest of the holiday noise. We respond to some of them, wishing we could do more. Or maybe we just think, “If only I could…”.
All the pleading and cajoling can overwhelm us with compassion fatigue, making us numb to the needs in front of us and around the world. Or it can induce guilt when we compare our abundance with the poverty and lack that we see. So we dash off a check (if we’re that old…), or we Venmo a payment – but all along feeling a bit coerced.
Year-end giving. It can be a series of guilt trips leading to begrudging donations. Or it can be a joyous expression of gratitude, a blessing we eagerly anticipate with each holiday season. How can we get out of that first mindset and into the second?
Giving as Part of Stewardship
First, we need to see giving as part of our overall stewardship. Rarely, if ever, will an appeal for a donation start from that perspective. Instead, requesters always make their appeals based on the needs of their organizations or the needs they’re attempting to address.
It’s true that our giving can help address important needs. But that’s not the most significant thing about our giving. More meaningful is how it’s drawing our hearts toward God, storing our treasures in heaven, and empowering us to serve him over serving money (Matthew 6:20-24). And the most important thing about our giving is how it brings glory and thanks to God (2 Corinthians 9:12).
So how do we steward our year-end giving in such a way as to glorify God and to grow our hearts? It starts with a couple of key characteristics of generosity in the context of stewardship.
Firstfruits, not leftovers
Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops.Proverbs 3:9
Scripture enjoins us to make giving a priority. That means a couple of things. First, it means that giving is what we do first, not what we do if anything is left over after we pay all the bills. When we make giving the first thing we do with our income, we put God in first place. We reflect that He is our top priority.
Second, the priority of giving means that we’re giving God our best. God instructed the Israelites in the wilderness that when they brought offerings to him, those offerings needed to be without defect (Deuteronomy 15:21). But over time, the people adopted the posture of sacrificing the animals they didn’t want due to various imperfections. God reprimanded the nation for this, going as far as to say that their offerings defiled his altar and defamed his name (Malachi 1:6-15).
Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.1 Corinthians 16:1-2
When Paul instructed the Corinthian church regarding the collection he was taking up for the Jerusalem believers, he emphasized the importance of systematic, regular giving. This took two forms: consistency, and amount.
Paul enjoined the Corinthians to set aside their gifts on the first day of every week. They were to do this so that they would be prepared when Paul came and no special collection would be required at that time.
Paul is not prescriptive about how much each person should give, but the amount was to be in keeping with their income. (Some people have read the tithe into this, but this gift is not for the local church – it’s more of an aid offering.)
Cheerful, not Grudging
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.2 Corinthians 9:7
In a subsequent letter to the Corinthian church, Paul gives further instructions about the collection for the Jerusalem believers. A key element of this collection was that he wanted the Corinthians to give willingly, cheerfully – not begrudgingly or under compulsion.
Paul recognized that different members of the congregation were in different places financially – some would be able to give more than others. And he didn’t want to create guilt for those who were only able to give a little – instead, he emphasized that God accepts our gifts based on our willing hearts, not based on the amounts (2 Corinthians 8:11-12). When was the last time we heard that kind of appeal at year-end?
Issues With Year-end Giving
The appeals for year-end giving, and our responses to them, tend to contradict these characteristics of stewardship. At year-end, we’re giving the leftovers – whatever we can afford after holiday shopping, etc. We’re giving haphazardly, based on quick responses (which is what marketers are looking for) to various pleas. And we’re often giving grudgingly – more out of a sense of obligation or implied guilt than out of a sense of gratitude and vision for kingdom work.
Year-end Giving as Stewardship
None of these issues makes year-end giving a bad idea. In fact, the end of the year is a great time to express gratitude to God through extra giving. Additionally, holiday season giving can help turn our hearts to God in the midst of a hectic and often distracting time of year. So how do we make year-end giving a cheerful, inspiring part of our stewardship and of the holiday season? Here are a few suggestions.
Start with prayer. We’re all going to see far more requests for donations than we’re financially capable of responding to. And God isn’t calling us to all of them. Discerning what He is calling us to is a matter of prayer. A couple of things to keep in mind as we pray:
A need does not constitute a call. Undoubtedly, God will call us to meet needs with our giving – but not all of them (that wouldn’t be possible anyway). In Luke 4:25-27, just after Jesus announced his mission, he mentioned that there were needs in Israel during the times of Elijah and Elisha – but these prophets were not sent to anyone in Israel, but to foreigners. They met the needs that God called them to.
God gives us freedom to respond as the Holy Spirit leads. It’s not for others (especially marketers) to determine how we should respond in generosity. God may lead some of us to focus our giving in one particular area; others, He may lead to spread out their giving. He might lead one person to emphasize giving locally; another, He might move to give globally. We should feel free to give as God leads, not compelled by the requests of others.
Random acts of kindness are great (and should be more common among us!). But to maximize impact – both on our own hearts and on the recipients of our giving – purpose is important. Here are a few things to prayerfully consider as we contemplate generosity at year-end:
Give in ways that glorify God and advance His kingdom.
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.2 Corinthians 9:12
As Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give, he spotlighted an important outcome of their giving – glory to God. Yes, needs would be met. But even more significantly, God would be glorified as people gave thanks to Him for their gifts. One meaningful lens through which to view our giving is the question, “How will this gift result in thanks to God?”
Give in ways that are expressly Christian. Consider eternal impact from giving. There are many organizations doing good things, and often God leads us to give to organizations that address concerns that specifically impact us. Among the alternatives, where there are opportunities to open doors for the Gospel and impact eternity, it makes sense to favor those. For example, many organizations – both Christian and secular – dig wells for areas needing access to clean water. But organizations that do this in the context of Gospel witness impact not just current reality but also eternal destiny. These are the organizations whose work is most likely to result in expressions of thanks to God, as Paul highlights above.
Honor God in “regions beyond”. When Paul wrote to the church at Rome, he expressed a desire to have them support him as he took the Gospel to new places – specifically, Spain (Romans 15:24). He thanked the Philippian church for their giving to his mission when he was in Thessalonica (Philippians 4:14-16). While around 40% of the world’s population will be born, live, and die without ever hearing the Gospel, only 1% of missions giving is going to reach them (www.radical.net/urgent). Consider taking up the challenge to bring the Gospel to places and people where God is not known or worshiped.
Do something different. Year-end giving is a great opportunity for generosity that looks different from how we give during the year. It’s a chance to go beyond where we normally go with our generosity – whether local or global.
God often puts needs right in front of us because He’s calling us to respond. This was the situation illustrated in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which a man responded to a need he saw right in front of him. The situation isn’t always that obvious, but God sometimes brings people or circumstances to us because He’s leading us to be the answer to someone’s prayer.
Stewardship is more than just a financial topic, and meeting nearby needs is a great example of this. When Jesus spoke of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, he mentioned several different ways in which people served him through taking care of others: visiting those who are sick and in prison, providing food and clothing, etc. Often, the needs God puts right in front of us aren’t strictly financial needs and part of following His leading is being open to see and respond to people and situations in front of us.
Giving where we can personally participate in ministry often adds to the meaning of our financial contributions. Many churches sponsor seasonal programs related to food distribution or Christmas gifts; supporting these programs financially alongside participating in the serving opportunities can help maximize our experience of God’s blessing in giving.
Preparing for Year-end Giving
All of these ways to give can magnify our experience of God during the holiday season. But they can also create a harried, hectic atmosphere in which we’re simply adding more to our holiday lists. How can we participate in year-end giving in such a way as to grow our stewardship and our joy at this time of year?
Plan for it
Planning our spending is an important part of faithful stewardship. Since we tend to spend more during the holidays on parties, events, gifts, etc., we should be planning for that as part of our spending plan during the year.
Planning our holiday giving also enables us to anticipate these opportunities. Dreaming as a family about the impact we’ll make over the holiday season can create excitement and also an ongoing sense of gratitude. We can develop vision and generosity in our children by involving them in the discussions.
And knowing in advance how much and where we will give during the holidays can help minimize compassion fatigue as we’re bombarded with requests and appeals. As we prayerfully discern God’s priorities for our year-end giving, we create a vision for what He will do. This takes the “in the moment” pressure off of us and allows us to respond as God has already led us.
It’s been said that we can spend a dollar any way we want, but we can only spend it once. A dollar we spend on Christmas gifts is a dollar we can’t use for year-end giving. One way to make our holiday giving more meaningful is to make specific sacrifices in order to give. Maybe we take a year off of a certain event, or agree on a limit to spending on presents. Maybe we dial back on spending on decorations or food in order to provide for others. Making sacrifices according to God’s leading in prayer can add meaning and significance to our holiday giving.
Provide for it
As we saw above, Paul instructed the Corinthians to prepare systematically and regularly for the collection for the Jerusalem church. Merely creating a vision for impact from holiday giving won’t make that impact happen. If we’re going to bless others during the holiday season – whether in our communities or around the world – we’re going to have set aside a generosity fund. This is a fund beyond our normal giving that we collect over time to enable us to respond to God’s leading in the moment.
A generosity fund can be set up in multiple ways. We can budget an amount each paycheck, like we do for other planned spending. Or we can allocate a certain amount of our income from annual sources like a tax refund or a yearly bonus. However we do it, setting up a generosity fund enables us to make an impact with holiday giving as God leads us.
Knowing how much and where we will give helps us determine what we need to set aside in our generosity fund. Adding a little extra for spontaneous giving at year-end can provide flexibility and allow us to respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading in the moment.
Holiday Giving This Year and Beyond
Are you dreading Giving Tuesday this year? Do you feel intimidated as you think about the onslaught of appeals and donation requests you’ll see in the last few weeks of the year? If so, you’re not alone! Here are a couple of ideas to consider as you face options for year-end giving.
- Pray. Ask God to guide you into how much and where to give. Make your giving a response to God, not to donation appeals. Ask God to show you how you can best honor him as a family with year-end giving.
- Plan. Agree as a family how you will respond to generosity requests this year. If you don’t have a generosity fund set aside, will you sacrifice something you planned to do or to buy?
- Participate. Give and serve where God leads you, and be free to bypass the many other opportunities – without guilt.
- Prepare. What opportunities do you wish you could take advantage of this year that you just weren’t ready for? Make notes of those and keep a list for next year. After the holiday season, discuss with your family what you wish you could have done – and then prepare to make it a reality next year!
Quoting Jesus, Paul tells us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Generosity during the year-end holiday season can be a special avenue of God’s blessing, both to the giver and to the receiver. If we’re ready for it – planning, preparing, and building anticipation during the year – we can replace the noise with joy as we extend God’s blessings to others.