Giving isn’t always easy. If you’re struggling financially, it can be even harder. Monthly bills, credit card payments, and inflation seem to take everything there is – and nothing is left over for giving. Perhaps you want to give, but just don’t see a way to make it happen.
Good news! God sees your situation. He knows your needs and has your ultimate good on his mind. He knows how to take care of you and how to grow you as a disciple, even in the midst of financial difficulty.
And giving is part of this – not the only part, but an important part.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:21
In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount as he’s teaching about money, Jesus makes this surprise statement: our hearts follow our treasure. We would think it would work the other way – we’d put our treasure where our hearts already are. But this isn’t the way Jesus says it works. Giving is important because it helps to determine the direction of our hearts.
It Can Be Done
The Bible gives us several examples of individuals and even churches giving out of difficult financial circumstances. These stories inspire us as we see how God provided for those who gave and how he used their gifts to bless others.
The Widow of Zarephath
Because of King Ahab’s wickedness, God had pronounced a drought on the land. Elijah delivered this news to King Ahab, and then went into hiding. God further directed him to a town called Zarephath. In this town was a poor widow, who was likely further impacted by the drought. God directed her to feed Elijah.
When Elijah arrived, he asked this widow for a drink and for a piece of bread. She responded that she didn’t have any bread; she was about to use her last flour and oil to make a final meal for herself and her son, who were on the verge of starvation. Elijah promised her that God would supply flour and oil for her and her son through the entire drought if she would feed him first. She took God at his word and fed Elijah first, and God took care of her and her son.
Not only did this build the faith of the widow, but it served as such an important example of faith that Jesus later referred to it (Luke 4:24-26). God had a larger plan than caring for this one family – he was setting this up as an example of his love for all peoples and all nations. The widow probably had no idea the role she was playing in God’s redemptive story!
The Widow at the Temple
where he could see the treasury chest and watching people place their offerings into the chest. People put in varying amounts, some of them quite large. But Jesus’ attention was drawn to a poor widow, who put in just two small copper coins.
He called the disciples to him and pointed her out, telling them that her gift was actually greater than the larger gifts of the rich people, because she gave sacrificially – everything she had. (Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4)
The Macedonian Churches
The church in Jerusalem was suffering as a result of famine and poverty. Paul spent considerable time coordinating a collection for the Jerusalem church among churches he had established. And the Macedonian churches had responded – even though they themselves suffered from significant poverty. According to Paul, these churches actually approached him and pleaded for the opportunity to take part in the offering! (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
The common result in all of these stories is that God was honored through the giving of his people. None of these people or churches gave much in terms of actual amounts – a piece of bread and a drink; two small copper coins; an offering taken from poor churches. But God used each of these gifts to bless others and to expand the faith of his followers.
Getting Started with Giving
Jesus’ words, and the consistent examples of Scripture, teach that giving is important – not because God “needs” the money but rather because of how God blesses both givers and recipients through the faithful giving of his people.
But if you’re in a position of financial difficulty (as the people in the passages above were), how do you make room for giving? How can you start down the road of this important spiritual discipline and grow your heart for following God?
He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.Psalms 102:17
Compared to the people the Psalmist had in mind, we’re not destitute. But the principle still applies – God cares about the needs of his people. Jesus specifically mentioned the poor in his own summary of his mission (Luke 4:18).
So we ask (Matthew 7:7). And as part of that asking, we bring our requests to God with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). This doesn’t mean that we wait for God to answer our prayers in order to thank him – we bring thanks along with our requests, because we know that God will take care of us. That may or may not look exactly like we envisioned it, but he will provide. This was the experience of the widow in Zarephath, and it continues to be the experience of God’s people around the world – many of whom find themselves much more “destitute” than we do in the West.
Continue with Faith
When bills are piling up and the debt load seems insurmountable, it’s easy to fall prey to a mindset of scarcity – a perspective that says, “I don’t have enough.” This viewpoint can cause us to live in fear, posing a barrier to generosity.
But God has not given us a spirit of fear, but the Spirit of sonship (Romans 8:15; 2 Timothy 1:7). A mindset of abundance says, “God has given me all I need, including enough to give back some.”
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.2 Corinthians 9:8
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:19
These are often-quoted promises of God, and both of them occur in the context of giving – the first one in the context of Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church about the offering for the Jerusalem church, and the second one in the context of the Philippian church’s financial support of Paul. This is not a tit-for-tat “give to God and he’ll give back to you,” but rather a description of what it’s like to live in a mindset of abundance and a spirit of generosity.
Start small, but Start
In the context of laying the foundations for Zerubbabel’s temple, which was much smaller than Solomon’s temple, God told Zechariah not to despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10). In times of financial difficulty, there may indeed not be enough margin to support giving at the Biblical level of the tithe. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t start giving.
Seeing a hungry crowd, Jesus told the disciples to feed them. Andrew brought to Jesus a boy that had five small loaves of bread and two small fish and asked, “How far will they go among so many?” And yet, in God’s hands, a small offering can become great. Jesus fed over 5,000 men plus women and children with that small beginning. (John 6:1-13)
Think how different the scene would have been if the boy had given up from the beginning, knowing that his small loaves and fish would never feed such a crowd! Instead, the simple act of bringing a small gift to God provided an opportunity for a miracle. The crowd was fed – but imagine what happened to the faith of the boy!
Make a willing sacrifice
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.2 Corinthians 8:12
Perhaps you’ve heard the term “sacrificial giving”. It’s usually used in the context of people making large donations, well beyond a tithe. But in times of financial difficulty, even a small gift can represent a sacrifice. Remember the widow at the temple – her gift wasn’t large, but it was what she had; in fact, it was all she had.
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
God cares much more about the attitude with which we give than about the amount we give (not surprising, since he can multiply the amounts!).
We honor God when we make giving a priority rather than an afterthought – this is the point of “firstfruits” giving (Proverbs 3:9). When we bring the leftovers – what’s left after all our other spending – we reflect the attitude of the Israelites who brought to God injured, lame, and diseased animals as offerings (Malachi 1:13). We indicate our loyalty – whether we’re serving God or money – by how we prioritize giving.
Count the Cost
After David sinned by counting the fighting men, God sent a plague on Israel. He stopped the plague at the threshing floor of a man named Araunah. God told David to build an alter on that threshing floor, so David went to Araunah to purchase the site. Araunah offered to give it to David, along with everything needed for the offering, but David insisted on paying for it, refusing to offer to God a sacrifice that cost him nothing (1 Chronicles 21:24).
Similarly, if we’re going to make giving a priority, it’s going to cost us something. Maybe we’ll need to give up something we enjoy doing, or maybe we’ll need to dial back on saving or even debt retirement. Maybe we’ll need to postpone a large purchase. Whatever the adjustment, if we’re not giving regularly today, we’ll need to make some sort of change in order to make a priority of generosity.
Making these changes requires understanding where our money is going and planning where it will go in the future. This means:
- Tracking our spending using some sort of categorized spending record.
- Planning our spending based on what we’ve been spending and on adjustments to priorities.
For more help with these steps, see the related articles below.
Growing in Generosity
As we grow in generosity, our hearts grow in devotion and commitment to God. More and more, we begin to choose serving God over serving money. Increasingly, we put our treasures in heaven rather than on earth.
Like any spiritual discipline, generosity is a journey rather than a destination. And like the other spiritual disciplines, generosity is a means to an end – among other things, the end of putting our hearts in a place of continually drawing nearer to God.
As a result, we never reach the place where we’ve “arrived” at generosity. We should be looking to continuously grow in this area just as in other spiritual disciplines. While the tithe represents a great milepost on the journey, it’s not necessarily the end. Ultimately, the point is less about what percentage we’re giving than it is about whether our hearts are becoming more generous over time. Of course, one measure of that growth is our giving percentage.
If we’re going to grow in generosity over time, we’re going to need to put a plan in place to make that happen. If we’re struggling to give right now, we need to identify and address the obstacles in our way – maybe debt, maybe lifestyle spending, etc. Addressing these obstacles puts us in a position for continued growth in generosity.
This means that we need to see ourselves as stewards of all that God provides. The money we earn is not 90% ours and 10% God’s. It all belongs to God and should be used for his glory. That will look different for different people and across various circumstances. But the point is the same – the key to generosity is a lifestyle of stewardship.