Feeling the Father's Pleasure
© Sound Mind Investing | July 2010
This month marks a special milestone for SMI the celebration of our 20th anniversary! To God be the glory, great things He has done! A lot has changed here at SMI during those 20 years, but one thing remains constant: the motivation for doing what we do. Our reason for being has always been the desire to enable and encourage our readers to become generous givers. This special anniversary is a great time to revisit this heartbeat of SMI.
In Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned his followers to an awesome task. "Go," he told them, "and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you." You might be surprised to learn that this "Great Commission" (as it has come to be known) is at the heart of what we do at Sound Mind Investing. Fulfilling Jesus' Great Commission is the driving force behind our work.
Does that seem strange? This is, after all, a financial publication. We help people understand biblical principles for managing their money, earning good returns on their investments, and securing their financial future. We offer advice on such things as getting out of debt, building an emergency fund, saving for the future, and preparing for retirement.
But to truly understand SMI, you need to know that I didn't start this newsletter 20 years ago because I have a passion for helping Christians strengthen their financial foundations. Frankly, stronger financial foundations don't mean much to me if they're not accompanied by more generous giving.
Let me remind you of our mission statement the one we send to each of our new readers: "Sound Mind Investing exists to help you understand and apply biblically based principles for making spending and investing decisions in order that: (1) your financial security would be strengthened, and (2) your giving to worldwide missionary efforts for the cause of Christ would accelerate. In other words, we want to help you have more so you can give more."
I hope the statement makes clear that my staff and I are motivated by a common desire to see God's message of love and salvation in Christ carried around the world to people He loves, people who are lost without Him. And that task, more often than not, requires money. That's why we want our readers to have morenot merely so they can achieve their financial goals, but also so they can give generously to advance God's kingdom.
However, here's what I've observed: it's far easier to help people have more than it is to motivate them to give more. Our SMI staff can teach our readers effective financial techniques, but we can't give them more generous hearts.
Over the two decades of publishing this newsletter, I've given a great deal of thought to what motivates Christians to give. I believe that the reasons typically fall into three broad areas. First, there are those who say…
"I'M GIVING BECAUSE I WANT TO DO MY DUTY."
Why do we view giving as a duty? Because Scripture clearly teaches that:
God owns everything. "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours" (1 Chronicles 29:11).
God is the owner, and when we give, we're simply giving back to Him what is already His. "Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand" (1 Chronicles 29:14).
We're just servants who manage what belongs to Him. We're His money managers. One of the most familiar of Jesus' teachings is the Parable of the Talents. Here's how He begins: "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey" (Matthew 25:14-15).
So the Master has gone away. He's entrusted property to us to manage on his behalf. What do servants do?
Servants follow orders. 1st Corinthians 4:2 says, "Now the most important thing about a servant is that he does just what his Master tells him to" (Living Bible).
I like what pastor and author Andy Stanley has to say about the servant's role with respect to giving and generosity, based on the instructions Paul gives to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:17: "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."
Our orders are to be unusually generous. First, Andy makes sure that his audience understands that this text is talking about them. They are "those who are rich." (If you're a comfortable middle-class American, congratulations you're in the top 10 percent when it comes to measuring the wealth of all the people on planet Earth.) Then Andy says this:
The verses say, "Command them to do good." He doesn't say, "Command them to be good" the rest of the Bible says that.
It is clear from Scripture that, as servants, we have our orders. We are to do what the Master asks. If we are to be found faithful, we must give generously.
Even though this is biblically true, I rarely write to you, our readers, about giving from this perspective. There are two drawbacks in approaching the issue primarily from the point of view of duty.
First, I don't believe that telling you what you ought to do is particularly motivational. Making you feel guilty because you're not doing as much as you could (and possibly should) simply isn't an effective way to inspire generosity. But more importantly, I want you to dream big dreams about your giving. People who look at giving merely as a duty may be more likely to settle for giving 10 percent i.e., the tithe. I believe many SMI readers can afford to give much more than 10 percent. So I make it my goal to inspire and enable you to give more than what "duty" would call you to.
Giving is about more than doing your duty. It's about more than faithfully carrying out a responsibility. Yes, it involves those things, but you know, people can perform their duties reluctantly. And far be it from us to give to our gracious, loving God in a begrudging way.
Let's move on to a second motivation for giving, those who might say…
"I'M GIVING BECAUSE I'VE BEEN PROMISED REWARDS!"
Again, this is true. In the 1 Timothy passage mentioned earlier, Paul says that if rich people will be rich in good deeds, if they will be generous and willing to share, they "will be storing up real treasure [for themselves] in heaven it is the only safe investment for eternity" (1 Timothy 6:19 LB).
This is great news! Who doesn't want to reap rewards that come from making wise investments? Paul is saying that generosity now will be rewarded with treasures in heaven for all eternity!
He's echoing Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount: "For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give large or small will be used to measure what is given back to you" (Luke 6:38, LB).
For some of us, this teaching is so familiar that it's lost its wonder. Don't let it. Don't rush past it and fail to appreciate that this is an "investment opportunity" unlike any other. It's a "sure thing." Don't fail to take advantage of it.
An incident a few years ago in Washington, D.C. offers a lesson about missed opportunities. On a Friday morning in January 2007, a youngish-looking man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a baseball cap entered a D.C. subway station. He had a small case tucked under his arm. Finding a spot near the entrance, he opened the case and took out a musical instrument his violin. After positioning the case at his feet and tossing in a few dollars and loose change for seed money, he leaned back against a wall and began to play.
Each passerby had a quick decision to make a not uncommon one where the occasional street performer is part of the city-life environment: "Do I ignore him or do I throw in a dollar as I rush by?" Perhaps some even asked themselves, "Do I have time stop and listen?"
But the scene was not as it appeared. What the commuters didn't know is that the "concert" was an experiment arranged by the Washington Post Magazine. This wasn't just any young man. He was violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, one of the most acclaimed musical artists in the world. His concerts sell out everywhere he plays.
In a subway station filled with hurried commuters, this superb violinist played for 43 minutes, artfully interpreting six masterpieces by Bach some of the most beautiful music ever composed. His instrument? A $3.5 million Stradivarius, handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1713.
According to the Post, during those 43 minutes, 1,097 people walked past. What was their response to having a world-class musician in their midst? To having an opportunity to hear this grand virtuoso play a concert for free?
In his feature story about this experiment, here is how the Washington Post Magazine's Gene Weingarten described what happened:
[Bell] played with acrobatic enthusiasm, his body leaning into the music and arching on tiptoes at the high notes. The sound was nearly symphonic, carrying to all parts of the homely arcade as the pedestrian traffic filed past.… Three-and-a-half minutes went by before he got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.
A wonderful opportunity was presenting itself, but the people were too preoccupied with matters of everyday life to take advantage of it. Hopefully that won't be true of us when it comes to Jesus' promise of eternal rewards.
What are we missing if we fail to seize the opportunity to be generous givers? Jesus said we can gain eternal treasures by our faithful stewardship now. What a remarkable promise.
THE MOST DAUNTING STEWARDSHIP SCRIPTURE IN THE BIBLE
And we should be especially mindful that the last part of Jesus' promise contains these words: "Whatever measure you use to give large or small will be used to measure what is given back to you" (Luke 6:38, LB). It seems to me that this is perhaps the most startling or daunting stewardship Scripture in the Bible.
To bring this principle regularly to my mind, I keep a set of kitchen measuring spoons on my desk as a paperweight. When I consider giving decisions, I need this reminder don't use a small measure! As much as possible, I want to reach for the larger spoons, the ones that promise the largest eternal rewards. I encourage you: Use the largest measure you possibly can!
Jesus promised rewards to His faithful stewards. Randy Alcorn has written with wonderful insight on that, notably in a little book called The Treasure Principle which I highly recommend. So don't misunderstand what I'm about to say; I'm all for the rewards, OK?
Even so, when I write in SMI about giving, and what Scripture says about our role as servants and about God's promise of rewards, I rarely focus on either as a motivation for generosity. Instead, I prefer to approach giving from a third aspectone that deals with our affections.
I believe giving is an affair of the heart. And in my heart of hearts, what I really want is for God to be pleased with my life. I want to make Him happy. I trust that you have similar desires. So my challenge to you and to me is that each of us could say…
"I WANT TO GIVE GENEROUSLY BECAUSE I LOVE MY FATHER IN HEAVEN AND I WANT TO PUT A SMILE ON HIS FACE."
Consider how deeply committed our Father is to us. When you placed your faith in Christ, it's as if God said:
My child, I pledge to love you with an everlasting love. I'll constantly be watching over you, and I'll provide for your needs. I'll guide your steps through life, and give you advice so you can make good decisions. As you depend on me, I'll give you strength to endure difficult times.
Isn't that reasonable that we would always be true to Him? Paul puts the question to us in Romans 12:1: "When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?" (LB). No, it's not too much to ask.
And remember, it's not just in this life that our Father is looking after us. He has prepared a wonderful place for us in eternity! In his book, The Pleasures of God, John Piper offers a compelling word picture of the coming great marriage of Jesus and His Church:
God says his joy over his people is like a bridegroom over a bride. He is talking about honeymoon intensity and honeymoon pleasures and honeymoon energy and excitement and enthusiasm and enjoyment. He is trying to get into our hearts what he means when he says he rejoices over us with all his heart.
Yes, we should give out of duty. Yes, it's appropriate to give because we want rewards. But these reasons though they are biblical don't motivate me nearly as much as this simple truth: When I give lovingly and generously, it gives my heavenly Father pleasure.
"God has given each of you some special abilities; be sure to use them to help each other," we read in 1 Peter 4. "Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies, so that God will be glorified through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 4:10,11b LB). This passage tells us that when we use our gifts in obedience, we are doing what we were made to do, what we have been gifted to do: to glorify God and advance His kingdom!
Nothing in life is as satisfying. When the Holy Spirit in you is allowed to live out the life of Christ through you, you can accomplish things of eternal consequence that are on God's heart.
FEELING GOD'S PLEASURE
The 1981 film Chariots of Fire tells the story of Eric Liddell, a gold medalist at the 1924 Olympics and later a missionary to China. The primary drama focuses on his refusal to run on a Sunday, believing Sunday was reserved for the Lord. But my favorite part of the film is a subplot involving Eric and his sister Jennie. She is concerned that Eric's running will take him away from his missionary efforts.
In one scene, Eric tells Jennie the good news that he's been accepted by the mission society to go to China. But then he adds, "But I've got a lot of running to do first." She is taken aback, but Eric says, "Jennie, you've got to understand. I believe that God made me for a purpose for China. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure…to win is to honor Him."
It's an emotional moment when, later, we see Eric in the final moments of his Olympic race. With head thrown back and legs pumping, he is exhilarated as he tries to give his very best to what he believed God had called and equipped him to do. He won that race, setting a new world record. And as a result of his victory and his refusal to run on Sunday, God was honored and financial support was gathered for his missionary work in China.
Eric Liddell was given speed for a reason. You and I have been given wealth for a reason. We weren't created to celebrate ourselves. We were created to celebrate Him. And when we invest our lives in celebrating Him, we feel His pleasure.
In the Parable of the Talents, what is the last thing the Master said to the faithful servants? We've gotten past the assignment where he has told them what their duty is… we've gotten past the handing out of the rewards… and the last thing the master says to the faithful servant is, "Come and share your master's happiness."
When you and I are faithful servants, we make the Master happy.
DREAMING BIG DREAMS
As you can tell, I dream big dreams for you in this area, that you will excel in the grace of giving.
I want all these wonderful things for you. And really, don't you want them, too?
LIFE IS SHORT
In our church, we occasionally sing the Casting Crowns' song, "Who Am I?" The words of the chorus remind me who I am and who you are: "I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapor in the wind…"
We've talked about duty, and we've talked about rewards, and we've talked about making God happy. I feel I just need to mention one more thing life is short.
You may be thinking that you'd like to boost your giving, that you'd like to be more generous. But the economy is so uncertain right now. Maybe later this year you could revisit this idea or if not this year, there's always next year.
No…there's not. There's not always next year. There's not always next month. Or next week.
The moment when you will be ushered into God's presence may seem far off, but it will be upon you before you know it. Many in the SMI family might well have that experience before this year is over. You could be one of those people. I could be one of those people. We don't know.
This is a sobering fact. It should cause us to think very deeply on the values we hold and the decisions that we make. Our purpose for living is to delight in and, by any and all means, reflect the glory of God. What are we doing now, in this little while before we vanish like "a vapor in the wind," to make the glory of God known?
There are many ways we are called to serve the Lord, and giving is one of them. Like Eric Liddell, you have a race to run. No one else can run it for you. So run it with passion and purpose. Then, like the apostle Paul, you can say with great satisfaction "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race."