In the spring of 2011, Andrea and I had reached giving goals that we had set for ourselves the year before. We were feeling great that God had so blessed us that we were able to give at levels we had never attained before.
Having given beyond the tithe for years, this marked a new level of generosity for us. And, to top it off, these goals were reached during the same year our youngest entered college.
Now we were paying the expenses for two to be in full-time higher education, and yet, giving at never-before-seen levels! Thank you, God.
As it happened, I went to the Exponential Conference in Orlando that spring, feeling really good about where we were with our giving.
I wouldn’t go as far to say we were ‘proud’ of our accomplishment, but we were enjoying the satisfaction of reaching a goal.
OK, maybe we were experiencing a small bit of pride. Well, not for long.
SO, who does God put in my path during my time at Exponential?
Rick Warren. Yep, I had the chance to meet and talk with Rick Warren in the hallways of FBC Orlando.
I told Rick how much I appreciated the way he taught generosity. More importantly, I expressed my appreciation for the way he and his wife lived out the value of generosity in their everyday lives. I knew their story.
And here was Rick’s response to me. I remember it as vividly as if it were yesterday. He said, “Thanks man. That means a lot.” Then he paused, and said, “You know … we’re trying to do one more this year. It’s going to be hard, but we think we can do it.
I was thinking, ‘What? One more book? One more campus at Saddleback? One more what?’
Without having to ask, Rick went on, “We’re going to try and give away 91% this year. We’re not sure we can do it. It’s going to be hard, but we’re going to try to live on 9 so we can give away 91.”
What? Are you kidding? I knew Rick’s testimony about giving. He had been giving away 90% for years – that’s why I wanted to take the opportunity to thank him for his story. But this? Seriously?
Here I am, walking the halls feeling great about reaching our (now seemingly very small) giving goal, and who does God put in my path – Rick Warren – not content with giving away 90%! NO! He’s still trying to give away even more. Talk about humbling. I felt like a small critter popping his head up on God’s “Whack-a-Mole” board.
Rick is praying a different prayer than most of us. See, just as there are different ‘stops’ on the giving journey, there is also a prayer journey that likely accompanies those traversing the path. Have you thought of different levels of prayer relating to giving? Let’s look at it.
From non-givers, to generous and even extravagant givers, you want to be speaking to and challenging people regardless of where they might fall on the list. As part of that conversation, consider this prayer journey.
What would it look like to move your people through this discourse with God?
As you begin to encourage people to take their next steps toward living generously, introduce them to the following prayers.
First, I acknowledge that the non-giver is likely not praying at all – at least not about his or her giving. If one starts to pray about it, that first prayer is likely: “God, what do you want me to do with my stuff?” (I define stuff as time, gifts, intellect, resources, finances, etc. – everything.)
That’s not a bad prayer – at least she’s praying, right? But what’s wrong with the prayer? Just one word. She sees her stuff as “her” stuff. Not bad, but there is a more mature prayer.
The next step in the prayer journey is this prayer: “God, what do you want me to do with YOUR stuff?” Ah, that’s better now. She recognizes that it’s ALL God’s stuff. Changing that one word in the prayer reflects spiritual maturity and is usually the result of effective discipleship.
To start with your people, you’ll want to help them understand this very basic principle. Everything we have … EVERYTHING we have … comes from God. (See Psalm 24:1; 1 Chronicles 29:11)
This is likely the prayer your casual and regular givers are praying. Again, it’s better than not praying at all, and it’s more mature than the “my stuff” prayer. But what might come next as you help people move along the giving prayer journey?
The third prayer is this, “God, how much of your stuff to do you want me to give?” This is the prayer that often moves one from being a regular giver into becoming a proportional giver. This is the person trying to figure out what percentage of their income they’re supposed to give. Here are a few questions he is probably asking of you, or in his small group:
- Is the tithe still relevant today? Isn’t that Old Testament theology? Aren’t we released from the tithe?
- Is the tithe based on my gross or net income?
Bet you’ve heard those questions before, haven’t you? That’s a sign of where this guy is on the prayer journey. He’s trying to figure out how much to give.
But there’s another step on the journey, an entirely different prayer. Though we will only change one word, this prayer will challenge you (and your givers) for the rest of your lives.
It goes like this: “God, how much of your stuff do you want me to keep?” Ouch! That’s a tough one. No longer are we focused on how much to give.
Now it’s about how much to keep. This is the place where your generous and extravagant givers are in their prayer life.
This is the place God really wants us, isn’t it? Relying entirely on Him for everything and focused more on giving than on keeping. What a step of faith this prayer requires!
See, this is the prayer Rick Warren and his wife are praying. That’s why they haven’t stopped their giving journey by giving away 90%. They’re asking God if they’re supposed to keep even less. Notice that his question isn’t an end-all-be-all; we can wrestle with this one forever.
Even here there’s always room for growth. You likely have people at each of these “stages” in your church family. And you have the great honor of helping them deepen their faith by surrendering their finances to God—with practice, over time.
What would it look like if your church all began praying that last prayer, “God, how much of your stuff DO you want me to keep?” I can only imagine the resources that could be released if we would all begin praying that prayer. It has challenged me. A new giving goal has been established. The journey is nowhere near ending. How about you?