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What Does It Mean to Be Generous in Hard Times?

I think most of us want to be generous, especially as Christians. We want to give more than we take and bless others with what we have to share. The problem comes when we worry about not having enough to take care of ourselves. What if we give away too much? What if we don’t have enough left to cover any unexpected emergencies? It’s not so much that we are mean-spirited Scrooges at heart; it’s about fear and control.

When we boil it down, we realize that our generosity (or lack thereof) is proportional to how strongly we feel a sense of scarcity. Even when it comes to our time or our attention. Eva Selhub, M.D. talks about this in an article for Huffington Post, noting that people who are generous feel a sense of calm confidence that these resources — money, time, attention — are not rapidly depleting and finite, but plentiful and renewable.

“The quality of generosity stems from the belief that one has enough and is enough, and always will. It arises from knowing that one is already special and that it is wonderful to share in this abundance and specialness,” she observes.

If Dr. Selhub is sharing this conclusion independent from the Christian worldview, how much more should we as believers live with this kind of faith? We don’t have to stand guard around the resources God gives us. He has provided before, and we can trust that He will provide them again.

“You Can’t Outgive God”

I recently talked to Gigi Butler, founder of the wildly successful cupcake shop franchise Gigi’s Cupcakes, on the Real Hope podcast about generosity. She has an interesting mantra she employs when considering whether she can afford to be generous: “you can’t outgive God.” Gigi says she keeps this in mind when money is tight and times are tough — like right now, for example.

Gigi has been working to open a new bakery called Pies by Gigi, which of course has been a struggle during a year marked by a global pandemic. She recalls a time recently when she wanted to welcome a group of women into her home for a meal.

“I really thought, ‘Can I afford to have all these women come to my place and feed them? I can’t really afford it; no,’” she says. “But I went home and prayed about it, and I said, ‘God, I can’t outgive you. If I don’t open up this place to people and have them know it’s a place for community and a place for people to feel safe and loved — if I can’t show that and step out on faith, then who am I?’”

God has already made the ultimate sacrifice for us, even while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). We can’t fathom the level of generosity and unconditional love that act alone displays, knowing we’ll never fully understand the depths of our sin nor the holiness of God this side of Heaven. But if He has done this magnificent thing for us, how much more can we trust Him to take care of us in our day-to-day lives? We will never give something that He has not already given us a hundredfold. There will never be a day when we give so much that He owes us something back. We simply cannot outgive Him.

I believe this is the truth Gigi keeps close when she is tempted to tighten her fists around what God has given her. We can trust that God will care for us, because He already has.

There’s a section of Matthew that comes to mind when I think about generosity this way — that it relates to the level of scarcity we feel and our fear about whether or not we’ll be okay:

26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:26-30, ESV)

God’s Word in Matthew is a great comfort to us in this. God calls us to be generous, and He will care for us every step of the way.

When You Have Little to Give

The Gospels also show us that Jesus values the heart behind the generosity more than the amount given. He makes this clear in Mark 12: 

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

The widow made a sacrifice in honor of God and trusted Him to take care of her. Talk about being generous in hard times. She did not cling to the two coins she had but gave knowing she couldn’t outgive God. Jesus knows our hearts, and his response here shows that she was not giving in order to get anything in return. She simply gave in worship and response to what He’d already done for her.

It can certainly be difficult to give when you feel like you have very little in the first place, but God’s Word shows that He honors that act of faith. And it is an act of faith to give. We are trusting in God, leaning on who we believe Him to be.

“With faith like little children, we must be people who simply and completely trust God to be our Provider,” writes Dr. Gary G. Hoag for the Christian Leadership Alliance

He goes on to echo what Dr. Selhub concluded above:

“If your giving flows from what you think you provide, it will be limited to the finite supply in your shrinking asset pool or salary that never seems to be enough. I would argue that you would struggle to give sacrificially and miss out on the privilege of imitating the generosity of Christ.

“Conversely, if you give from what you realize God has provided, you are set free from the bondage of fear to distribute richly God’s resources to the things that matter to God because His supply is infinite. You empty your wallet or purse realizing God filled it before and can do it again.”

There are many ways to be generous, and God calls us to show His love through generosity. Perhaps today you add an extra dollar to your tip at the coffee shop or give your child a few minutes of uninterrupted, one-on-one attention this afternoon. However you choose to express it, look for opportunities to show generosity in your daily life. And remember, you can’t outgive God.