Below is the compilation of testimonies on giving that vestry warden Nancy Sung shared at our March 26 vestry meeting.
At the beginning of Lent we were reminded of three Lenten practices — prayer, fasting, and giving. Of the three, I’ve been thinking most about giving during this Lent.
Why? In one of Amy’s recent weekly letters she pointed out that this year’s Lenten Lectionary dips into the book of John, describing encounters with Jesus where he called people to new ways of thinking and being and seeing in the world — and she framed Lent as being not necessarily just about giving things up, but it can also be about trusting God to walk with us into new areas; asking ourselves, where is Jesus inviting us to newness —possibly expansive — newness?
So back to giving — it is a very important part of our discipleship, yet it is something we hardly ever talk about. So — I talked about it with some of you! To get some insight on how Incarnation thinks about giving I reached out to about a dozen people- all of whom are currently or were formerly in our community — who are faithful, regular givers. I don’t know how much they give- just that they are faithful and in some cases very generous. I asked them about any principles and practices of their giving that they’d be willing to share, as a kind of group testimony.
Now there are two dangers here:
one is that as with prayer and fasting, we don’t make a show of giving — this is where the concept of ‘the right hand not knowing what the left is doing’ comes from in Jesus’ teaching — he warned against focusing on who is giving what.
The other danger is that by providing any concrete example we may create more ‘law’, burdening people with an explicit or implicit expectation. Along this line, one person I asked said, ‘I'm hesitant to share my practice and principles outside of my context’ — they didn’t want anyone else to feel that their approach should be others’ norm.
So, what I’ll do to avoid these dangers is say I’ve heard back from couples, from families, and from single people; from people in their 20s on up to older people with grown kids. What I observed is that ‘faithful, generous’ givers don’t all look alike, and they don’t all think about it the same way. They are motivated by different things. I think that is important to note- and made it a beautiful thing for me to see.
Here are the themes I saw in their responses:
1. ‘Transaction’: valuing what they received, and giving to cover what it costs:
One person said “I am able to help pay for the community that has invested in me (and I invest extra because I know that's not what others can do.) That sounds transactional, and it is.”
Another got more concrete: “I consider all the [invisible] things that have to happen for me to be able to sit in the …Incarnation service on a Sunday morning… payroll, rent, sound equipment, gas and maintenance for the van, etc. In addition, I take seriously the scriptural call to be a community of individuals sacrificing for one another and building the church through giving. “ We could call this the NPR approach! ‘Think about what it’s worth to you’.
2. Others described it as a deeply ingrained habit, now automatic:
“Giving was a discipline I witnessed my parents practice with their finances and it was reinforced in college as a few of my friends were called into student ministry. Those words we all say together, ‘All things come from you, oh Lord, and of your own have we given you’- I grew up hearing that so often, it’s sort of just ingrained now. “
“It started when I was five- my parents had me tithe from my allowance!”
“When I became a Christian at age 18, I saw this is what other Christians did, so I started doing it”
“As newlyweds we tithed from our wedding gifts, and then from our newly-joint income- which was barely enough for our expenses- but once the habit was established we found we ALWAYS had what we needed”.
Something to note here is that our example to others — and especially to our kids — is powerful.
3. Others basically said: It’s GOOD for us to give — and transforms us:
“Giving is an antidote to greed and covetousness” (read that again — a very powerful statement!)
“Giving gives us a new path to joy in investing in God’s kingdom- we truly want to see the kingdom come more than we want what money would otherwise buy.”
“I think God expects us to trust him when he says, ‘If God so clothes the grass, which is today in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?’ Giving stretches us.
Two families said the equivalent of this: “We viewed a tithe —10% — as a starting point; a baseline. As we made more money, we increased the percentage, and then we could support not only our local church but other work that is important to us.” I found one of these examples really inspiring — because they said they are now giving away 30% of their income, despite the fact that their family has faced some significant challenges, and they are not in lucrative jobs. Giving so intentionally shaped and transformed them.
To draw this to a close — Incarnation is an incredibly generous church! I am really proud that we have thus far been able to live beyond a tithe as a church — devoting 15% of our church’s income to outreach. I hope you are encouraged by the testimonies I just shared- which come from some who worship with us every week, and others who have moved on from us. I’d encourage you, maybe in small groups, to share examples of God’s faithfulness to you in your own giving. How has it been part of your own discipleship? How has giving led you to new, expansive areas in your faith?
Finally, from 2 Corinthians 8:7: Dear Incarnation: “But since you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in the love we have kindled in you — see that you also excel in this grace of giving”.