When I was in college, I went to Argentina on a mission trip. While I was down there an awesome missionary named Dan Ryder (who taught me many great lessons which I'll share in other posts) taught me a saying, "give until it hurts". I'm sure he didn't come up with it, but he introduced it to me, so he get's the credit as far as I'm concerned.
What did he mean by it? Well the way he explained it is that if we are giving out of our comfort, it's not really giving, because we're not giving up anything. Jesus explains this in the example of the Widow's Mite in Luke 21:1-4.
Giving till it hurts means giving until you notice the difference. The next spring after the mission trip to Argentina, I was in New York City on a trip to expose us to urban missions to disadvantaged youth, the homeless and the addicted. One rainy night in Manhattan, we went out to bring food to those on the streets and were instructed to sit down and get to know some of these folks we aimed to serve. I talked to a guy who'd lost his job, his wife, his home, and his dignity. When I asked him what I could do for him, he said he just wanted some socks because it was so cold and damp. A quick look at his feet suggested that my socks would probably fit him, so I took off my shoes and socks, gave him my socks and put my shoes back on. I was a poor college student working my way through college on a scholarship, but I still had more socks back in my suitcase. Frankly, that didn't hurt much, but I did notice the difference because for the rest of the evening, my feet were freezing. And most importantly, I was learning to exercise my GIVE muscle.
Since then, I've striven to give as much as possible and there have been many conversations in which my wife and I have struggled to understand why so and so seems to have more money to spend on such and such. Then we look at our giving and realize that we could have had a bigger house, nicer car, fancier vacations or whatever, if we had given less.
So, we give and it hurts. Or does it?
Back when we first got married and we wanted to buy a house so badly, it was tough to give up 10% of our income, and we didn't always succeed. Later, when we got into the pile of debt that inspired my book, Pillows For Your Prison Cell, it was really tough to give because it slowed down our process of getting out of our prison cell. But we gave, and we gave, and over time we learned that it was better to give and trust our heavenly father than to keep the money for our own plan. God's math is not our math. His economy is not our economy. His promise in Malachi 4:10 demonstrates how he thinks about this.
If this is God's promise, then how can it hurt to give? In fact, the more I give, the less it hurts. It only hurts if I think it's mine and by giving zealously for the last 20+ years, God has taught me that it ISN'T mine. In fact, I'm not really giving anything. I'm taking. So I gave until it didn't hurt and now my goal is to take less.
Let me draw a picture for you. In the next 12 months, God is going to put a pile of resources on the table in front of you: Time, Talents (knowledge, skills, abilities) and Treasure (money). How much of that are you going to take and use for yourself, and how much of that are you going to leave on the table to do His work? Here's the cool thing: It's all yours! He gave it to you, so you get to decide how to use it. You can invest in your local church, in a school in Haiti, an urban mission, or whatever He has put on your heart. What you do with it is up to you. So whether you have a little talent and a lot of money or a bit of time and some talent too, whatever you have, He gave it to you because He knows you'll put it to good use.
Tell me how you like to leverage your time, talent and treasure with the ministries that the Lord has put on your heart. In addition to our local church, my wife and I are currently investing in:
Love Does - So far, all we've been able to do is give money to sponsor kids to go to school in war torn and impoverished parts of Africa and Asia. Some day soon we'd like to visit these schools and invest in the kids directly.
God's Littlest Angels - We had the good fortune of connecting with the founders of GLA and hosted them in our home while they were in Seattle to raise money at Microsoft (my former employer). We then got to visit GLA in Petionville, Haiti and spend hours and hours holding babies (which is a huge blessing to a little baby in their first years and I can say that giving did not hurt one bit). Now we are sponsoring children to go to school in Haiti where school is NOT free.
And of course, No More Pillows the ministry I created to host fun and provocative weekend retreats for youth. (Shameless plug...)