Generosity is not as much an overflow of wealth as it is an overabundance of faith. Stinginess, on the other hand, is a sure sign that a person trusts things instead of God. And make no mistake, we serve what we trust.
My older brother, Orville, was never a wealthy man, but he was wonderfully generous with what he had. He never held back from the Lord . . . and that is still true! It was this overabundance of faith that led him to be a missionary for more than thirty years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Just before that, he had done some short-term mission work in Mexico and had come north to gather his wife, Erma Jean, and the kids for the long trip down into the far reaches of South America.
Before leaving, they stopped off for a quick visit with our parents in Houston. Now, you have to appreciate the kind of man my father was. Look up the word responsible in the dictionary, and his picture is there! To him, risks are for those who fail to plan. Responsible people leave nothing to chance. As far as he was concerned, faith is something you exercise when your three backup plans fall through and you have run out of all other options. My father was a believer, but he never understood the life of faith. Not really.
My brother, on the other hand, was stimulated by faith. He has lived his entire adult life on the raw edge of faith. To him, life doesn’t get exciting until God, and God alone, can get us through some specific challenge. That drove our dad nuts!
Orville pulled up to the house in an old Chevy sedan on four of the slickest tires I had ever seen. My father always inspected tires when we came to visit. I wondered how long it would take for him to say something. I’m sure Orville did too. Not very is the answer.
After a great supper of good ol’ collard greens and corn bread, onions and red beans, my mother and sister went into the kitchen, leaving my father at one end of the table, Orville at the other, and me sitting on one side. Then it started.
“Son, how much money do you have for your long trip?”
“Oh, Dad, don’t worry about it. We’re gonna be fine.”
Before he could change the subject, my father pressed the issue, “Answer me! How much money do you have in your wallet?”
Orville smiled and shrugged as he said, “I don’t have any in my wallet.”
I sat silent, watching this verbal tennis match.
“Nothing in your wallet? How much money do you have? You’re gettin’ ready to go down to South America! How much money you got?”
With that, my brother smiled, dug into his pocket, pulled out a quarter, set it on its edge on his end of the table, then gave it a careful thump. It slowly rolled past me all the way to my father’s end of the table and fell into his hand. Dad said, “A quarter? That is all you’ve got?”
Orville broke into an even bigger smile and said, “Yeah. Isn’t that exciting!”
That was not the word my father had in mind. After a heavy sigh and a very brief pause, Dad shook his head and said, “Orville, I just don’t understand you.”
My brother grew more serious. Looking Dad in the eyes, he answered without blinking, “No, Dad, you never have.”
I don’t know how he actually made the trip to their destination . . . or how he and Erma Jean took care of all their little kids, but they never went hungry. And they served in Buenos Aires and traveled to other parts of the world for more than three decades. My father was a man who emerged through the Great Depression, lived in fear of poverty his whole life, seldom took a risk, and never experienced the joy of trusting God that made my brother smile so big that day.
Jesus never said that having nice things is wrong. By His sovereign choice, He may ordain some to be as poor as Himself and His disciples. Yet He may want others to have an overabundance of money and material goods so that they might give in abundance. His chief concern is not the issue of wealth; He cares about us and where we turn for security. Whether or not we own nice things, He wants to be sure that they don’t own us!
Generosity is not only a sure sign of faith; it’s also a surefire way to stimulate it. As soon as something begins to feel just a little too crucial to our happiness or safety, it’s time to show it who’s boss by giving it away.