Pastor Note #20 — The Spiritual Exercise of Giving

Trees in a Winter Wood; photo by GAC

So, my exercise regimen tends to change from time to time.  I am easily bored.  By switching from one thing to another – health club to high school pool to brisk walks in the neighborhood to strenuous biking.  I am currently in-between exercise programs.  I sort of like going to the gym.  Well, actually, I like having gone to the gym.  I rarely like being at the gym.

I suppose that isn’t an unfamiliar feeling for many of you.  I want to be fit.  I want to keep my heart healthy.  I want to lose some weight.  All of those things require me to exercise.  So, I go to the gym.  I want to go to the gym, because I want to accomplish my health and fitness goals.  But that doesn’t mean I like to go to the gym.  This is a situation in which what I want and what I like are not the same thing.

It’s in situations like this that being a grown-up means rising up, taking myself in hand, and doing what I know I really want to do rather than simply what I like doing.  I will admit right here and now that I do not always succeed at taking myself in hand and rising to the level of being a grown-up about these things.  But neither do I always fail.  This morning, for example, I worked myself into quite a sweaty lather on the elliptical machines and stationary bikes.

Now, let’s take that another step.  This whole exercise thing isn’t just a matter of doing it but of doing it hard.  For example, I could sit down on the stationary bike and begin riding along at 5 mph.  I can tell you that going that slow on the stationary bike would probably not be too much of a strain for me.  I might even find it pleasant and relaxing.  I could read a good book while it pedaled.  And on the whole, I’d have a very pleasant time of it.  Of course, at that pace, I would not break into a sweat, and I would certainly not lose weight.  In order for the exercise to be effective, I need to work harder than that.  I need to push myself beyond where I’m comfortable.  It’s that stretching beyond the point of discomfort that produces the real advantage for the exercise.  The growth, the strengthening, the progress can be achieved only when I push myself a bit beyond what is easy, beyond what comfortable.

Physical fitness is not the only area of life that confronts us with this inner conflict between what we know we want to do and what we like to do.  Nor is it the only realm of our lives in which the benefits can be had only when we are willing to push ourselves beyond what is comfortable.

From the very most ancient times, God’s people have recognized that giving away our money is one of the key exercises that God has provided for strengthening our spiritual lives and for training us for lives of faithfulness and obedience to him.

Just as exercises such as push-ups and riding a stationary bike will make our bodies stronger and healthier, so also God has provided us with spiritual exercises that strengthen and improve the health of our spiritual lives.  Giving away more than we are quite comfortable doing is one of the most effective and essential of those spiritual exercises.

By giving more than we are really comfortable giving, we practice trusting God more than we trust our money.  God has told us to give, and he has told us to rely on him.  Do you trust him enough to take him at his word?  Practice it, test him out by giving more than you feel comfortable giving.

Giving sacrificially is also a way of strengthening a vitally important set of spiritual muscles: i.e., the spiritual muscles that enable us to say “no” to ourselves and “yes” to God.  Without those spiritual muscles we will never really be able to live a healthy Christian life.  Just as lifting weighing is the necessary prerequisite to building up the muscles in your arms, so also giving sacrificially – giving beyond what is comfortable and easy – is the necessary prerequisite for growing up into a healthy, strong, and mature follower of Christ.

Yeah, I’m writing this now because we’re getting close to “Stewardship” time in most churches.  But I’m writing is in hopes of shaking you free from the idea that giving is important because the church needs your money.  That way of thinking gets it backwards.  I want you to give sacrificially NOT because the church needs your money, but because YOU need to give.  If you do not give sacrificially, then your spiritual life will become stunted and weak.

If God wants his church to do something, he will make sure it has what it needs.  I say that because in almost thirty years of pastoring churches, I have seen him do that time after time.

God does not need your money.  God wants your heart.  And if you won’t give him your money, neither will you give him your heart.  Our stewardship program is aimed at helping you practice pledging your love and trust to God.  Sacrificially giving God your money is a way of practically, concretely, tangibly giving your heart to God.

© 2010 Gary A. Chorpenning


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