One of my mantras is that I never ask anyone to do anything that I am not willing to do first. So before I challenge you to give generously, I will share my personal journey to generosity.
When my husband, Rev. Keith A. Dunn, and I entered full time ministry in the late 1980’s, we had minimal financial resources. Both of us had just completed seven years of higher education – and although we had both worked throughout college and seminary, we carried student loan debt. We were serving in minimum salary appointments; when monthly expenses were paid, little was left in the checkbook.
Early in our marriage we had a serious discussion about tithing our income. We knew it was the right thing for us to do as pastors. How could we preach about giving and tithing if we did not practice those ourselves? But we were honestly afraid to give away too much of our limited income. So, we made a covenant – we would start giving five percent of our income to ministry and then work our way up gradually to giving a full tithe (10 percent). Within five years, we were tithing our gross income. We did not wait until the end of month to see if anything was left to give: We gave it first and God provided for the rest of the month. We had achieved our goal!
But then God decided to stretch us and call us to full accountability with our finances. Although we were tithing our income, we were also carrying significant credit card debt. There was a nagging uncertainty about “giving away our resources” when the credit card balance was growing. We were tithing, but not living generously.
During my appointment at Trinity UMC in Brackenridge, an unexpected opportunity came for three women in the congregation to go on an international mission trip – and the funds for the trip had to be submitted immediately. Two of the women had the resources to quickly produce the $2000 amount. The third woman did not and came to my office to discuss the options. On that day, the Spirit prompted me to personally cover the cost of her trip. I was not sure how we would manage the next month’s bills, and I could see the interest charges piling up on the credit cards. With fear and trepidation, I went home and told Keith what I had done. His response was also Spirit-inspired – no need to worry, God will provide.
Shortly afterwards, a visiting singing group did not have the funds to pay for transportation to their next concert site. Again, on the urging of the Spirit, I personally covered the expenses for the group to travel by train to their next venue. What was I doing? Was this irresponsible spending? In a short span of time, I had literally given away thousands of dollars – with no expectation to be repaid - and was not sure I could even cover my own expenses!
Then an amazing thing happened. Although our income did not increase during this time period, within six months of giving away my money, our credit card debt disappeared completely! At the end of every month, there was more money than ever before in the balance column. How can less money cover a greater portion of our expenses? If I was giving away thousands, why was there a bigger balance in my checkbook?
The answer is God’s economics are different than the world’s economics! I am convinced that when I was willing to move beyond obligation and trust God with everything I had, God blessed us with abundance. I learned a valuable lesson: When our generosity increases, God’s blessings multiply! Not so I can keep more, but so I can give more away – so that God’s grace and love may abound!
Since that experience 16 years ago, we have strived to live a life of generosity. Our money is not our own – it is God’s. We receive so we can give. We still manage funds wisely – we are still responsible in balancing the checkbook and we still carefully consider the options before we make a major purchase. But God showed us that living generously brings blessing – to others, to ourselves, and most importantly to God!
I invite you to trust God and live with a spirit of generosity. No matter what your current circumstances are, even in the midst of this pandemic, begin a plan to grow in your giving to God’s work in your church, community and world. Look for ways to be generous in sharing your resources with others. It does not matter what your income is or what your expenses are: When you give out of trust in God, God will provide and will bless you abundantly.
By the way, a couple of years after the mission trip, the young woman whose trip expenses I paid reimbursed me the full amount! The mission experience was life-changing for her, and in good faith she returned what I had given her. I was doubly blessed then – my gift had blessed her and God had blessed me! And then I had a little more to give away as I continued to serve God.
Dare to live generously – and be ready for God to do amazing things in both your life and in others!
WPA Commission on Archives and History