Some of us have sinned a lot. Some of us have sinned a whole lot. Some of us ought to be dead (or at least incarcerated for an extended period of time). Some of us should be very, very grateful for the things they don’t know about what we’ve done.
And some of us who have sinned a lot, who have made a lot of mistakes, who have walked on the dark side, have discovered in Jesus a kind of forgiveness that hardly seems possible. When we found grace, we fell on it like a starving man at a buffet.
Grateful people are a joy to be around. People who have found life after years of mere existence are inspiring. They tend to respond to life with a grateful generosity that is catching. If you are one of them, consider yourself deeply blessed. To live from a place of deep gratitude is a real gift.
Not everyone cultivates this gift, however; left to itself, gratitude can starve again. If you want to lose your joy while giving, follow these seven way-too-easy steps:
1. Respond to every need as if it is your personal responsibility to meet it.
Here is a spiritual principle: The need is not the call. The call is the call. If you want to lose your joy while giving, then respond as if the need is the call. And of course, there are more needs than any one person can ever possibly fill so pretty quickly, you’ll be overwhelmed and you’ll get bitter. This is a great way to lose your joy.
2. Let yourself believe you’re the only one who cares.
I call this the Elijah Principle. Maybe you remember that story in 1 Kings of the time when Elijah ends up on top of a mountain talking to God and he gets a little whiny. He says, “Everyone else has abandoned you, God, and I’m the only one left.” We’ve all felt that way. When you’re the only one taking out the trash, or doing everyone else’s job, it can feel lonely. Discouragement can give you tunnel vision. But God told Elijah, “Son, there are 7,000 people down in the valley waiting for you. You’re not alone. You’re just not tuned in.”
The truth is, God chooses to work through us but it won’t all fall apart if we somehow can’t keep up. There are others working, too, and God’s plan will unfold. That’s a given.
3. Make guilt your driving motivation for giving.
One of the bigger lessons I’ve learned about the Spirit-filled life is this: You cannot be in two places at the same time. That’s both a physical reality and a spiritual principle. The same frustration we have when we try to do squeeze too many things into our calendars is the frustration we feel when we are in one place internally and another place externally.
John Townsend and Henry Cloud talk about this in their book, Boundaries. They talk about the internal yes and the external yes. It is the battle between our commitments and our feelings. When the internals don’t match the externals, the Holy Spirit has no room to move. If you’re spiritually frustrated in your giving, maybe this is a question for you: Do your internals match your externals? Because folks, you can not be in two places at the same time.
4. Close your heart toward every need except your own.
The other end of that spectrum, of course, is being so self-protective that we ignore every other need except our own.
5. Have an agenda behind your giving.
If you want to suck the joy out of giving, give with strings attached. Decide you’ll only give if it makes you feel good, or if your name can be on it, or if it gets used in a very specific way. That’s a surefire way to generate frustration and choke out joy.
6. Have no personal strategy or vision for giving.
Give as a reaction instead of a reasoned and prayerful response. Kingdom giving is always about “call,” and not just about “can.”
7. Don’t ever pray about it.
Give for the emotional rush, or give because of an emotional appeal or because someone makes you feel guilty or because someone has manipulated you. But for goodness’ sake, don’t give because you’ve prayed about it and sought the counsel of the One Person in the universe you can confidently say is smarter than you.
That’s how to lose your joy while you’re giving. If, however, you’d like to cultivate joy rather than kill it when you give, then Paul has some good advice for us: Holy Spirit living leads to Holy Spirit spending. Let the Spirit invest in your life, then invest your life in the Kingdom. Find things that make you grateful (like your salvation, for instance) and give from that place.
When we think more intentionally about the use of our resources, our giving flows from a more grateful place and leads to deep joy and real peace.