Christians often tend to be a bit rubbish when it comes to discussing money. In many secular contexts, there’s an implicit ban on discussing religion or politics – in a Christian setting, it’s money that gets the cold shoulder, which is strange when you notice that Jesus had quite a bit to say about it. If you raise the topic, it’s either because you are guilting someone else to dispense from their largesse, or because you have something to brag about.
Believe me, this is neither. It’s because my wife and I tried an experiment and it has left us excited and wanting to repeat the exercise. But, first a word of background.
I was raised in a ‘generous church’ in my home village. JB, one of the church leaders, got up at 4.00am to milk the cows. Then he cycled several miles to the nearest railway station, and commuted into London where he put in a day’s work at the Bank of England. At the end of the day, the same practice in reverse. He and his wife gave away most of what he earned. One of my best friends decided with his new wife, that they would ‘tithe’ 90% of their income and keep 10% (tithing is the other way around) and see how they managed. And they discovered that they managed just fine. Another good friend, who only recently went home to glory, gave away 50% of everything he earned over his entire lifetime.
That kind of background tends to influence your outlook. It has meant that there has never been any room for complacency when it comes to charitable giving, and led to that restless sense that we could always do more. Last year, during COVID, because there was so much that we could now not do, due to lockdown, we found ourselves looking more closely at the money question.
This coincided with an increasing involvement in Great Lakes Outreach, a Christian charity engaged in genuinely transformative work in Burundi, and where the indigenous Christians appear not to have our hangups over money. Here, in the UK, we take our time to mull over our vision and mission statements. We analyse to the nth degree the nature of our projects. We construct intricate business plans, create carefully-weighted budgets, in order to see whether or not we can do this thing which seems important. Over there in Burundi, they crack on with the mission, and worry about the funds for it later on. Here in the UK, we have the luxury of navel-gazing – out there, they really don’t. It’s a matter of life and death, and that requires real faithfulness.
Against that background, and having become part of a praying community which is focused on making a real difference, we found that giving became a natural part of what we are about. Not a kind of non-specific, scattergun approach, triggered by oversensitive consciences, but rather a very specific, need-related motivation. We helped a little boy receive a life-saving operation. We helped pay for a prosthetic limb. We supported some supremely gifted Christians active in public service. We were involved in a project which distributed 9,000 healthcards to families that could not afford healthcare – and which is continuing to support families in this basic way. We helped buy sewing machines for women rescued from prostitution. There were more instances, but those are the initiatives which I can now recall from memory.
Naturally enough, this led to an increase in giving, at a time when our income has dropped by 60%, as I move into retirement. Initially, we were a little cautious about this change, and it’s only yesterday that I took the step of totting the figures up, to discover that, during the 20/21 tax year, we gave away 46% of our net income. This represented a doubling on the previous year, but here’s the thing – not only was it not painful, and we managed just fine on 54% of our reduced income, but God seemed to compensate for us in other ways. Our experience has been less about giving than it has been about investing. The Bible speaks of God being ‘no man’s debtor’, and that has certainly been our own experience – and we’re just blown away to see what has actually been done, on the ground, with our relatively modest contributions.
As we enter the new tax-year, my wife and I are asking ourselves, what more can we do this year? Whilst we are earnestly praying that we may soon emerge from lockdown, so that we can better serve, it remains the case that financial giving has been the means of freeing up others to make such a profound difference. But that doesn’t happen in a vacuum: will you be intentional in your giving in 2021?
Earlier this year, I read ‘Gospel Patrons’ by John Rinehart – a challenging introduction to three groups of Christians who literally changed their culture through giving. If you’re looking for a mission in your life, why not read the book and take steps to become a ‘Gospel Patron’?