Sammi Tooze; Generous Giving Adviser

In August last year, I was fortunate enough to buy my first house. I’ve always been prone to making the places I live homely, and so in several months’ preparation spent a lot of time in John Lewis! I’ve never taken much interest in advertisements on television, but one of John Lewis’ adverts has stuck with me for a long time – that of Christmas 2011, entitled ‘The Long Wait’. We see a young boy, impatiently waiting for Christmas day to arrive, scenes wishing the clock would go faster and staring mindlessly out of windows. Christmas Eve appears, and the boy gulps down his dinner and runs quickly upstairs to bed. As Christmas Day dawns and the boy awakes, we see him rushing past the bulging stocking at the foot of his bed, into his parents’ bedroom holding out a present for them – the slogan reads, ‘for gifts you can’t wait to give’.

While this advert is one made for a particular time of year, the message at its core is one that holds true for any type of giving at any point of the year – that it is a joy to give to those we love. Whether that is a gift in the form of a physical present, or one of time, creativity, a day out – gifts to others are an expression of love, value and gratitude. Personally, when I need to prepare a gift for someone, I encounter joy and uplifting anticipation in the giving of that gift, as I look forward to the joy it will give the receiver. It is a joy to give to those we love – the outcome is worth the sacrifice of our own resources.

I have always been interested in psychology, using the science of how our brains work to explain the way we feel, act and think – and no surprises, there has been research done on giving too. The act of charitable giving – that of giving with no transactional gain – activates what psychologists call the ‘pleasure circuit’ in the brain. It literally gives us pleasure to give, and much more so when the gift is made with autonomy rather than motivated by transaction or necessity. Areas of the brain light up when engaging in altruistic acts of generosity, and these areas are those which are associated with happiness. Put into a theological light, generosity is in the nature of God, and so it is in our nature too as beings made in his image.

When it comes to our churches, however, exploring giving and generosity can often be a challenging subject. We have inherited a deep-set culture where even the word ‘giving’ has negative connotations in our mind, even if we’re not sure why we feel more uncomfortable about it than when we think of buying a gift for a friend or loved one. And so, when we approach the subject of giving as churches, it is often done cautiously and sometimes apologetically, feeling that asking people to part with their time or resources might cause upset or awkwardness. But, why? Shouldn’t the same logic of the joy of giving be true of our giving to God?

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes,

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9.6-8

The phrase, ‘cheerful giver’, is often interpreted like marmite – but I’d like to turn our attention instead to the foundation on which this passage stands. Paul, possibly unknowingly, is adding theology to this psychological research – each of us are called to give as we have made up our minds. This is how our giving to God and to our churches should be grounded, as acts of grace which are sourced from the heart, given as a sacrifice as an expression of love and gratitude. By viewing our giving through this lens, it then becomes a joy to give.

Part of the inherited culture of giving in our churches means that we often don’t talk about giving from this angle. Instead, we use phrases such as ‘taking the collection’, or ‘paying the bills’ – language which lends itself more to a transactional lens. But our generosity towards God and the church is invited to be nothing like this at all – our giving is a gift, an offering, and a blessing. What might happen if we started using language like this when we talk about generosity? Think back to the psychology – the greatest joy of giving is not in those done under compulsion or transaction, but in those gifts which are given freely.

But this on its own is not the end point of our giving, we must look a bit further. Paul goes on to write,

God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. You will be enriched in every way for your generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.
2 Corinthians 9.8,11

This is where Paul really hits the nail on the head. Our act of giving is only the middle part of the equation – God gives to us first, all we are and all we have is God’s in the first place, so that we may use those blessings to bless others. And so all that we do to serve, care for, and love – when grounded in faith – are blessings we share with others. And those blessings can then in turn be used to bless other people, whilst God still provides us with enough to continue blessing the community in which we are set. The joy of giving is in seeing the ripple effect of God’s blessing in our communities. Actions which, with humility, point beyond themselves to produce thanksgiving to God – actions that reveal God’s glory to the world.

This is what we need to be focusing on when we talk about giving in our churches. We need to share and communicate the end point in all that we are, do are share. The act of giving is an expression of our faith and love of God – and the outcome is that it enables mission, which in turn enables people to encounter God’s love, enables us to be Christ in the world, and enables the Church to grow.

So how do we encounter joy in our giving? By seeing all we are and all we have as gifts we can’t wait to give.

Gracious God,
help us to see the joy
in all that we give,
that our giving may be a blessing
to you and to those around us,
and reveal your glory in the world.