This article was created from an interview with Steve Atkinson and was found on TheBibleProject.com blog page. Steve Atkinson serves as The Bible Project’s Executive Director. He oversees all operations both internal and external for The Bible Project. He spent 15 years in the marketplace in sales and marketing. He was also a Senior Vice President for Generous Giving. Steve is passionate about the biblical message of generosity and helping others make the connection between God’s grace and our giving.
Generosity is one of those things we’d probably all say we value, but how that practically works out in our lives may be a different story.
In our modern world, wealth is reaching record highs, yet statistically, giving as a percentage of income is lower than it was during the Great Depression. And conversations around money seem to have left the public square completely.
However, if you were to open the pages of the Gospels, you would meet Jesus—radically generous, void of worry, and talking about our connection to wealth and possessions all the time (e.g., Matthew 6:21, Matthew 13:22, Matthew 19:21, Luke 12:22-34). Why did Jesus talk about generosity so much? What are we missing when it comes to giving? How can we better understand and respond to the biblical message of generosity?
Back to the Beginning
Since the beginning of the story, humanity has been confronted with a lie: what God has given you isn’t enough, so take for yourself (Genesis 3:1-7). Today, we are constantly bombarded with the same message, resulting in selfishness and covetousness. How can we overcome this scarcity mindset?
Author Randy Alcorn shares an intriguing insight related to this question. In a personal discussion surrounding generosity, he shared the following:
“God’s grace is the lightning and our giving is the thunder. Just like thunder follows lightning, giving follows grace. It is possible to give without a deep understanding of God’s grace. It is impossible to have a deep understanding of grace and not give.”
If we look again at the giving statistics in America through this insight, we arrive at a startling truth: rather than a generosity problem, we have an understanding of grace problem.
Think of the actual act of radical generosity. It’s easy to view giving as an obligation rather than a thunderous clap in response to God’s grace. In fact, it may feel irresponsible—shouldn’t we be saving to secure a solid future for ourselves and our families?
Connecting God’s Grace and Our Generosity
When we choose to hold on to our resources, we lose more than we think we gain. A weak perspective on generosity dams the river of God’s grace in and through our lives. If we don’t understand grace, then what is the substance of our Christian faith? Perhaps this is why Jesus spent so much time talking about topics surrounding generosity.
Generosity is a rebellious act against our culture. By it, we say “no” to a scarcity mindset and “yes” to Jesus, who says we are enough and we have enough. This allows God’s grace to flow freely into our lives—through us and to others. When we realize the depths of God’s grace in our lives, we can confidently say, “I have everything; therefore, I am free to give everything.”
So where do we go from here? How can we make the journey toward generosity? Here are three practical steps that can be helpful along the journey:
1. Join the Conversation.
The first step toward generosity is to start talking about it with a community you trust. While Jesus tells us to give in secret (Matthew 6:4), he also says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may give glory to God” (Matthew 5:16). In other words, if your giving is about self-righteousness, then keep it to yourself. But don’t miss out on accountability and conversations surrounding generosity with others, since these can provide greater understanding of God’s grace.
2. Be Ready and Available.
Generosity extends beyond just finances. We can adopt a posture of making ourselves ready and available to God with everything—including our time and money. A helpful practice is to ask throughout the day, “God, what do you want me to do with what I’ve been given?” This helps us position ourselves with a listening posture at all times, ready to be a conduit of God’s grace in the world.
3. Maintain Perspective.
In the concluding story of John’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples to cast the net on the other side of the boat after an unsuccessful night of fishing (John 21:3-6). They arrive to shore with their record catch only to find Jesus with a charcoal fire full of fish (John 21:9). What Jesus says next is quite surprising, “Bring me some of the fish you have just caught” (John 21:10). Why does Jesus emphasize they caught the fish when really it was his miracle? Why does Jesus ask them to bring him fish when clearly breakfast is going to happen no matter what?
As the disciples move into the next phase of the biblical narrative, preaching the good news, this interaction with Jesus shaped their perspective in a significant way: God is going to accomplish what he set out to do with or without us—but we are invited to join what he is doing and take a seat at his table. We need to maintain this same perspective in our giving. Often we see ourselves as the initiators of God’s work because of our giving. But God invites us to see ourselves as responders to God’s grace. When we carry this perspective, we begin to understand Jesus’ words: “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).