Life will never be the same. We are not going back to the economy as it was. There is a new normal in town and it isn’t just a radio network. Some are predicting an economy beyond jobs. Others feel that the vacuum left by the upheavals of the last few years are fertile ground for new innovative and more sustainable approaches to life, jobs and even faith. One thing I am sure of as the New Normal radio network put it: the new normal has no choice but to be different.
So how do we steward our finances in this insecure time with the kingdom of God in mind? I could not help but think about this as I work on strategic plans, budgets and fundraising letters this week. Also it is that time of year when many are thinking about end of year financial gifts. Everyone is conducting their annual pledge drives and suddenly sermons on stewardship abound and are overwhelmed by the need and the number of requests.
Ironically the best resource I have found for this was given to me 35 years ago in a very different economy, where most people felt they could spend lavishly without worry. It was also the time when I lived on minimal support on board the mercy ship Anastasis. A small bowl of Greek yoghurt was seen as an extravagant luxury, yet I have never seen such generosity and shared caring amongst a community.
The resource I was introduced to at that time is called God’s Managers by Ray and Lillian Bair. It’s principles are still the ones I use today, and it is still available today as a resource. What I most appreciate about their budget advice is the two concepts they use for charitable giving – Firstfruits and overflow.
Firstfruits is the commitment of the first portion of our income to God. They suggest starting at 10% though they realize that for some this may be impossible. But they offer a further challenge to all of us: for most of us, we are convinced that good money management and a deep desire to become more like Jesus will cause that percentage to grow from 10% to larger portions.
Overflow: The second form of giving they recommend is called overflow. It comes not from our budgeted tithing or firstfruits commitments but from deliberate cutting back in other areas of our budget so that we can be generous to others. For example – maybe you budget $5/ per person per day for food. If at the end of the month you realize that you have only spent $4/ day then there is $30 for each person in your family that you can now give generously to others. We practice a version of this each year as we commit to restrict our food budget to $2/person/day for a week.
Other forms of overflow occur when we receive unexpected gifts or income that moves us beyond our budget – an end of year bonus, an unexpected raise in pay, a family legacy can all provide fresh opportunities for us to be generous beyond our normal firstfruits commitments. The authors comment Overflow… is the thrill and satisfaction of giving resulting from decisions about our way of life. Overflow provides a direct line between giving up something or changing our style of living and the giving of the gift to where it is needed.
I am more and more convinced that God’s view of economics revolves around sharing and caring, praying for our DAILY bread and trusting that God who loves and cares for us with a depth of love we cannot even imagine will indeed provide – enough for our own needs and an abundance for every good work (2 Corinthians 9:8) Being different means being generous in a time when everyone else is cutting back. Being different means caring for those who have lost jobs and livelihoods. It means seeing what we have in our hands as provision for God’s kingdom purposes not for our own. And being different means that we wait expectantly for God to provide in unexpected and sometimes miraculous ways.
how have you seen God provide in the midst of hard economic times. Where have you encountered the unexpected generosity of God and been able to share it with others? We need your stories to strengthen our faith and enable us to move forward into the new world of sharing and caring that God is creating .