The universe is a much less mystical place than you may think it is.
It’s easy to think that the spiritual laws that govern our existence come from a deep, shadowy, inexplicable power. And while God is certainly deep and beyond our understanding, the rules that He has created to run the universe make a remarkable amount of sense. You just have to learn how to think about them.
Case in point: giving. We’ve done a lot of talking about giving recently on this site, especially in the context of caring for the poor. Giving is a mandate from Christ and a deed that demonstrates the authenticity of our faith. It gets God’s attention, and causes people here on earth to glorify Him.
The Bible promises that when we give, it changes our future. It brings us prosperity. We reap what we sow. And yet, the principle behind this can seem somewhat murky. How, exactly does me giving my money away cause me to prosper? How does it change the course of my future?
The answer isn’t rooted in some deep mysticism; in fact, it’s simpler than you might think. Giving changes your future because it changes you.
Generosity and Selfishness
There are lots of places in Scripture that talk about the benefits of giving. Let’s study one that we haven’t talked about much before. Proverbs 11:24 draws a contrasting picture between the outcomes of generosity and selfishness:
One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
This verse, and others like it, teach us a message that is at once simple and profound: The more we give, the more likely we are to receive. If we are stingy with what we have, though, we often find ourselves losing of the very possessions that we value most.
It’s easy enough to understand the principle. But how does it work?
This is one of those areas of life that is easy to over-spiritualize. Many of us imagine a God that sits in heaven watching our every move, and responding to each of our good works or misdeeds with a new set of circumstances. If we do good things, we expect God to send us good things in return; if we do wrong, we expect Him to punish us for them.
I certainly believe that God sees everything that we do, and His favor rests on those who do His will. But the idea that God micromanages the universe in order to give each person their due isn’t really supported in scripture. Instead, it tells us, God causes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust.
A Level Playing Field
To use a sports analogy, God is not a referee who calls fouls or awards bonus points on this earth. He gave us all the rules of the game, and turns us loose on an even playing field. The outcomes we encounter in life come the way that our actions impact those around us.
So what does this mean about generosity and selfishness? It means that God doesn’t necessarily sit up in heaven watching to decide whether to send blessing or trouble your way. Instead, He has built the universe in such a way that generosity causes growth, while selfishness causes lack.
Here’s the secret to the whole thing: Giving changes your future because it changes you.
A Bigger World
Generous people are the kind of folks you enjoy being around. If you’re generous with your treasure, you’re likely to be generous with your time and talents as well. Giving makes people like you. And when people like you, they respond to you well. They think of you when opportunities come along. And they seek to repay the kindness that you have shown them.
When you give, it makes your world bigger, and everybody benefits from a bigger world.
Selfishness, on the other hand, only makes your world smaller. The more you mistreat people, the less likely they are to continue being part of your life. A stingy hand is a closed hand, and a selfish life is a closed life.
The smaller your life gets, the fewer people you have around you who are willing to help you, to give you advice, or to do business with you. Selfishness changes your future because it changes you.
Every time you come to a financial crossroads, you have a decision to make: “Am I going to be generous or selfish?”
Each time you chose to be selfish, you make your world a little bit smaller. You make yourself a little bit smaller. And you make your future a little bit darker.
Generosity is the exact opposite. Each time you consciously choose to be generous, you move yourself a little bit further down the spectrum of generosity. You make your world a little bit bigger. You make your heart a little bit bigger.
In the end, the state of your heart is what really determines you future, both in this life, and the next. Giving changes your future because it changes your heart.
Photo by University of the Fraser Valley. Used under Creative Commons License.