When I worry, I feel my entire body get small. My muscles tighten. My shoulders hunch. My stomach hurts. Pressure feels like it’s everywhere, pressing down on my body, pressing down on my soul. Does worry make you feel that way?
Lots of things bring us worry. We are blessed to live in a home that comfortably fits my family, but it’s 50 years old. Things break, and when they break, the fixes are often expensive. A leaky roof, a furnace that barely chugs along — those things bring us worry until we’re finally able to be in the position to do something about them.
We worry about the future. Will we have enough? What will life look like? We worry about things we can’t control. We worry about the unknown. How will this decision be received by my coworkers? What will life be like when all of our kids have moved out of our house?
Still, most of all, I think it is money that triggers our worry and anxiety. Money is what makes society go. When you have plenty of it, you can buy what you want and do what you want. When there are more bills than dollars in the account, you hunker down and go into survival mode. What do I need to pay for to get by? How can I survive this situation?
It’s not hard to conjure up that feeling of worry, is it? For me, I go back to my first couple of years as a pastor. I couldn’t afford to be in ministry on what I was making, quite frankly. The house was small, and the mortgage big. We had young children in diapers. We had student loans. We had one car, so I would ride my bike to church, needing to carry Sunday’s clothes and change there because I would be sweaty.
It was an anxious time for us. At least worry drove me to prayer. I can still feel in my bones how I felt as I laid my worries before God. “You called me to be a pastor, God,” I’d pray, “so I need your help figuring this out.” Those moments of prayer were about the only thing that would bring me any peace. To this day, I’m convinced that prayer was part of the solution. It kept reframing my worry with God’s provision.
There are many reasons I give God thanks for bringing Jess into my life, but in those moments, she was steadfast in saying we have to give back to God even when things are beyond tight. I was more pragmatic. “We don’t have enough!” I’d object, but her faithfulness helped leave space for the grace of learning to trust in God especially in the hard times.
God carried us through, and the lessons we learned from our parents, from the Scriptures, and now from experience, were teaching us a better way to view the world. We were moving from a mentality of scarcity into abundance. We could see that we wanted to be generous, and so we’ve continued to plot a course forward that is defined by our faith in God’s generosity.
That doesn’t mean we still don’t struggle! We’re certainly in a better spot now than we were then, but when that tight-chested feeling creeps in because we had too many expenses, I have to remind myself that God’s been with us in much harder times and that God has proved to be faithful. So, I return to that posture of prayer. I admit my worries and ask God to be with me in those worries and show me the way forward.
This is no prosperity gospel. It’s a reminder that there are things of ultimate value in life — knowing Jesus, learning to love like him, treating others how we would like to be treated — and that there are things that are not ultimately valuable — our bank accounts and our successes among them.
As we continue in our God is…I am series, particularly on this generosity Sunday, I want to drive home this truth about God and us. God is generous, so I am designed for generosity.
God is so generous, having given us everything needful for life, having topped what is needed with a dose of beauty, having loved the world so much to send Jesus the Son to restore us to life, and having made a way for us to live eternally. God’s generosity is about so much more than the resources we have in life. It is everything.
But as I said, this is no prosperity gospel. God’s generosity doesn’t flow to us and end up trapped. God’s generosity should flow to us and cause us to imitate God in how we are generous with all of our lives — with time, with our minds and creativity, and also with how we handle money.
Imagine with me a pond. A healthy pond has water flowing in and out. That movement promotes life for all in it and around it. But if there is not in-and-out flow, that pond will die. It becomes lifeless and even deadly. Our lives are like a pond. When healthy, generosity flows to us, through us, and from us. When unhealthy, generosity flows to us and stops. Even as I say that I can feel my body clenching the way it does when I’m worried. The response of physical and visceral. I become small.
Jesus has a word for me and for us. At those times when our hearts clench, at those times when we become small because of fear, Jesus speaks directly to us. Did you notice that our reading from Luke began with telling us that Jesus directed this teaching to his disciples? It’s straightforward. He isn’t speaking in a parable. He isn’t sharing a mystery. No, he speaks plainly. It’s as thought he’s saying to all of us, “Do you want to learn how to live in my way? Learn to trust that God is generous and will provide all you need, so don’t hunker down. Don’t get small. Don’t clench your hearts and fists. God loves you and will take care of you.”
Jesus goes straight into what we need to survive. “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing.” The word in Greek that Jesus uses for worry reveals an undue concern about what a person needs to survive. Now, he’s not saying that food and clothing don’t matter. Of course, they are necessary to life, but he is reorienting our priorities around what is truly important in life.
He uses simple examples. Look at the birds. They don’t plant fields. Now, they certainly work to find food, but don’t they have what they need? And what they need comes from God. Jesus tells the truth: God loves and cares for the birds, but you — yes, you — are even more valuable than they are! In verse 25, Jesus says, “And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to your span of life?” Interestingly, this is better translated as “who of you by worrying can add a single cubit to your height?” Sure, some of us might buy an hour to our lives here or there, but none of us can will ourselves to grow 21 inches taller through any effort of our own!
Or take a look at your closets. Many of us have walk-in closets. We have clothes for special occasions. We have clothes for exercise. We have clothes for sleeping. I have never enjoyed shopping for clothes, and yet — somehow — my closet is full. But this was not so for the disciples. They likely had just a few pieces of clothing they wore every day. They weren’t worried about fashion. Still, Jesus says, look around you. Aren’t the fields beautiful? Don’t they have enough? If God can do that for the fields, don’t you believe God can do that for you?
Sometimes our anxiety shows up in being preoccupied with material things. We think a little more stuff will alleviate our concerns. Jesus says that’s not the case. Worry is connected to trust. Jesus says that we can trust that God is going to give us everything we need for the day — perhaps not everything we want but certainly what we need. Worry is the shadow side of trust, and generosity is an antidote to our worry.
God is generous, so we are designed for generosity. Into our worries and anxieties, Jesus says, “Seek God’s kingdom first, and these things will be given to you as well.” That’s what God’s good pleasure is. Trust what God says — you’ll have enough, even when you give away from what you have. Giving alms — that is giving money to help others — was a foundation of Jewish religious behavior, and it was something that the Christian community has continued to this day.
The Bible urges tithing as the model for our giving. A tithe is 10%, and I don’t have time today to get into all the possible nuances of that, and I certainly don’t want to get into legalism with this. But there are several things that tithing accomplishes. First, it teaches us to trust in God’s provision. Many of us live right up to and even beyond the limits of what we earn. It seems impossible to take 10% from that and to have enough, doesn’t it? But whether you make $100 or $100 million, it’s still the same portion of what you have that you learn to give away. Tithing is an act of trust. It’s an act that helps us unclench our hearts. It’s an act that reveals faith. Second, tithing takes our names off of our money and puts Jesus’ name on it. It’s why your session has built tithing right into our operating budget. Ten percent of everything that comes in goes back out the door to support the needy in our community and beyond. There are certainly days when it feels like it would be nice to have that money to repair the boilers, to replace the carpet, to fund a new ministry, but the session wants our budget to reflect trust in God’s provision. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” so this is one way we as a community say, “Lord, our treasure is found in trusting you!”
With your generosity and with that commitment to tithing, together we’ve been able to do some pretty remarkable things. We’ve provided counsel to students who are depressed or suicidal. We’ve helped people in recovery. We’ve provided care for people aging out of foster care and for women escaping sex trafficking. We’ve encouraged the church in Belize, the Philippines, and South Sudan. We’ve provided medical and educational care in Honduras and Haiti. It’s amazing what we can do together when we learn to trust in God’s care!
So, today on Generosity Sunday as we commit ourselves once again to what God is doing through this church, I hope that you find joy and freedom in giving away from your lives. I hope today is a celebration for you because you have found a deeper sense of trust in God’s generosity. Whatever burdens you with worry or anxiety, I hope that you find space to give it to God in prayer and to turn that prayer into action. God loves it when the giver delights in the giving because it shows that the giver is learning to trust in God’s provision.
God is generous, and I am designed for generosity.
That’s who we are because that’s who God is.