It’s time to give our offering!”
At this announcement, Indianapolis First Free Methodist Church cheers — complete with clapping, hollering and laughing. This tradition has not always been our history, but during First FMC’s most economically difficult times, it became part of our worship.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth encouraging them toward such behaviors and attitudes: “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).
A cheerful spirit has little to do with how much we have to give or what we have to give. It has everything to do with the Spirit by which we give. The Holy Spirit, which resides in us, is the very Spirit of the living God who, by nature, eternally exists to give. The Father didn’t give the Son because He had to (though one could make an argument that there was no other way), but God gave because He loved the world, which was and is full of people who would rather see Him dead than alive. He loves us, and giving for our benefit is the result of His character. We are thankful that we serve such a God.
When Jesus crossed paths with Simon Peter and Andrew and forever changed their lives, He extended to them an invitation. Jesus said, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:18–19, Mark 1:16–18).
This invitation was an opportunity for the two disciples to enter into the mystery of God. This invitation was one that was not coerced. In fact, all facets of the Christian journey function in this way. This includes giving, which serves as an invitation, not as an obligation for entering deeper into the journey with Christ.
Our church views giving in this way. It has become a de facto spiritual practice, allowing us as a community to engage God on a deeper level by accepting the invitation to give, let go and trust God. Our church is by no means a wealthy body of people. Yet the willingness to give freely so clearly exemplifies the joy of accepting this invitation.
When Zacchaeus unexpectedly welcomed Jesus into his home, he was not forced to give back all that he had stolen. But because of his new relationship with Jesus, Zacchaeus stood up and announced, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8). Luke omits emotion from describing the transformed attitude and behavior of Zacchaeus, but everyone who reads this passage surely detects Zacchaeus’ enthusiasm and excitement about giving beyond what is required of him. I picture Jesus responding with a huge grin of surprise and satisfaction, tackling Zacchaeus with a hug and saying, “You see; this is what I’m talking about!” We want our worshipful giving to cause Jesus to feel the same way.
What giving does that differs from other spiritual practices is that it calls us to evaluate what is typically our most sought-after and protected resource — our finances. The act of cheerful giving — whatever that looks like — offers up even our pocketbooks as an offering for Christ to use. As we celebrate and practice this discipline each week, we offer up this part of our heart for Christ to reign over.
This is not easy for most congregations. For some in our congregation, it surely is not easy. It is scary, when finances are already unstable or uncertain, to hold onto money with an open hand. But giving with joy and thankfulness recalibrates our hearts, giving us freedom from trusting in the money we have or are afraid to lose. Instead, this giving reminds us that God is our provider and the ultimate source of provision, not any amount of income.
When we give together weekly as a body of believers, we celebrate that God has given us grace to give. All that we have belongs to God in the first place. We simply give back to God what is rightly His. We respond to how He has already given and provided.
Some people in our church give change. Some give larger checks. Regardless of what is given, we celebrate and give thanks. The response of celebration frees our hands and hearts from holding onto our money. Celebration reminds us that we have accepted the invitation to follow Jesus with everything we are and everything we have, and in following Jesus, we have immense joy.
J.D. VanValin is the lead pastor of Indianapolis First Free Methodist Church. Josh Riddick is the church’s outreach pastor.