From Kelly: A couple of years ago I received word from one of my supporters that their kids had agreed to forgo Christmas presents so that they could support more missionaries through the year. I asked Josh and Charissa Stephens to share their thoughts about giving with you. Thanks for the guest post, guys!
Guest Post from Josh Stephens
“Black Friday”. “Cyber Monday”. If you are not familiar with these names, a quick internet search can help define these “holidays”.
These special holiday shopping days bring out many feelings in the United States. I have seen my own family and friends gather the days leading up to Thanksgiving. They research, plot and strategize.
“Which deals are best?”
“Which stores will have the shortest lines?”
“At what hour does each store open? 2 a.m.? 4 a.m.? Midnight? (And now, what time on Thanksgiving does it open?)”
Sometimes waiting in lines long before the store opening, people show up. They might chat, drink warm drinks, or do further planning. As the doors open, chaos ensues. Kindness, respect and selflessness are replaced by shouting, frustration and selfishness.
This wonderful tradition has even emigrated. The UK now participates.
It’s not as bad as it once was. We have “Cyber Monday.” In-store deals may not be as good as the internet prices. Some are sitting out “Black Friday” and waiting to shop at work on Monday. Some do both.
Perhaps you do neither. You may realize that the “deals” aren’t really deals anymore. Or perhaps you understand the difference between a real “need” and a marketed-to “need”.
Whether you are a strategic shopper or not, my question is “Have you considered more?”
This is the story of my family. The story of More.
My wife and I had been married for about six years. We had two children at the time. We were both working in the marketplace as well as serving in ministry at our church. Money was tight. We were in a decent amount of debt. It was in one of those moments of financial stress that I prayed. I prayed for more.
Are you familiar with the “Prayer of Jabez”? This little book helped spark a movement of praying for more. It also sparked a movement that critiqued and criticized the More pray-ers. On one side, the prayer of Jabez helps us pray for God’s bountiful provision and expansion of our home, work, finances – “territories.” The other side views the prayer of Jabez as summarizing neatly what is wrong with the (particularly American) church. We are selfish and “prosperity” oriented.
I try to be balanced. So, I examined my motives. I determined that I wasn’t praying for more out of selfishness. I didn’t even use the prayer of Jabez. I just said my own prayer and asked God for more.
How much could we do for the kingdom of God if we just had more? That is what I was asking God. I needed more because I wanted to do more for the kingdom. I was asking for more money, really. I wanted to get out of debt, live with financial breathing room, and be able to give more back to God’s work. I asked for more.
And God answered.
I thought I would get a massive raise, or that I would start getting paid for my ministry work. Extra income would go a long way toward helping accomplish what I wanted to do for God. Only the answer wasn’t what I thought it would be. It wasn’t extra income.
The answer was extra giving. I felt like God spoke, “You want more? Here is your more. Give more.”
The argument started first with God. “I don’t have enough now.” “We are already in debt. I need to get out of debt first.” “We already live paycheck-to-paycheck.” “I already tithe 10%.”
Then the argument moved to my wife. “Honey, this is what I think God is speaking to us.” “Yes, I already said those same things to God.” “Yes, I know what our finances look like now.”
The argument moved back to God. I repeated my earlier concerns, and stated that my wife felt the same way. I made God a promise. “I give you the tithe now. I will give more when I get more.” That promise made sense to me and my wife.
And God called me out. I felt as if God spoke, “You will never give more when you have more if you can’t give now.” [pullquote]I felt as if God spoke, “You will never give more when you have more if you can’t give now.”[/pullquote]
I knew God was right. The times I had gotten more in the past had led to more stuff in our lives; more possessions, more toys, more debt. But more money had not led to more for the kingdom of God.
So, I went back to my wife. This was near the end of the year, and Christmas was right around the corner. I asked a bold question. “Could we give our kids less this year so that we could give to missions?” We discussed, argued and finally came to a conclusion. We would start supporting missionaries.
Both of us love and value our missionaries in the U.S. and throughout the world. We previously thought we couldn’t do anything more than pray based on our finances. But God challenged us to start giving more.
I would love to give a spectacular testimony that within months of giving more, we were miraculously able to get out of debt and be so financially blessed that we are financially stress free. That is not our story. [pullquote]I would love to give a spectacular testimony that within months of giving more, we were miraculously able to get out of debt and be so financially blessed that we are financially stress free. That is not our story.[/pullquote]
Yes, we have been blessed with some pay raises over the past six years. We have been through Dave Ramsey’s “Financial Peace University” and we are working on implementing those principles. We still have debt, we still experience financial stresses. And we still discuss what “makes sense.”
It’s another year, another Christmas. Since that prayer six years ago, we have had two more kids. And for six years now, we have done less for Christmas as a family. Every year, my wife and I struggle through financial conversations. “Are we giving our kids enough?” “Will they grow up resentful because of smaller Christmas gifts?” “Are we breaking our children?”
We ask the “sensible” financial questions, too. “Shouldn’t we be getting out of debt instead of giving so much?” “Isn’t the tithe enough?” “If we stop giving, we could get out of debt faster and give even more!”
All of these questions are good questions. For our family, the answer is “Give more.” For your family, the answers might be different. We need to be balanced.
I love my wife so much. She balances me. I would give everything we had away and have us live in a tent. She helps me recognize that I need to remember to balance that with giving to her and our children. I want them to appreciate giving, not resent it.
I love our four children so much. Every year, we have a discussion on why they aren’t getting as much as other family members and friends may be getting. It’s hard for them sometimes when others have a long list of what gifts they got, and my kids can only share their list that is a few items long. But now they are finally getting it.
[pullquote]More is not how much we get, but how much we give. It’s about being thankful for what we have and being willing to share. It’s about my daughter asking us to sell her collectible dolls to help raise money for a mission’s project. It’s about my son making and selling origami.[/pullquote]What is it? It is more. More is not how much we get, but how much we give. It’s about being thankful for what we have and being willing to share. It’s about my daughter asking us to sell her collectible dolls to help raise money for a mission’s project. It’s about my son making and selling origami. He wants to buy himself a toy, but he does the math for the tithe and offering first.
How is God speaking to you? Are you willing to ask God the question, “What is my More?” Perhaps your more is volunteering at the nearest shelter. It might be serving more in your local church community. It may be any number of activities that show God’s love.
But your more might also require giving more money. It might mean giving up a dinner out, or a coffee, or a toy so that others can know about Jesus. It might mean partnering with a missionary. You can partner your finances with your passion for God. Is it in the area of adoption, human trafficking, evangelism, church planting, or the poor? We can help you find a missionary who is helping fulfill your passion and you can partner with them financially.
Will you pray about your more? Will you allow God to speak to you and challenge you where you are? Will you not dismiss the prayer because it “doesn’t make sense with where we are in life right now?” Instead of or in addition to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, will you ask, listen and act on what God wants you to do this #givingtuesday?