Recently, I met with a man from our church who wanted to hear more about our preparations for working in Italy. At the end of our conversation, he said, “Now I know what I want for Christmas. I’m going to ask my family to allow me to set aside a certain amount of funds to support your family monthly.” I had never heard of someone asking for this kind of Christmas gift. And, I certainly had never been on the receiving end of one of these gifts. It was breathtakingly sacrificial.
My friend could just as easily have said, “I’ve decided to give to your family monthly…” and that would have been a blessing. But, he did more. He took me into the process he had committed to take that required more than just money. He engaged his heart from the very beginning, making the giving as much a gift to himself as it would be to us. A week before Christmas, he was laying the desire for personal material gifts or comfort on the altar as a response to what God was stirring in his heart for our family. Undoubtedly, he had been asked on more than one occasion, “What can we put under the tree for you?” And, I was there when the decision was made. He sacrificed getting the beautifully wrapped box under the tree.
He also had decided to include his family in this act of giving. As he explained, he had retired from a key position he had held for years. He had invested his resources wisely and was able to retire. He could have said, “I will go back to my family and tell them I want to support your family.” But, he wanted them to participate in the blessing. He would talk with them and share not only our story but how the story had moved him to give. Then, he would cast a larger vision for his family to give along with him. He was sacrificing his right to use his own funds as he wished.
This conversation gave me a new ambition in the ministry of fundraising. The natural ambition is to be 100% funded so that you can shrug off the need for fundraising and launch into the mission field. Most people would see fundraising as the thing they don’t want to do that allows them to do the thing they want to do. The necessary evil of missions. But, what if the ambition isn’t as much about getting funded as it is about facilitating sacrifice? What if “the ask” as we call it was not for money but for the heart to be open to sacrifice? What if the fundraising we thought of as necessary became compulsory?
So, it gives me the courage to ask: Is your heart open to giving sacrificially like my friend? Six months ago Amy came to me and announced that we would be giving monthly to a certain missionary family. We had never committed to long-term giving before so it came as a shock to me. Then, she told me the amount she felt called to give and I was shocked even more. What was she thinking? How could we do this? I could only hope she would forget by the time we had to pay the next bill. Didn’t happen. She came to me again and reminded me of our previous conversation about long-term giving.
At that point, my heart wasn’t open to sacrificial giving obviously. But, Amy was. It seemed that she was driving this sacrifice. Actually, God was driving it through Amy. And like my friend who told me he now knew what he wanted for Christmas, her heart was fully engaged. So it began, and now we have been watching this amount come out of our bank account every month. Do I miss the dollar amount that is now going to the missionaries? To be honest, the Lord has provided faithfully every month since then.
Amy and I were having a discussion about how much people gave last December as compared to this December. I started to complain. Then, she reminded me: “Do you remember how hard it was for you to let go of that amount we started giving monthly to the missionaries we support?” I hate when she speaks wisdom into my life. It isn’t fair that God put me with someone so good and so passionate. Someone who would so passionately challenge me to do good (Really, I consider myself incredibly blessed.). She had completed the lesson for me. Namely, that I need to see sacrificial giving through the eyes of those whom I am calling to give sacrificially. Like us, so many people we ask are “getting by,” and I can sympathize with them. So many feel they can’t afford to give. They feel they should wait until they are at a certain financial status before they start.
If this were true, no one would give. The friend who said he now knew what he wanted for Christmas wouldn’t give. And, Amy would never have decided to give. Sacrificial giving is a correspondence between us and God. It could happen no other way. It’s a bold step of faith taken for the sake of trusting God more. Would I like to encourage more people to experience God on this level? You bet I would. I pray that our ministry of disciple-making in Italy would be a hub for conversations others are having with God where they say, “Yes, we will give sacrificially. And, we know you will provide.”
No one could humanly give more sacrificially than the poor widow was asked to give in 1 Kings 17:7-16. God commanded the prophet Elijah to find a certain widow in the village of Zarephath and stay with her. He said, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” This must have seemed like an imposition before the prophet even met this strange woman. God didn’t say “rich widow,” so it was likely that she was “getting by” herself. TO add the dietary needs of a full-grown man on top of her own was a burden. But Elijah obeyed.
When Elijah saw this woman, he did as God commanded. He asked, “Would you give me some water and a piece of bread?” That didn’t seem like much to ask. But the woman replied, “To be honest, I don’t have any bread. All I have is a little flour and olive oil to make one loaf of bread. After that, I’m probably going to starve.” Can you imagine the turmoil Elijah felt as he considered taking God seriously? Would he really ask Elijah to approach a widow who was ready to starve and ask her to consider giving sacrificially?
“Don’t worry,” Elijah replied. “Go home and make yourself some bread. But, first make me some bread. Then God will provide for you.” Did that sound crazy? Yes. But it’s recorded in the Bible. And, because we can read this story thousands of years after it happened we can see God’s faithfulness to provide after the woman gave. Because of her faithfulness, God provided enough for her everyday.
Perhaps God could use our ministry to call you to the same kind of crazy sacrifice? No, it might not make sense. But, God’s thoughts are higher than ours. And, if we trust him in our act of giving sacrificially we will see how sufficient He is. I wish we could have interviewed the widow six months after she made that bread for Elijah to see if she missed the flour and olive oil. She would have laughed.
Maybe you too can laugh joyfully at the insanity of God asking those who couldn’t possibly give to do just that.