It’s nearly Christmas again—the time of year when Christian couples remember our Savior’s birth and argue over how much money to spend on presents for the kids, travel for the holidays, or year-end gifts to charities.
Studies show that money is one of the most common areas of disagreement in a marriage. The Bible doesn’t ignore that. From Genesis 41:34–36 to 1 Peter 5:2 (and in more than 120 other places), the Creator gives wisdom and guidance on how to think about money.
Why? Because there’s a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and how Christians think about and handle money. God says our faith and our finances are inseparable (Matt. 6:25, 33).
As a couple, we (Bob and Leslie) have spent years talking to each other about what God’s Word says about giving, thoughts and practices observed in others, and what we’ve learned through trial and error.
We’ve had great conversations and some that weren’t so great. We’ve learned a few things, and we hope and pray that our thoughts are motivating and encouraging to you.
In our home, we start with five premises:
1. God owns it all. Therefore, the question isn’t how much to give but how much to keep.
2. Christians aren’t citizens of this place—we’re just passing through. We are on earth for a speck of time and in heaven for eternity.
3. As believers, we can’t take it with us when we die, but we can send it on ahead (Matt. 6:19–21).
4. God prospers us to raise not our standard of living but our standard of giving (thank you, Randy Alcorn).
5. At least in our family, we want to give our money away while we’re alive, not after we’re gone. We’d like our last check to bounce.
The question is not how much to give but how much to keep.
Deciding on these five premises has made it a lot easier for us to give and to agree on our giving. That doesn’t mean we’re always totally in sync with each other on the giving process or the end result. In fact, over the years, it’s been a source of disagreements and, indeed, arguments.
For example, Leslie would prefer to give to a short list of organizations and causes. Bob, on the other hand, has hardly ever met a cause he didn’t want to give toward. Leslie prefers to give to one-time projects; Bob prefers to be a source of annual giving for organizations. Over time, each of us has learned to compromise and to respect each other’s point of view.
While not a strict formula, in our home, we each initiate about 20 percent of our giving individually, and we jointly decide on the remaining 60 percent.
Like many of you, we give to a wide variety of ministries. At least 90 percent of our giving is to faith-based organizations. We seek a balance between evangelism and discipleship, between feeding the poor in spirit and the poor physically, all in the name of Christ. We try to have geographic breadth in our giving, although the vast majority goes to the U.S. and the Middle East.
Our giving can be put in a pyramid—a few (three to five) large gifts to organizations where we’re deeply involved (perhaps serving on their boards), where we know the ministry well, know and trust the leadership, and believe it to be an effective and efficient ministry. Next are those causes where we’re less involved but still know and trust the work, and so on, with the last tier being a list of ministries or individuals where our support is smallest.
Work the Process
In our deliberations and decision making, we recommend the following process:
1. Pray together. Remember it’s God’s money, and we’re called to be faithful stewards. Remind yourselves of those five premises we mentioned earlier.
2. Be respectful of one another and remember each has a voice worth listening to. Be mindful of the way God can move your hearts—sometimes separately, sometimes together.
3. Try to be kingdom-strategic, not just emotional. Research potential opportunities (organization websites, 990s, etc.) and beware of red flags. Dig in; don’t just take an influencer’s word for it that good, effective work is happening. Consider creating an annual, or even longer-term, plan for giving.
4. Get engaged with some of your giving so you don’t end up feeling like a checkbook or losing the joy in giving. If you can, take advantage of opportunities to serve with the organization or travel to see the work in action.
5. Allow for a lot of give and take. Be open to ideas from your spouse or from the Spirit. Giving to some organizations may last for a season; giving to others should probably continue for a lifetime.
The parable of the talents reminds us God isn’t interested in how brilliant we are (Matt. 25:14–30). Rather, he wants to know how faithful we are.
Get engaged with some of your giving so you don’t end up feeling like a checkbook or losing the joy in giving.
To that end, we attempt to view giving through the lens of three truths: (1) time is short, (2) the need is great, and (3) the cost is high. Bob has spent his career in the investment management business and has seen significant returns on investments. But we know those returns pale when we think of having a small role in enabling someone, some family, some community to find Jesus or deepen their walk with him.
May God, the Holy Spirit, challenge you to do “above and beyond,” as he constantly does for us! Why? For the honor and glory of his great name, for our good, and for the good of perhaps countless others, many of whom we may not meet until heaven.
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