Sharefaith‘s Daniel Threlfall asked me a series of great questions on Transformational Giving that will appear soon in an interview on that site. They’re questions I get asked a lot but have never answered in the space of this blog. So I’m remedying that by sharing a question and an answer from Daniel’s interview each day.
Many Christians may want to give, to be philanthropic, but they don’t know how to give, or who they should give money to. Can you help? What are some worthy gospel causes?
Happy to help. We need to develop a plan of comprehensive discipleship that grows us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, into the fullness of Christ. So we don’t build a plan around our interests or passions or around where we think we can make the biggest difference.
Instead, throughout the Christian age churches have recognized that Christ pours himself into us through specific works of mercy—he gives us bread to eat; he opens his home to us; he proclaims the gospel to us; and so on. And our calling is to give to others what he has given to us.
So different denominations and individuals over the years have identified lists of these works of mercy in which the Holy Spirit grows us to be like Christ. In my new book I identify ten areas. There’s nothing sacrosanct about that—there could be more areas, or less, or they could be sliced and diced differently—but the key recognition is that the Bible outlines specific works of mercy that become means of grace by which we come to know Christ more deeply and by which others can catch a glimpse of Christ in us.
Because Christ is not a specialist—he’s a generalist—he doesn’t call us to pick one or two areas and concentrate our giving there. If we did, we’d miss out on coming to know aspects of his personality that you can only ever see if, for example, you are involved in forgiving and reconciling or ransoming the captives with him.
I put it like this: If you want to get to know my wife, don’t just attend a meeting with her. Don’t just watch a movie with her. Cook with her in her own kitchen. You’ll learn things about her that way that you would never know otherwise, because cooking is one of her primary passions. You don’t earn her favor if you cook with her. You cook with her because you want to learn her fully.
Same with God. We don’t do these works of mercy to earn his favor. They’re means of grace that he performs on us every day. By becoming more aware of them, and by letting him train us to do these for others, we come to know him in ways we otherwise never would.
And this is about more than giving. The Bible doesn’t say, “Give to an organization that visits the widows and the prisoners.” Goats do that, too. He wants us to go visit the widows and the prisoners.
The word “visit” in the Greek means “look in on with one’s own eyes”. You can’t do that just by making a tax-deductible gift to an organization that looks in on people. It won’t change your own eyes at all. John Wesley said this is why people are largely uncharitable: Because their own eyes have not seen in person what God sees in person.