5 Questions that Inform Full-Life Generosity

“The mind knows not what the tongue wants.”

Chances are pretty high that when you read that sentence – and then re-read that sentence – you think it’s somewhat off-center.  But, it’s actually a powerful statement used byMalcolm Gladwell in a TED talk to explain why we have so many varieties of food items available today.  In other words, Gladwell uses the science of food marketing to demonstrate that many times we do not even realize what we actually want.  We need help thinking through and articulating the things that we truly desire.

Unfortunately, when we don’t have other people challenging our food habits, we typically choose what we’ve always chosen and often miss out on the things that we actually desire most.

For instance, ten years ago, many people did not care about – and may not have heard of – organic food.  It wasn’t on the radar.  But today, organic food sales account for over 4% of the total food sales in the U.S. today (which equals approximately 34 billion dollars in organic food sales – a 300% increase in the last decade).  We didn’t know that we wanted “organic” until it was presented as food that is potentially more healthy for us and also better for the environment. 

Now when we want to craft a Nutri-Bullet smoothie, we choose things like organic kale or spinach.  In that way, the food industry helps identify the items we really want by giving us choices.

We have seen that this principal is true when we are taking (or consuming foods), but what if it is also true when it comes to our giving?  What if we could ask a few simple questions to stimulate variety and deeper joy in our generosity?  If the giving and taking in our lives could be filtered through these 5 questions, would it make us more apt to give and more prone to enjoy giving?

In other words, what if our current forms of generosity are like drinking Folgers coffee because we have not yet been introduced to Starbucks?  What if a few simple questions could help pinpoint the “generosity flavors” that best fit our lives and church communities?  

Let’s give it a shot.

1. Are you typically driven by FAITH or FEAR?  We have multiple opportunities each day to engage in full-life generosity.  There’s a good chance that whether you are a stay-at-home mom or an in-the-office employee, you have regular opportunities to extend grace.  When that happens, are you driven by fear of enabling future bad behavior or faith in God’s ways?  When you have an opportunity to “love your (literal) neighbor” are you driven by faith or fear?  When someone at the grocery store drops a package, do you respond with faith (God wants me to help) or fear (I’ll feel silly and don’t want them to get the wrong impression)?

If you are typically driven by fear, let me challenge you to look at a different selection on the menu.  At your next opportunity, ask God to guide you and then act in faith.  Responding in faith may become a flavor that you cherish.

2. Do you usually respond to people with LOVE or DISINTEREST?  At first glance that question may generate a Sunday School answer.  I’m a loving person…obviously.  But, push a little deeper with me.  When you notice a car that won’t crank in the crowded parking lot, do you react in love or relative disinterest?  When someone is trying to merge into your lane of traffic, do you respond in love or disinterest?

How many generosity opportunities would we uncover if we simply filtered our actions through this one question?  Some people may discover that it is hard for them to show tangible expressions of love.  Others may say, “My marriage would be so much better if I genuinely asked this question of myself.”  

3. Do you live with an expectation of MANNA or a desire for MAMMON?  Simplicity is the heartbeat of some families and even some larger communities.  One former pastor started a simple blog on minimalism, which now has 200,000+ unique visitors each month.  Certainly there is a difference between minimalism and manna, but both of them start with the question of needs instead of wants. 

So, what about you, do you find pleasure in reducing your personal overhead and trusting in God’s provisions?  Do you enjoy keeping your costs down so that you can give more away?  Or are you more typically driven by a desire for nice material possessions?  Test this area of your life and find out what brings you the deepest form of satisfaction.  It could end up making a huge difference in your day-to-day joy and in the way you interact with the Father.

4. Do you think in terms of COMMUNITY or INDIVIDUAL?  When you go grocery shopping, who is on your mind and what is on your list?  When you make cookies, what is the driving motivation?  As you take your kids to school, do you ever consider picking up a few of their friends and giving their parents a day apart from school traffic?

Some people find that expanding their expectations from “individual” to “community” makes life more enjoyable and generosity more realistic.

5. Do you have a heart for JUSTICE or do you have a skeptical BIAS?  Some people find that the thing most frequently drives their generosity is having a heart for a particular cause.  Issues like clean water, human trafficking, and rights for the oppressed give some people a deep sense of joining God among the vulnerable of the world.  They find that regular engagement in these issues help them imitate the ways of a God who calls Himself a “Father to the orphan and Husband to the widow.” 

Understandably, there are also people who are highly skeptical about engaging in these issues.  They wonder if their donations are being spent on actual human relief or simply on administering large organizations.  But, regardless of your natural bent, it may be worth your time to explore this question.  Not everyone has to champion a cause, but if you’ve never fought for the rights of others, you may find this to be the most stimulating type of generosity in your life.

To start pressing into question #5, you may want to check out IJM or Live58.

Each of these questions can help identify and inform your individual generosity mix.  So, let them hang in front of you for a few days.  Tape them on your mirror or place a copy of them on your desk.  And over the course of a week or two, let these questions direct your choices.  Let them inform the way you think.  Let them renew your mind so that you find your sweet spot in God’s incredible mission of generosity.