image As I am by preference an expository preacher, I rather hesitate to approach the subject of giving (or any other for that matter) as a “topic”.  I assume – and I think it is usually true – that as people grow spiritually, they will give more, or serve more, or hope more, or understand more.  For me, the pastor/teacher’s task is to present the whole counsel of God from Scripture over a much longer time frame in such a way that the hearers reach a “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

However, in every area of discipleship we need reminders and encouragement. Giving is basic discipleship. Giving is not about “doing ones duty.” Giving is a deeply personal indicator of spiritual maturity as well as our love for God. As Jesus said, our “treasure” is an indication of our “heart”.

Giving is a relational issue with God.  Just as we decide on what we spend on an appliance or how much we will put in a savings account, we also have to decide how much money we will give to God’s work. Even to give nothing is a decision.

Giving is not a burden. Paul reminders us that God loves a cheerful giver. Giving is a relational decision. In it, we establish an agreement with God. In it, we affirm how much we value our relationship with God. It is simply a matter of thinking through how God wants us to allocate his money.

As we learn to trust God through giving, we live more confidently on what is left because we know that God is taking care of that. The ultimate outcome is that giving grows our sense of intimacy with God.

1. The Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-14)

This passage tells us the story of God providing for a widow. After a 3½ year drought, God sent Elijah to this widow living in financial fear. As far as she knew, the starvation process would begin after the next meal. There was nothing to eat anywhere. Yet she fed Elijah.  And God then did the miracle! For this woman of faith who gave first, there was bread for today. God gave her and her son their daily bread.

Does God still do that? Certainly. That’s the way God is. He cares about us personally and reaches out to us relationally when we are devoted to Him. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him..” (2 Chron 16:9) It should be no surprise to us that God uses the area of financial giving to test our heart and then to draw us close as we trust and obey Him.

A few observations about this widow that might fit our situation:

· She was a believer in the true God.

· She had serious financial needs herself.

· She was asked to give away a big part of the little she had.

· She heard God’s promise to provide for her if she gave.

· She believed God’s promise and first gave obediently to God.

· God show His care by providing for her needs miraculously!

2. The Widow and Jesus at the temple (Mark 12:41-44)

Jesus and His disciples were at the temple in Jerusalem sitting where people put in offerings for the temple treasury. It was Passover time when people who came to the temple would often give extra gifts. This wasn’t the tithe. It was not obligation. These were special gifts that were supposed to be given as personal worship.

But of course worship is not proven by a gift or anything external. Worship is what goes on in the heart. Jesus doesn’t say anything against the wealthy people who gave at the temple. But Jesus noticed a particular widow whose heart was genuinely committed to giving as worship. And Jesus makes the divine observation that this woman gave more than the wealthy!

We are led to believe she gave the smallest of all imaginable gifts. It was two tiny coins. A 1/16th of a labourers daily wage. A direct comparison is possible: it was worth a half hour at the minimum wage – £3.  That’s quite a bit more that we often think!

So on one hand what made her gift remarkable was apparently how small it was – but not that small. And on the other hand, her gift was remarkable to Jesus because of how large it was! What we know is that she emptied her bank account that day. She had every reason not to give. But she wanted to worship and thus, in the eyes of Jesus, she gave more than those who gave large amounts out of their wealth. The gifts given by others were expendable income. Her gift was essential income.

God always sees the sacrifice of giving. That’s where the worship of giving really happens. It costs. King David once said, I will not sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing (1 Chron 21:24 ).

We don’t even know that Jesus spoke to her, he simply pointed her out because he recognised the sincerity of her heart. This woman has stood through the ages as a model for giving, not simply because her giving ratio exceeded the gifts of others, but because that sacrifice indicated her deep love for God. Love for God is the goal. Sacrificial giving is a means of establishing and expressing that closeness with him.

The basic lessons from this incident are:

· We are never too poor to give.

· Giving generously means trusting God for the future.

· God is honoured by our degree of sacrifice, not the amount.

· Giving is worship that expresses our relationship to God.

3. Giving connects us with God personally

These stories are not about God’s reward for giving. Giving is not about us; giving is about our relationship to God.

1. Giving is humility

We often think of our giving to church as “charitable giving.” It’s giving some of what we have to help out people who are needy or suffering. That’s a good thing to be sure but it is not biblical giving. God of course is not in need of my gift. Giving is about me expressing to God that I am needy and he is able to meet that need. Giving is about me putting myself into a rightful humble relationship with God because he is Lord and I am his steward. Giving expresses that I understand his Lordship:

So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, LORD, have given me." Deuteronomy 26:8-10

What Moses was saying in Deuteronomy 26:8-10 is that God gave them their land and God gave them their blessings. His point is that our gifts are really just recognition of who God is. By giving, the Israelites were saying back to God, You have placed me in charge temporarily of this little bit of land. I am bringing my gift to you not because I’m big or wonderful, but because you are. That’s the attitude God is seeking in us.

2. Giving is worship

God owns the earth (Ps. 24:1)! So what posture should a person have as they bring their gift? Bow down. Bow down! God is great. The Israelite had in his hand a tiny portion of a single crop, but it served to acknowledge the greatness of the God who made all the crops throughout the world in all ages. Our gift might be big to us because it’s a sacrifice, but to God it’s big only because it acknowledges His infinite ownership. This little bit I call “giving” is actually just my way of saying, You own it all.

Giving is literally worship. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honour the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops."

The Hebrew word “honour” means to “glorify” or to acknowledge the importance of something. Its root meaning is that something is heavy or weighty and thus significant or important. When applied to God, honouring Him means that we ascribe to him the significance that He deserves as God.

When we bring our “first fruits” – our offering to our church – we write that cheque, authorise that bank transfer or place money in the bag, to express how important God is. He is the “heavyweight” in my life. It is my worship.

3. Giving is a test

Do we really trust God? How do we develop trust in God? Giving is actually one of God’s key training grounds to produce a trust connection between us and Lord.

Giving is test.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)

Notice the test. God was probing and correcting the issue of their trust in him. Giving really is about trusting God. Because, like the widows, giving means that we have less. It’s simple maths. 10-1=9. I have less if I tithe.

Trust is always based on a relationship. Do we trust God? God wants us to know and trust him so that even when we can’t see for sure what he is doing, we don’t doubt him. As we give back to God in sacrificial worship, we are telling God that we really do trust him. As a result He is honoured and we are come to know the peace of trusting God with our financial situation.

imageRichard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline” is a timeless classic has helped millions to discover a richer spiritual life infused with joy, peace and a deeper understanding of God.

It is still in print after over thirty years [Amazon] and highly recommended.

About fasting, Foster advice is:

In the beginning you will be fascinated with the physical aspects, but the most important thing to monitor is the inner attitude of worship. Outwardly you will be performing the regular duties of your day, but inwardly you will be in prayer and adoration, song and worship. In a new way, cause every task of the day to be a sacred ministry to the Lord. However mundane your duties, they are for you a sacrament. Cultivate a "gentle receptiveness to divine breathings."

Break your fast with a light meal of fresh fruits and vegetables and a good deal of inner rejoicing.

Drink only water but use healthy amounts of it. Many feel distilled water is best. If the taste of the water bothers you, add one teaspoon of lemon juice. You will probably feel some hunger pains or discomfort before the time is up. That is not real hunger; your stomach has been trained through years of conditioning to give signals of hunger at certain hours. In many ways your stomach is like a spoiled child, and spoiled children do not need indulgence, they need discipline.

Ignore the signals or even tell your "spoiled child" to calm down and in a brief time the hunger pains will pass. If not, sip another glass of water and the stomach will be satisfied. You are to be the master of your stomach, not its slave. If family obligations permit it, devote the time you would normally eat to meditation and prayer.

It should go without saying that you should follow Jesus’ counsel to refrain from calling attention to what you are doing. The only ones who should know you are fasting are those who have to know. If you call attention to your fasting, people will be impressed and, as Jesus said, that will be your reward. You, however, are fasting for far greater and deeper rewards.

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