Generosity Is an Act of Worship
One Sunday when our boys were young, we had two of them in the worship service with us. At the time and at their ages, this was always a risk. Usually they were in the children’s ministry area during the service, but this morning we had them with us. It felt like we were sitting next to a couple of ticking time bombs. We never knew what they would do or say—or when.
If you’re a parent, you can probably relate.
Prior to leaving the house that morning, our boys had asked if they could give their offering money in the grown-up service. As they frantically jumped up and down, they raised their ziplock bags filled with quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies.
As a guy who regularly talks and teaches about money and generosity, I felt proud. I sensed I had accomplished something significant as a parent.
My kids were worshipful givers.
I had taught them well.
If only more parents could be like me.
That’s what I was thinking.
Back then, our church used large, plastic buckets to collect the offering. When the bucket was handed to me, I passed it along to my son who was sitting next to me.
Lifting his bag full of coins, he opened the top and dumped the contents into the bucket.
The coins hit the bottom of the bucket with a resounding crashhhhhh!
There was no mistaking what had just happened, and everyone turned toward us, chuckling.
Then my son passed the bucket down the row.
I’m not sure what he thought was going to happen when he gave, but as he watched the bucket continue down the row, it began to dawn on him that his money was gone. The further the bucket went, the more his anxiety grew.
“Wait!” he yelled. “How do I get my money back?”
And just like that, my proud dad moment was undone by the laughter of the congregation.
My son clearly did not understand the connection between giving and worship. He was not a generous giver after all.
But he’s not the only one.
For many people, the offering is simply part of the church service, a necessity to endure. They understand that it allows the church to pay the pastor, the staff, and the utility bills, and they give (or don’t give) accordingly.
But for eternity-shaping givers, the offering is much more than just a necessary part of a service. It is an act of worship.
What is worship?
Matt was getting antsy. “The offering time is so boring,” he said. “I wish we could just skip it and get back to worshiping.”
Comments like these are common in many churches. Maybe you’ve had similar thoughts yourself.
Before moving forward, we must tackle an important question: What exactly is worship?
If you were ask most people in the church this question, they would likely say something about singing or music. And that’s an understandable response. When the church’s music leader says, “Please stand and worship with me,” the congregation stands up and sings. When people talk about church, they typically separate the service into three categories: the worship time (singing), offering and announcements, and the sermon.
But is worship just a Christian code word for music?
No. Music in a church service is usually considered part of worship, but worship is much broader than that. In simple terms, worship means to ascribe worth to something. Another way to say it is “show reverence.” As Christians, we ascribe worth to God, showing reverence for his power, authority, character, and holiness. And though one way to do this is by singing songs of praise and adoration in our church services, we show our reverence for God in other ways as well. The apostle Paul tells us that we are to worship God with our entire lives:
And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
Worshiping God with our whole lives includes our giving.
Unfortunately, many believers act as if the offertory is a time to take a quick break between the more important elements of the church service, like the intermission at a play.
But our giving is so much more than that. It is one way in which we demonstrate our reverence for God, and every bit as much as through our singing. Giving can and should be a heartfelt act of worship—whether during or apart from a church service.
The woman who worshiped through giving.
In Luke 7:36-50, we find Jesus having dinner at Simon the Pharisee’s house. During the meal, a woman enters, who is identified only as “a certain immoral woman.” In her hands is an alabaster jar of perfume, likely worth a year’s wages or more. The woman kneels behind Jesus at his feet and begins to weep. As her tears begin to drip onto Jesus’ feet, the woman takes down her hair to wipe them away.
Next, she opens the bottle of perfume and begins to anoint Jesus’ feet. If by now the woman hasn’t caught the attention of everyone in the room, the strong scent of the expensive perfume certainly will. All eyes are now on Jesus and the woman.
Jesus then tells a story about two people who were loaned an amount of money—five hundred pieces of silver to one, and fifty pieces to the other—and neither one could repay the debt. But then the lender cancels both debts, and Jesus asks, “Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
“I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt,” Simon replies.
Jesus agrees and then points out that the woman has loved much because she has been forgiven much. She had recognized the generosity that Jesus had bestowed on her, and she had responded by generously using one of her most valuable possessions to honor Jesus.
She worshiped Jesus through her deep, heartfelt generosity.
A friend of mine told me about Gene and Marcy, an elderly couple at a church in Georgia. They had been members of the church for many years. They loved the church, and they loved Jesus.
Gene and Marcy requested a meeting with their pastor, which was unusual for the couple. After talking with the pastor, they pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check for $100,000.
Gene and Marcy told the pastor that God had given them much in their lives. They decided to put their money toward something that would demonstrate the worth they ascribed to their generous God. So, they gave generously to support the mission of the church.
Gene and Marcy worshiped through giving.
How to cultivate a heart that worships through giving.
“I am not sure if I can honestly say I worship through giving,” a church member once said to me. “I give, but I don’t know if it’s an act of worship for me. It feels detached.”
For many, giving feels obligatory and routine.
What can we do about this?
We can cultivate hearts that worship through giving by focusing on gratitude, prayer, and praise. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Consider what God has done for you.
Worshipful givers are fueled by gratitude. Consider the good gifts God has given you. Start with the essentials (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) and continue from there. Most important, focus on your ability to have a relationship with God through the sacrifice of Jesus. There is no greater gift.
Prayerfully seek out God about your generosity.
Involve God in your giving decisions. Many people who feel detached from their giving are not communicating with God about their generosity. Too often, our financial fears and insecurity limit the amount we give. Ask God what he would like you to give. Ask him to open your eyes to the needs that you can meet. Seek his guidance before you give.
Ask God to multiply your gifts in unimaginable ways.
God can multiply the gifts you give in unbelievable ways. He can take the resources you provide to feed the hungry, heal broken marriages, and get the gospel to the ends of the earth. Pray that he will use your resources and the resources of others for these purposes.
Praise God for how he uses your generosity.
What is God doing in and through your church? Did someone accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior? Are the homeless being cared for? Are church-supported missionaries sharing the gospel on the other side of the world? Praise God for allowing you to participate in his mission on earth.
During the offertory time at church, or prior to your online giving, thank God for his generosity, ask him to multiply the impact of your gifts, and praise him for the Kingdom-advancing work that has already been accomplished.
Is it okay to give online?
The short answer is yes. It is okay to give online. Many churches opened this avenue for giving during the Covid-19 lockdown, and many church members have found that it simplifies the process of giving. Online giving doesn’t have to diminish your sense of worship. What matters is your heart and how it is attuned to worshiping and honoring God with your giving.
Like many others, I give to my church online—for several reasons. It is convenient, safe, reduces my church’s administrative costs, and eases church budgeting. Most important, it ensures that I always put God first in my finances.
Online giving helps me align with God’s design for my money—to be a conduit through which his generosity flows. For me, setting up automatic giving is an act of commitment and discipline.
But not everyone has the same experience with online giving. In fact, there are some people who probably should not do their giving online.
Here are three signs that online giving may not be right for you:
1. You no longer think about your giving. Even though you’re still giving, the automatic withdrawal has eliminated any worshipful thought about it. The money is deducted from your checking account, and you rarely stop to consider it. Your giving has become more like a payroll tax deduction from your paycheck. You may stop for a moment to think when you receive your end-of-the-year contribution statement, but otherwise the spiritual act of worship through giving is pretty much dead.
2. Your giving feels obligatory and disconnected from the church’s mission. Giving to your local church should make you feel more connected, not less. But if the click of a button on an app or a website makes you feel isolated from your contribution, you may not want to do your giving online.
3. You feel that online giving hurts your ability to lead by example. I hear this most often from pastors. By not giving during the church service, they feel they are missing an opportunity to lead by example. Parents may feel this way as well. If this is a significant concern for you, online giving may not be right for you.
Online giving is a method that works for some but not others. But whatever method you choose, be certain to maintain heartfelt, spiritual involvement.
Generosity is an act of worship.
Generous giving is not meant to be a sterile or detached act. Like the woman in Luke 7, generously pouring out her resources to ascribe worth to Jesus, we should demonstrate our heartfelt reverence for God through our giving.
The offertory is not a musical interlude during the church service. Rather, it is a time to consider what God has provided, what he has already accomplished, and what he might be calling you to invest in with your giving.
Is generosity more than just a transaction for you? Do you worship through your giving?
This article is an excerpt from "Money in the Light of Eternity" by Art Rainer.