I did not grow up in a home that gave generously. My wife did. She (and the Lord) are convincing me to make it a priority. Can you help me get a better understanding?
Holding On for Retirement
Dear Holding On,
Well, you sure sound a lot like me about 20 years ago! I happily donated 2.6% of our gross annual income each year and I was content with that. That was the national average at the time, by the way. When my wife pleaded with me to give more, I had lots of ready rebuttals to prevent it from happening. So let me say up front, I was wrong, and my, how God has wonderfully transformed my heart on this topic!
Giving has become a deep source of joy for us. Now, it is even our tradition, as a couple, to spend a few hours the last week of December to total our giving for the year and seek ways to give more. We try to surpass what we gave the previous year. My only regret is that it took several decades for us to get to this point. I hope you don’t make the same mistake I did.
The Surprise Gifts
One Christmas, Ann and I were broke and unable to buy our two young boys the Christmas presents we really wanted to give them. I remember feeling frustrated and depressed about it.
Meanwhile, God moved in the heart of another family of modest means that we knew at church to bless us. But not just any family. Earlier that year, the oldest of their two sons was tragically killed in a freak accident on the day of his high school graduation. He had a bright and promising career ahead of him both as a student and an athlete. His parents were devastated by the loss. Little did we know that the money they had saved for their son’s Christmas gifts would instead go to supply for our two sons. We will never forget our shock and the love we felt for them through those gifts for our boys. We were so grateful to have presents under the tree but it was their unexpected generosity that ended up being the greater gift to us. They set a beautiful example of granting hope to others through giving. Since that time, we have had opportunities to give that have stretched us and blessed others in ways we could never have imagined.
We Are All Generous
Todd Peterson, a friend and former NFL kicker, came up with my favorite quote about generosity. He said, “We are all generous…Nobody has to teach us anything about being generous. The challenge we face and the choice we must make is, are we going to only be generous towards ourselves or are we going to be generous towards God?”
It’s a matter of breaking the habit of self-generosity. A lifestyle of giving makes you think before you buy something. You have to consider whether you really need it while others are truly in need. God wants us to direct that generosity towards Him, to be “rich toward God” instead of ourselves, so we will share what He has provided for us.
Our founder, Larry Burkett, once said, “My greatest fear in life is standing before the Lord and hearing Him say, ‘I had so much more for you, but you held on too tightly.’”
When we choose to obediently follow biblical financial principles, giving becomes our highest priority. Oftentimes, God supplies our needs in unexpected ways, allowing us to give more generously. Eliminating debt frees up funds to share with others. When we give with no expectation of anything in return, we are the ones rewarded.
Benefits of Giving
- It breaks the control that money has over you.
- It teaches you to be content with what you have.
- It helps you recognize the needs of others.
- It reminds us that we will not take anything with us.
Barriers to Giving Generously
- Lifestyle creep
- Disunity in marriage
- Not challenged to give more
FidelityCharitable.org suggests ways that charitable giving can help with tax planning.
- Donate Assets: As long as you’ve owned the assets for more than a year, you can claim a tax deduction in the amount of the full fair market value. Neither you nor the charity will pay any taxes on the gain. This equates to as much as a 20 percent addition than selling and donating the after-tax proceeds.
- The CARES Act: This bill allowed you to deduct cash contributions to qualifying organizations up to 100 percent of your AGI (adjusted gross income) in 2020. Charities benefit and a high tax bill is reduced. Look for similar options in 2021.
- Consider a Donor-Advised Fund: By front-loading giving to a donor-advised fund while you’re still in your high income-earning years, you’ll be able to both get additional tax savings when you need them and pre-fund your charitable giving during retirement, when income may be lower. We recommend the National Christian Foundation.
Ask the Lord to Open Your Eyes
Besides supporting your church and organizations dedicated to building the kingdom, make it a goal to serve together as a family to help others in 2021. There are needs everywhere. People are hurting and often too embarrassed to admit it. Your attention encourages and grants hope to the receiver. We became aware of that fact in our very own neighborhood. Couples have pulled together to help a precious soul who was hurting so badly she couldn’t even help herself.
The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35 ESV). I now know this for a fact!
Don’t worry about your retirement; rather focus on that day that you will stand before the Lord and be evaluated for your stewardship. I agree with your wife; make giving a top priority and you will never regret it.
Chuck Bentley is CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, the largest Christian financial ministry in the world, founded by the late Larry Burkett. He is the host of a daily radio broadcast, My MoneyLife, featured on more than 1,000 Christian Music and Talk stations in the U.S., and author of his most recent book, Money Problems, Marriage Solutions. Be sure to follow Crown on Facebook.