I was reading an article on the blog of popular wealth researcher and author Thomas J. Stanley today about generosity, and how if we do it for the wrong reasons it can lead to disappointment.
The piece looked at how when people are generous, far too often it isn't lauded as an admirable thing, but simply glossed over. He gave the example of Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen, who recently gave hundreds of millions of dollars to Alzheimer's research.
Earlier this year, Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, designated a gift of $300 million to The Institute of Brain Science. The money was given in support of the organization's objective of finding a cure for Alzheimer's. Interestingly, this good deed was hardly mentioned in the press. One of the few outlets that covered the story was The New York Times. But the article was far from the front page. It was on Page 22. It covered merely 16.5 square inches. Translated, that is approximately 18.2 million in donated dollars per square inch. On the page that followed this write-up about Mr. Allen, a 119 square inch article was published. It profiled a Manhattan-based bike shop owner who sells “to the stars”, i.e. Cheryl Crow, Lady Gaga, et al. The bike shop owner received more than one-half page of favorable publicity (more than 7 times the space given to Mr. Allen's good deed).
What is the lesson to be learned here? Give for reasons of generosity, home taught values, self-actualization but not for recognition. Otherwise you may be disappointed in how little your noble deeds get publicized.
Allen's 300 million dollar donation hardly merited a mention, but yet on the following page a bike shop owner who sells to celebrities got over half a page! It's a sad commentary just how little the generosity of one man merits mention, but yet we are obsessed with the personal lives of celebrities.
The bigger point I think comes down to why being generous for the wrong reasons can lead to disappointment.
Being Generous For Recognition
As Stanley mentions, for those who are generous because they want to receive some sort of recognition, they may end up finding that they aren't given the kudos they were hoping for. In Acts the Bible says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”, but the world doesn't truly believe that in most cases. Our culture believes that it is better to receive. A lot of people view giving through the lens of the world, and think that people only give because they're going to get something out of it. Because of that it's easier to dismiss generosity in others.
If you are giving from a worldly view, and you're giving because you want to receive some sort of recognition, it's essentially giving for the wrong reasons – because it's a selfish motive. Jesus spoke about giving with the wrong heart in Matthew:
So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:2-4
For many people who don't have hope in Christ, they're looking for some sort of fulfillment in life by doing good things. Being perceived as generous or as a “good person” would help them to find that fulfillment they believe. But it's a false hope.
Every human being must live for something. Something must capture our imaginations, our heart’s most fundamental allegiance and hope…If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts. – Tim Keller
Generosity may give us fulfillment or a sense of self satisfaction in the short term, but it's not where we can find true happiness and fulfillment long term.
Generosity As An Expression Of Gratitude To Our Savior
We're instructed as Christians to place our hope in God, and not in riches.
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 1 Tim. 6:17
When we place our hope in God, we see how freely he gave to us, even giving us His own son Jesus Christ.
For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son.
True generosity comes from a place of love and sacrifice. When we follow Christ, we should have a desire to give to others out of love, like God has given to us. He gave us everything, and we need to in turn follow His example.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us. Eph. 5:1-2
Giving can be a form of worship, and an expression of gratitude to our savior.
If giving is merely to a church, a ministry, or to a needy person, it is only charity. But if it is to the Lord, it becomes an act of worship. – Howard Dayton
When we give as to the Lord, and don't do it for the recognition or praise from others, we glorify his name.
Dealing With My Own Selfishness
I will be the first to admit that I'm a selfish person, and that at times I struggle with giving. I will sometimes fall back to a worldly mindset where I feel like I need to first “be secure” in our finances, or reach some financial goal before giving. But we're called to not trust in the things of this world and in riches because they can easily be taken away in the blink of an eye. Focusing on those selfish desires is pointless.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. Proverbs 23:5
I'm sure a lot of folks in the wake of Superstorm Sandy have seen that in recent weeks – how your entire life can be turned upside down, and you can lose everything overnight.
There is no true security in this world, but what is found in Jesus Christ. When we follow Him, we're called to follow his generous example, and to give sacrificially out of love for others.
So for me that's my call this week before Thanksgiving – to give thanks and praise to God by following his example through generous giving.
What are your thoughts when it comes to generosity, and how the world views it versus how a follower of Christ should view it?