You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Give

You haven’t “made it” yet. You don’t command a hefty salary or carry a sizable bank balance. No silver spoons have ever landed in your mouth. Congratulations!

You’re in the right place to learn how to give generously.

Believe it or not, the best time to learn generosity is when we have less, not more. Why? When we have more, we also have more to lose—and so we often cling to it tightly, fearful it might escape our grasp. Too often, we also tell ourselves we’ve earned our bounty or that we’re reaping the rewards of our own hard work and savvy money management. These attitudes keep us from practicing generosity.

Yet when the next paycheck is the only way we’ll make this month’s rent or keep the lights on, we see it as a godsend. Because it is. We whisper prayers of gratitude, we acknowledge God’s guiding hand, and we recall that all we have is a gift. We are grateful, and gratitude is the birthplace of generosity.

This dynamic explains why U.S. tax returns year after year show that top earners report a lower percentage of charitable giving than those at the bottom. Clearly, generosity is not solely for the rich.

Even for the people in the more generous lower tax brackets, the biblical benchmark of giving ten percent of income is a stretch. Three to four percent is more common. Many of us want to give more. In fact, we long to live more generously, but we find ourselves stuck.

How do we move the dial on our giving, especially when cash appears scarce? Here’s how:

Take an inventory.

Begin by assessing what you have. Your money, of course, is easy to measure—but money is only one small part of what you have. List your skills, your personality traits, your blocks of free time. Do you have a broad network? A social media platform? While money may be the most obvious resource, odds are you possess a wealth of non-monetary resources. Do you make a mean breakfast? Then help with cook meals at a senior home. Are you a compassionate listener? Mentor a teen in your area.

A former member of my church liked competing in triathlons. She was a high school math teacher, and the physical activity helped her stay sane and energized in the classroom. New teachers in Chicago earn $50,000 per year, but given the high cost of living in the city, that salary translates into just getting by. She donated regularly to the church and to other organizations, but she wanted to give more.

Her solution? A year of running. She picked one race and one charity each month, and asked her network of friends, family, and co-workers to donate a small amount per mile. By the end of the year, she had given away thousands of dollars to meaningful causes. And in turn, she felt the sheer joy of knowing that because of her efforts, students received scholarships, homeless folks were fed, and hundreds of lives changed for the better.

Generosity begins with what you have and where you are. When my church received a $1.6 million windfall from a decades-old $1,000 real estate investment, we remembered the miracle of the loaves and fishes. As told in the gospel of Mark, a crowd of 5,000 is gathered after having listened to Jesus preach.

It’s evening and the disciples worry the crowd is getting hungry, so they ask Jesus to tell everyone to disperse to local villages for food. In a moment that surely bewildered the disciples, Jesus replies, “Go and see how many loaves you have.” They return with a meager five loaves and two fish, which become enough for Jesus. He blesses the food and the crowd eats its fill.

When you take an inventory, you are counting your loaves and fish. The only thing left to do is to offer them to God—and trust he will turn them into a miracle.

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Source: Relevant Magazine