Give Until it Hurts?

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imageA few weeks ago I had a wonderful and stimulating conversation with a co-worker about giving and generosity. For the sake of the discussion he asked, if generosity is a biblical command (1 Timothy 6:8), how much is enough? How much is required to be generous? I suppose that’s what many people are looking for – something to help give clarity to generosity.

The phrase “give until it hurts” was originally spoken by Mother Teresa but instead of speaking about money, she was speaking about giving love to another. Without trying to explain what she meant, the phrase was then used to motivate people to give financially. The exact meaning seemed to be, “Don’t give at a comfortable level but give at a level that is uncomfortable or hurts”.

I understand radically sacrificial giving but I think using this cliche to guide giving is misplaced. In our desire to people give clarity to people’s giving, and for them to give freely, it mostly has the effect of motivating people in the wrong way. Rather than thinking of generosity in terms of it “hurting”, generosity should actually make us more joyful.

Take for example, people you know who are very generous people. While you might not know how much they give, you are aware that they give freely out of the excess of their resources – time, finances, and neighborly help and hospitality. Ask them if their giving feels like it hurts and you will be greeted with a puzzled look. “What are you talking about? Giving until it hurts? Giving is a joyful experience for us!” You don’t see these people wincing when it comes to letting resources flow from their hands to others. Instead, they will rarely see it as sacrifice but rather as a great settled, deep happiness.

In some ways when it comes to generosity we are pretty torn – on one hand we want clarity. We want someone to tell us what percentage or how much. Living under a system like the Israelites did seems to be so clear and cliches seem to provide some level of clarity! On the other hand, we don’t want anyone telling us how much because that sounds like legalism. Either way, we lose out on the great joy that could be presently ours by seeing the tenacious grip on our lives loosened as the gospel takes root in our hearts.

3 thoughts on “Give Until it Hurts?

  1. Jon

    Great post on a great topic. A friend of mine once told me, you should be so detached from your possessions and time that you are willing to give them when a need arises. If you look around and see things everywhere you can’t live without, then it’s time to start working on adjusting that mentality by giving things away and becoming ok with doing so.

    Not that we can’t have things but that what we have we should be willing to place into Gods service when called to do so or when we see a need.

    One of our biggest assets is time too.

    When faced with situations one can ask, “what requires the most love?” And always choose that. Should I donate or not? Should I help the homeless guy on the side of the road or not? Should I volunteer at church or not?

    What requires the most love, the most giving of myself?

    Choose that.

    How that works into a formula…..not sure it can. Generosity can’t be prescribed but it can be found.

  2. Tyler Hoad

    “…you are aware that they give freely out of the excess of their resources…”

    Your statement implies one cannot experience joy and pain together…

    Perhaps the reason your couple only feels joy is because they are giving out of their abundance rather than their sacrifice?

    Which “hurt” more to give… the amounts given by the many rich people or the poor widow who gave two small coins? (Mark 12)
    You are correct, “hurt” should not be our motivation in giving.

    However, I believe my sacrifice ought to be somewhat painful. That’s why it’s called a sacrifice.
    An offering made without sacrifice is what Cain made. It wasn’t that Cain did anything “wrong” by giving and offering, but he didn’t do what was right in the sight of the Lord.
    It isn’t that I am not to experience some hurt from sacrifice… It’s that I am to take JOY in the sacrifice knowing I identify with God through the solemn act of worship — even though it might hurt!
    Giving is usually a process… At first, I gave subtractionally (as a sacrifice): “If I give [whomever] some, then I have less. So, I’ll give what is reasonably comfortable.”
    After a season, I then started to give obediently (as a sacrifice). As the Lord grew my heart, I began to earnestly seek ways to give with some reverence as to WHY — in the process of giving — I was participating and ultimately entered into the JOY that comes from knowing we were simply sacrificing what is the LORD’s already.

    As David said dedicating the temple:
    “Praise be to you, Lord,
    the God of our father Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.
    Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
    and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
    for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
    Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
    you are exalted as head over all.
    Wealth and honor come from you;
    you are the ruler of all things.
    In your hands are strength and power
    to exalt and give strength to all.
    Now, our God, we give you thanks,
    and praise your glorious name.
    “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.” (1 Chronicles 29:11-19)

    The difference is, therefore, was in my learning to give TRANSFORMATIONALLY — as the widow.
    It is as though she was saying, “I will give no matter the cost…” Or like the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians who “urgently pleaded for the privileged of participating” in giving even though it hurt.
    Or like Jesus…”who for the JOY set before him endured the cross.” Talk about transformational giving!

    I’ve learned that I ought to experience some pain in giving, if for no other reason to know more intimately what giving actually costs and to know Christ deeper.
    In the end, the question isn’t “how much?” But “How?” Because if my giving isn’t really a “sacrifice,” causing me some kind of faithful discomfort as I learn to trust God and his provision, how then is it faithful giving?
    How will God view my offering?

    Thanks for your writing. 🙂

  3. TyHoad

    “…you are aware that they give freely out of the excess of their resources…”

    Your statement implies one cannot experience joy and pain together…

    Perhaps the reason your couple only feels joy is because they are giving out of their abundance rather than their sacrifice?

    Which “hurt” more to give… the amounts given by the many rich people or the poor widow who gave two small coins? (Mark 12)
    You are correct, “hurt” should not be our motivation in giving.

    However, I believe my sacrifice ought to be somewhat painful. That’s why it’s called a sacrifice.
    An offering made without sacrifice is what Cain made. It wasn’t that Cain did anything “wrong” by giving and offering, but he didn’t do what was right in the sight of the Lord.
    It isn’t that I am not to experience some hurt from sacrifice… It’s that I am to take JOY in the sacrifice knowing I identify with God through the solemn act of worship — even though it might hurt!
    Giving is usually a process… At first, I gave subtractionally (as a sacrifice): “If I give [whomever] some, then I have less. So, I’ll give what is reasonably comfortable.”
    After a season, I then started to give obediently (as a sacrifice). As the Lord grew my heart, I began to earnestly seek ways to give with some reverence as to WHY — in the process of giving — I was participating and ultimately entered into the JOY that comes from knowing we were simply sacrificing what is the LORD’s already.

    As David said dedicating the temple:
    “Praise be to you, Lord,
    the God of our father Israel,
    from everlasting to everlasting.
    Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
    and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
    for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
    Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
    you are exalted as head over all.
    Wealth and honor come from you;
    you are the ruler of all things.
    In your hands are strength and power
    to exalt and give strength to all.
    Now, our God, we give you thanks,
    and praise your glorious name.
    “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you. And give my son Solomon the wholehearted devotion to keep your commands, statutes and decrees and to do everything to build the palatial structure for which I have provided.” (1 Chronicles 29:11-19)

    The difference is, therefore, was in my learning to give TRANSFORMATIONALLY — as the widow.
    It is as though she was saying, “I will give no matter the cost…” Or like the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians who “urgently pleaded for the privileged of participating” in giving even though it hurt.
    Or like Jesus…”who for the JOY set before him endured the cross.” Talk about transformational giving!

    I’ve learned that I ought to experience some pain in giving, if for no other reason to know more intimately what giving actually costs and to know Christ deeper.
    In the end, the question isn’t “how much?” But “How?” Because if my giving isn’t really a “sacrifice,” causing me some kind of faithful discomfort as I learn to trust God and his provision, how then is it faithful giving?
    How will God view my offering?

    Thanks for your writing.:)

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