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Giving from the Overflow

7 Minute Read

By Dave Ramsey

Dream with me for a few minutes. What would it look like if your church—your entire congregation—was filled with passionate, loving, outrageous givers? What could you accomplish in your community? What could you accomplish around the world?

Sadly, you’d almost have to dream about that. The truth is that only about 3% of evangelical Christians give a tithe. What about the other 97%? Are they selfish and greedy? Do they just not love God enough to open their wallets? I used to think that. But now that I’ve worked with families for decades, all across the globe and certainly across North America, I’ve discovered that is just not the case. They aren’t greedy—they’re broke.

Pounding the Pulpit

The Wall Street Journal says that 70% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Guess what? These are the people who are sitting in the pews. For the most part, I imagine the people in your congregation love Jesus, love the church, and desperately want to support the work of the church across the globe and in their own backyards. But they just don’t think they can.

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And then, while they’re sitting there feeling guilty and stingy, we step up and deliver a strong, stirring message on tithing. Now, I’m absolutely not saying that we should avoid the subject of giving from the pulpit. Heaven forbid! However, I do think we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Before we pound the pulpit and tell them why they should give, we need to come alongside them and teach them how they can give.

Slaves Can’t Give

As you think about the men and women in your church who probably want to give but aren’t, consider the message of Proverbs 22:7: the borrower is slave to the lender.
You see, a slave doesn’t have any choices. A slave can’t give because he doesn’t own anything. He may want to give, he may have a generous heart, but at the end of the day, he has a master that is calling the shots. For the people in our pews, that master is Visa or MasterCard or Sallie Mae.

The fact is that Joe and Susie, who are sitting in the front row every Sunday, need your help. They’re wrapped up in chains that we can no longer ignore. Their hands are tied, their feet are shackled, and all their money has someone else’s name on it.

Lessons from a Rabbi

Over the past several months, I have developed a friendship with Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a successful businessman, author and Jewish rabbi. I first came to know Rabbi Daniel by reading his incredible book, Thou Shall Prosper. This is definitely a must-read book for anyone who wants a clearer understanding of the biblical view of money. In fact, I bought a couple hundred copies and gave it to everyone on my team. It’s that good.

Thou Shall Prosper is a rabbi’s perspective on why Jewish people, no matter where they live in the world, have a disproportionate amount of wealth. Less than 2% of the people in the United States are Jewish, but they make up 60% of the Forbes 400. And it’s that way everywhere. There’s no such thing as a Jewish slum anywhere in the world. Why is that? I believe it’s because the Jewish traditions teach some fundamental principles about money that today’s church should model.

For example, the whole Jewish perspective on giving blew me away. It was just one of those lightning-strike moments that showed me a powerful image of what giving should look like. It’s called the Havdalah, and it has changed how I understand the concept of giving. Lapin explains:

The Havdalah service is recited over a cup of wine that runs over into the saucer beneath. This overflowing cup symbolizes the intention to produce during the week ahead not only sufficient to fill one’s own cup, but also an excess that will allow overflow for the benefit of others. In other words, I am obliged to first fill my cup and then continue pouring as it were, so that I will have sufficient to give away to others, thus helping to jump-start their own efforts. (Lapin, 150)

When I read that, I immediately thought of the large communion cup—a gift from a friend—that sits in my personal conference room. It made me think of how we usually try to fund ministry work. Often, we’re expecting people with half-filled cups to somehow have an overflow. Asking them to give is like trying to draw water from a dry well!

Fill Your Own Cup First

We need to teach them to fill their own cups first. You may say, “Fill my cup first? Take care of myself first? But isn’t that selfish?” Lapin explains that the Jewish culture regards filling your own cup first (meeting your family’s needs) not as shameful, but as a moral obligation. We see this in Scripture, where we’re told to take care of our own household first, or we’re worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)

The bottom line is that we’ve got to lead Joe and Susie to the place where their marriage is not in a strain because of debt; where they’re not worried about whether their kids are going to have enough money for college; where they wouldn’t be in trouble and have to skip a house payment if they missed one paycheck. Once their cup is full, only then can it begin to overflow.

Let it Overflow

Beyond the needs of our own family, anything we pour into the cup splashes into the saucer beneath. That saucer represents the needs of others. So, anything that spills over the edges of our cup goes straight to meet someone else’s needs.

And then all of the sudden, we can take our eyes off of ourselves. Our selfishness dissipates. We can give and give and give without having to worry about how to feed our families or pay the light bill. More importantly, we learn to make giving a natural part of our lives.

Giving to the Vision

God has given you a vision of what He wants to accomplish through you and your church, a divine mission so vast and so great that without Him it would be impossible. Your people want to be part of that mission, but they need your help first.

Instead of trying to get your half-filled cups to overflow, teach them how to fill up their own cups. Check out the 800+ Scripture passages about money. Start Financial Peace University classes and promote them heavily from the pulpit. Lead your congregation through our church-wide Momentum program. Get in there and help them out. Remember, they don’t need another sermon on why to give; they need to know how!

It will take some time for them to develop good money habits, but as they do, and as they taste the sweetness of giving, you’ll watch them transform from tippers (tossing God a “tip” here and there), into tithers (giving a true “tithe” week in and week out), and ultimately into lifelong, generous, outrageous givers.

Learn more about making this a reality in your church with Financial Peace University.

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