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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

“God loves a cheerful giver.”
(2 Corinthians 9:7)

It is interesting to notice that in the Bible, God’s love for his people is almost always said in the past tense with the occasional “everlasting” or “steadfast” modifier attached. While I am positive of God’s love for the saints past, present, and future and that for anyone to deny any of these is to deny the very heart of the gospel, it is still very curious that God’s word only uses the present tense to describe God’s love for us in reference to two categories: cheerfully giving and disciplining those He loves (Pr. 3:13; Heb 12:6; Rev 3:19). While books can be written, (and probably should be), on God’s discipline of those He loves, this article will only deal with giving cheerfully.
For over a decade I have worked everything from retail to restaurants, cafes to coffee shops, and family dining to fine dining, so it is needless to say that I have had a fair share of exposure to the public as a whole. In doing so, I have noticed a troubling trend among Christians in the marketplace. We are, on a whole, far from generous and can be quite tightfisted or at best calculatingly exact. On Sundays following church services around the nation, Christians flood their local coffee shops, cafes, diners, malls, and supermarkets. One would expect that after being in the presence of God and singing praise of his graciousness to us, we would, in turn, reflect that light to others. If I told you that I had been hit by a semi-truck going 90mph but showed not even a single bruise, you would know that I was either lying or the biggest miracle you had possibly ever seen. Yet Christians do this week in and week out. How can we have an encounter with the Living God and walk away unchanged? Sundays should be the best day of work for those of us who find ourselves in situations where we must work. Sadly it is the worst day for nearly every employee in every customer service based industry. Waiter’s around the country know the cliché, “Well, they gave 10% to God so how could they afford giving 15% to me?” This is an indictment upon the church.
Please do not hear that I am a disgruntled server who is fed up with low percentage tips. Please do hear that I am a disgruntled Christian who is very fed up with my witness being damaged week in and week out because of the undercurrent of tightfistedness among my fellow saints. I am a fellow believer who is tired of hearing my faith, my family and my God mocked because my people are penny-pinching and make sure to tip, down to the penny, the absolute minimum they feel they can get away with.
I do not believe that when God said to be a cheerful giver, he had in mind only what we give at church in tithes and offerings, but rather in every area of our life where money is involved. We do not teach our children to share only so they will share with us alone, but so that they will cultivate an attitude of generosity with everyone that they meet. Our Father is the very same with us and with our possessions. We do not teach our children that the best way to share is so exact that they should only share for 15 minutes if the other child only shared for 15 minutes, or to only share their old doll because their new doll is too precious to them and cost too much for us. Nor do we even teach them to share only with someone who has shared previously with them, but rather to share even in spite of the selfishness of others. Again, this is also what our Father wants for us. Imagine if God sacrificed His only Son’s life just for those of us who shared first! Is this not the gospel? That in spite of our sins, Jesus died for us? (Rom. 5:7)
At Bible college, many of may classmates would be confused on the proper tipping procedure. They would sometimes understand why I would tip $25-$35 on a $100 dinner check, even if they would never do it themselves. Yet when I would tip $5 on a $7 or $8 bill they would protest that it was over 50%. I told them then and I still firmly believe that generosity is not slave to a percentage. The difference between 15% and 65% on a $8 bill is only a couple dollars for me but can make a world of difference for my server. The difference between 15% and 25% on a $100 is two lattes at Starbucks for me, but can completely turn the worst night around for a server. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone you know who works for tips.
Buying a drink at Starbucks can average around $3.50. Will it really hurt to leave them the change for our $5? I guarantee that while you wont feel the difference in your wallet, your barista will remember you from then on out. To prove this point, I once did an experiment with two of my local coffee shops. At one I would tip only the coinage that I received with my change, usually around $.30 to $.50. At the other, I would round up to $5 no matter what I got. This would sometimes be a $2 tip but if all I got was a drip coffee it could sometimes be almost $4. At the end of the month I was just another regular customer at the first coffee shop but at the second I knew all the baristas names, their life stories, who had kids, who was taking what classes and was even invited to several birthday dinners and other special events. What a difference in the opportunities that were now available to witness. A couple dollars here and there can smash down doors to witnessing. Maybe it is possible that God knew what He was talking about with this whole generosity thing?
Another common mistake people make is to give out tracts as replacement for a tip or part of a tip. While it is hard to argue with the logic that a clear presentation of the gospel is of more value than the tip could ever be (in the final analysis), I find that in these instances I must. I promise that a generous tip will have a greater impact when placed in tandem with the tract and not replaced by it. If a tract is given with a stingy tip or no tip at all, it will actually bring more scorn upon it than the person may know. Now, some may say that this is the normal reaction of the lost to mock the gospel which they see as foolishness. While this is true for some who will mock it no matter what, it is more common that the person who leaves the tract is mocked rather than the message of the tract itself when they are stingy.
Remember what Jesus said about giving good gifts, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” (Mt. 7:9-10) Your server is hoping for a generous tip, but substituting the tract for it is on par with giving them the stone or the serpent. Imagine that your boss replaced a portion of your salary with catalogues or a magazine subscription that you had no interest in. How many of us would be excited about the new change in our pay scale? Your server feels the same. A tract can be a nice supplement to a tip, but should never replace or decrease it.
A co-worker of mine once had a rare Sunday afternoon. She had Christians who actually knew how to be generous. After three or four tables of 25% tips, a table left a nice tip and a tract. This same woman would have normally ridiculed it with everyone in the kitchen, but I saw her tuck it away with her tips in her purse at the end of the night. She did not convert to Christ right then and there because of money, but old stereotypes of cheap Christians were shattered and she was open to something she would have normally had nothing to do with.
Our Lord said that we cannot serve both God and money. When we pull out our calculators and find out the exact tip down to the penny that we can give to just meet the minimum we show an attitude of heart that we are not cheerfully giving but doing it begrudgingly. When we use a coupon and tip on the total after the discount, we tell the server that we don’t want to be generous with them but want to skate by spending the least money possible. What does a cheerful giver look like? Is it someone with an accountants hat on with a calculator in hand, counting out pennies and rounding down where possible? Or is it someone who wants to bless others in a meaningful way to the glory of God because He was so generous with us?
As a server my witness at work is more dependant on the other Christians who walk through the doors than they can ever know. And I am not alone. Christians in the service industry around the country struggle almost every shift with this. If someone tips 8% after saying “we loved the service and may God bless you,” we hear about it. If someone invites their server to church but doesn’t leave more than a few coins, we hear about it. When someone leaves a tract about the generous love of God but then hypocritically cannot even reflect that generosity themselves, we hear about.
Please take seriously when God says that He loves a cheerful giver. We are not buying converts, but we are smashing down barriers that we have sadly placed ourselves.