I got 99 problems and generosity is one

Caleb Mathis

6 mins

I am not the 1%. I’m not even close.

Last week, I had $12 in my checking account. Literally. That’s cute when you’re a kid. It’s reason for concern when you’re in college. And it’s downright terrifying when you’re working to support a family of five. (It’s OK, Mom, I’ve gotten paid since then. Don’t send money. On second thought …)

I have three kids in diapers. We had an across state lines move. I had a 90-minute commute to work (the reason for the move). That crap is expensive. So now our family is on a tight DSI budget. Don’t Spend It. If you’re part of the 99%, like me, you may be tempted to believe generosity is a character trait for someone else—for the 1% that can afford it.

I’ll be honest, I really want to believe the biblical command of generosity is meant for someone other than myself, like the commands for sacrificing goats or kicking my wife out of the house when she’s on her period. (Honey, please don’t leave me alone with the kids!) As a follower of Jesus, I can run and hide from the truth, but I can’t change it. If I want to live a life that is fully alive—in step and in relationship with the God of the universe—then generosity must be part of the deal.

You know that whole, “It’s better to give than receive,” thing? That’s Jesus. The “Give your enemy the coat off your back,” and “How about you feed these 5,000 hungry dudes on a hillside,” …you guessed it, that’s Jesus too. And that’s just a snippet. Generosity is spread throughout the entire Bible. In the first book, a guy named Abraham gives 10% of his entire net worth away to a stranger. In the last book, we get a picture of Jesus as a lamb slaughtered in our place. A pretty generous move for God to make.

It’s a conundrum. How am I supposed to be generous when every week I’m squeezing the life out of every last dollar? Here are three lessons I’ve learned, because despite my wishes to the contrary, generosity isn’t relegated to a single tax bracket.

Give On Autopilot

You were hoping this list wouldn’t involve giving away money, right? Sorry to disappoint. You can parse out the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible all you want, but you can’t interpret away the command to give away your cold, hard cash. As a follower of Jesus, I believe everything I have, including the paycheck I earn, is a gift from God. At the end of the day, it just isn’t mine. So I give on autopilot. My employer offers a program that will remove a percentage of each paycheck I receive, and I funnel those funds to my church. Every year, I have to enroll in this program. And every year, my finger hovers a little too long over the confirm button. But I know that if I didn’t participate in this program, the funds would never make it to their final destination. Although every bone in my body fights it, I truly want to be generous. This program ensures that I am — because you can’t give away what you’ve already spent.

Give Generosity A Face

For the past ten years, there’s been a picture of Milkissa on my fridge. His picture has outlasted three girlfriends, two job changes, and four different housing situations. And when I married my wife, he was our first child. Milkissa lives in Ethiopia. And every month, through Compassion International, we had the pleasure of funneling $40 his way to ensure that he received a quality education, nutrition, and skills training. Milkissa was an African teenager that waited much too long for a sponsor. When we skipped a date night, when we downgraded our internet speed, when we knocked one day off our vacation, it was for him. I can’t tell you the feeling we got a few weeks ago when we received a letter saying that Milkissa had graduated from high school. He made it to the end of the child sponsorship program. Our monthly payments had made a difference. We saw the finish line, and it looked like a changed life. If you find giving hard, give it arms, legs, a beating heart, and a face.

Give It Away, Give It Away, Give It Away Now

How can I say this? I can tend to be a bit … miserly. Like, I could give old Scrooge a run for his money. Here’s your proof. I’m married to a good woman, a generous woman. When we find ourselves with excess furniture, or clothing, or baby cribs, I default to selling it all. But while I’m composing the post for Facebook Marketplace in my head, my wife is considering who needs our stuff. For free. Say what? But she’s absolutely correct. When you can meet someone’s need with something you have, never settle for selling it instead. Generosity means holding your possessions loosely and being willing to part with them at a moment’s notice. (Single men, take note: Marry a good woman. And do it soon.)

For me, generosity is a discipline. A choice. A belief that my debit card can have a higher purpose than just putting another coffee in my hand. But, to be honest, I also give because I want more — more joy, more purpose, more freedom. When I give, I receive. I get more joy out of knowing my money is rescuing children from the rape-for-profit industry in India than knowing it appears in my checking account every other Thursday. The mall suddenly grew less appealing when I purposefully choose Milkissa over it. And there’s no taste of freedom quite like knowing that you weren’t so attached to your stuff that you couldn’t meet the needs of someone else, be it a couch, a crib, or a car. Money can’t buy love. And it most certainly can’t buy joy, purpose, or freedom either. But giving it away? That’s another story.

I get it. In our on-demand, me-focused world, generosity can sometimes feel like an itchy sweater that doesn’t fit. But go with it anyway. Even when it’s awkward. Even when it feels like a stretch. Even when you only have 12 bucks in the bank. Because like a good sweater, even the itchy ones, nothing can keep the cold out of your heart like a little generosity.

Caleb Mathis
Meet the author

Caleb Mathis

Dad of three, husband of one, pastor at Crossroads, and at the moment would rather be reading Tolkien, watching British TV, or in a pub with a pint of Guinness.

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