Generous Giving, Generous Living

“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” –2Corinthians 9:7

In every congregation I have served, I have been blessed with people who have taught me a thing or two about faithful living and, in today’s case, faithful giving.

Last week, a member wrote me a letter with an article, clipped from the Sunday paper (Star Tribune, August 30th, 2015 p. SH3). It’s entitled: “Secret to Happiness: Being Generous.” In it, the writer lifts up scientific research that proves the health benefits of being generous with your time and money.

Now, I know enough to be careful when someone says, “scientific research proves…” (Yes, I read the local paper, too!) However, as people of faith, we already know the benefits one receives from being generous. Still, I’ve never quite known what to do with St. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth: “For God loves a cheerful giver!” (2Cor. 9:7) In fact, this verse has often been used to guilt people into giving by forcing us to ‘suck it up,’ ‘give till it hurts,’ and offer ‘service with a smile’ even you’re your heart isn’t in it. Which is why the first part of this verse is so key: “…not reluctantly or under compulsion.”

Based on studies at Stonybrook University School of Medicine in New York, research shows that when we give, while thinking about how it will benefit someone else, we are happier and healthier people. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

“Countless studies have found that generosity, both volunteering and charitable donations, benefits young and old physically and psychologically. The benefits of giving are significant, according to those studies: lower blood pressure, lower risk of dementia, less anxiety and depression, reduced cardiovascular risk and overall greater happiness… Studies show that when people think about helping others, they activate a part of the brain called the mesolimbic pathway, which is responsible for feelings of gratification. Helping others doles out happiness chemicals, including dopamine, endorphins that block pain signals and oxytocin, known as the tranquility hormone. Even just the thought of giving money to a specific charity has this effect on the brain… For example, if you give people a gift card for a Starbucks cappuccino and call them that evening and ask how happy they are, people say they are not happier than if you hadn’t given it to them. If you give another group a gift card and ask them to give it to a random person, when you call them at night, those people are happier… Taxes are a form of giving that typically does not make Americans happy. In order to gain a personal benefit from volunteering, you have to focus on how your giving helps other people.”

In other words, when we imagine how our giving can help someone in need (hungry, homeless, hurting, etc.) we are becoming the kind of cheerful givers that God loves. As children of the light, we are shining out our faith whenever we recall how our gifts help others.

The month of October is Stewardship season at First Lutheran – that time of the year when we ask you to consider a pledge of giving toward the overall expenses of the church (aka “The General Fund”). And, to fill out a Time & Talent form with ways you can serve. This means, we’ll need you to think – really think – about how your giving will make a difference to someone else, beyond just keeping the lights on and paying the bills.

As in past years, we are challenging members to increase your giving to First Lutheran by at least ½ of 1% of your household income. For most of us, this increase will be less than $10 per week. We also ask you to consider using an automatic funds transfer program that our congregation already has in place for your giving. But mostly, we call on you to think about the benefit your dollars will have on the people of this congregation, community, and around the world.

Be children of light this day, as you become the kind of cheerful givers that God loves!
Pastor John

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