Payneful Extra: A world built on generosity

A free extract from my latest book, 'The Generosity Project'

Here’s the first of what I’m hoping will be a semi-regular occurrence on top of the regular weekly email/podcast—a bonus Payneful Extra, containing an extract from something else I’ve been working on.

This first one is taken from chapter 1 of my most recent book/resource, The Generosity Project, written in partnership with Geoff Robson, and recently released by Matthias Media. You can find out all the details at website—but essentially its a resource for churches to use to change their culture of generosity. The subtitle is: ‘Learn, pray and work together to become the big-hearted people God calls us to be’.

It’s built around a book for small groups to use, with each chapter or ‘part’ containing a mix of Bible study, text or video input, and discussion. The extract below is from the ‘text input’ of chapter 1. (Small groups can read this text together, during, before or after their group time, and/or watch a video version of the content together.)

Hope you find this snippet encouraging.

A world built on generosity

When Bart Simpson is asked to say grace, he says, “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing. Amen.”[3]

The watching adults gasp. Mr Burns chuckles and says, “Only an innocent child could get away with such blasphemy. God bless them all.”

But Bart’s caustic honesty is funny because, as comedy so often does, it pierces through the veneer of polite sentiment and says aloud what many of the watching adults are actually thinking anyway.

We did go to work. We did earn the money. We did pay for this stuff ourselves. So why all the thanksgiving to a God we can’t see?

The Bible’s answer is that the God we can’t see created everything we can see and touch and hear and feel, including us. He created the molecules that make up our bodies. He gave life and breath to those bodies that go to work to earn money. He provided the power and ability to work, the materials to work with, and the world within which that work is effective and productive and satisfying. He created the plants and animals that we buy as food with our hard-earned money, and the land and the rain and the sun that sustain and grow them. He made and organized everything and everyone that constructed the house in which we sit to eat the food, the kitchen in which it was prepared, the table and plate it rests on.

All this is obvious enough if we open our eyes and see it.

Jason Roach, who was a surgeon before he became a pastor, puts it like this:

I used to be in medical practice. On the operating table, you’d get to see hearts beating time after time after time. You’d be bowled over by the fact that God is the generous Creator and Provider. More than that, I thought about how our tongues work, and how God provided taste buds with sweet and sour and all kinds of different things. You realize this is a God who hasn’t just provided food for us to eat that satisfies us and fills our bellies, but a God who gives us all kinds of food to delight in. [1]

All that we are and have and do comes from an infinitely powerful and loving Creator—from One who is so much above and beyond us that we can barely comprehend his greatness, but One who is loving and generous, and showers us with more than we can ask or imagine. God doesn’t have to do any of this. He is not obligated to create or sustain us. It is not something we have earned or deserved. God creates and sustains and provides simply because of who he is, out of his character of love and faithfulness. And this is really the essence of generosity: to give abundantly beyond any expectation or obligation.

The poetry of the psalms often expresses the greatness of God as generous Creator and Provider, along with how we should respond to him. In Psalm 95, for example:

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.

The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! (Ps 95:1-6)

With raucous celebration and thanksgiving on one hand and humble recognition of our place as creatures on the other, the psalmist calls on Israel to recognize and respond to their supremely powerful Maker.

This is the right and basic response to God’s generosity as Creator and Sustainer of all things—not that we’re all that good at making this response. Vaughan Roberts says:

God delights when we enjoy the rich variety and wonder of the world that he’s made. He gives us so much more than we need and so much more than we deserve. God is the giver, and we are the takers. So we take and take and take, but hardly ever stop and say those little words: ‘Thank you’. I think most of us, certainly those of us who call ourselves Christians, know very well that God is the great giver, but it’s very easy to forget it and live with the illusion of control—as though somehow we are in control of our lives and that we’ve earned the things we get through our own efforts. We take them for granted. We don’t stop to say ‘Thank you’. It’s ridiculous, because when we stop to think, surely we realize everything we have is a gift of God’s amazing grace. He is the definition of generosity.

In this sense, Bart Simpson’s declaration of self-sufficiency—we did this ourselves, so why be thankful to God?—is the limited perspective of a child, like the clench-fisted toddler who insists he can do everything himself. The toddler doesn’t see the larger perspective: that his parents provide everything for him, that he is utterly dependent on them, and that there is almost nothing that he can actually do by himself.

Romans 1 says that this is in fact the basic attitude of all humanity—a refusal to respond to the obvious truth that God has created and given us everything. Humanity refuses to honour God or give thanks to him as Creator, but turns its honour and love towards created things instead (Rom 1:18-23).

We’ll think further about humanity’s negative response to God’s generosity in part 2—particularly as it manifests itself in greed—but let’s stay positive for the moment. What are the positive implications and responses to God’s outlandish generosity to us as his creatures?

Tim Clemens puts it this way:

Once you see that God didn’t have to create us but has generously chosen to create us, and that he is both willing and able to provide for us in an ongoing way… it just changes everything.

So to begin with, it lays a foundation of contentment because now I can have confidence that everything I have is what God intended. If he wanted me to have more, he could have given it to me. He’s certainly able to. And so I’m now left in a place where I can rejoice and give thanks to God for what I do have, rather than murmuring about all the things that I don’t have.

But then on top of that, understanding how generous God has been to me in creation helps me to become a more generous person, because now I can operate out of faith rather than fear. I don’t have to be anxious and fearful about what might happen in the future. Instead, I can have faith, trusting that the same God who so generously provided for me and us in creation will continue to provide for me all of my needs into the future, right into eternity. And that frees me to be generous towards others with all that I have.

‘Generosity’ is a funny word in church circles. It’s often the word that we use when we actually are trying to talk about money. Generosity is about more than money, but it’s not about less than money, because money is really a liquid form of God’s good and generous gift to us in creation.

Tim is right, and we’ll need to talk about money at some point in our thinking about generosity, but now is not that time. For now, we need to pause and reflect on what it means that everything in our lives and our world is built on generosity—the generosity of the Creator—and that the right response to God’s generosity is thanksgiving, contentment, trust and a generosity of our own.

The Generosity Project

[1] The quotes from pastor-teachers like Jason Roach, Vaughan Roberts and Tim Clemens that appear throughout The Generosity Project are taken from interviews conducted in late 2018 and early 2019.