How’s your Christmas shopping going? My list is still longer than I’d prefer. Today’s writer tells the story of an unexpected gift in her life, and how it’s shaped her ministry and view of God’s provision. In fact, this season of gift giving is a great time to reflect on the surprising gifts we’ve received in our lives. Maybe it’s also a good time to speak about giving with your friends, family, and congregation. So, consider these questions from the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving: What is your earlier memory of giving and receiving? To what people and places do you feel a sense of gratitude? What is the most meaningful or memorable gift you have ever received?
As we prepare for Christ’s advent, I challenge you to make space for a conversation about giving and receiving beyond the things under the tree.
Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders
The “M word.” Oh, if I could count the number of times that the word “money” has caused me stress or the number of times the mantra, “I hate money” has rolled off my lips, the numbers would be off the charts. See, I had long associated money with suffering -- the suffering of my family, the suffering of the children I loved and saw starving to death in Guatemala, the suffering of the homeless I befriended, and even the suffering in my own life. In my mind and heart, a lack of money was generally the reason for suffering, and the existence of that lack could be directly correlated to the wealthy not sharing what they had. This was the perceived world that I lived in. A world where money was dirty, sinful, and hurtful… a world where I detested money and wanted to be free of it, yet I needed it to achieve the things that I had dreamed of. A world I could not escape.
Yet, the Lord is faithful, and in God’s kairos timing, something wonderful happened that helped change my perspective on money forever.
I was in my first semester at Western Theological Seminary -- a journey I have never intended taking, but one that God made clear was the way for me to go -- and I was trying to make it through the semester without taking out loans. I didn’t make it to my tuition goal, despite working three jobs and getting a scholarship, and I desperately needed financial help. I had no idea where to turn as, once again, tears stained my face surrounding the issue of finances.
In my moment of need, my bitterness and frustration towards money came crashing through, and crying out in anger and defeat, I called my sister in Christ to ask for prayer and her listening ear. I told her of my need of $3,000, and asked her to pray with me. However, instead of praying she said something to the extent of, “$3,000? That’s how much I have saved up! I have been asking God what to do with it, so I’ll send it your way!”
I was stunned. This was one of those out of left field moments where God comes crashing through. My friend was in a similar financial position to myself at the time, so asking her for financial help was never on my radar. Yet seeing a woman in such a position offer willingly all that she had for the Lord, with no strings attached… I was changed. God taught me that day, and keeps teaching me over and over again, that money is not inherently dirty, sinful, or hurtful, but the way it is stewarded in the lives of His people is what makes it a blessing or a curse. That day God taught me that with good stewardship rooted in Christ, money can build the Kingdom in ways I never could have dreamed.
Today, God continues to change my heart in my position as a pastor focusing on outreach in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here, I have seen the generosity of the family of God and the opportunities that money allows for both the givers and receivers to be blessed. With each new day I am coming to realize that God moves through people’s hearts in financial giving, to heal unjust financial systems, to bring hope and healing to the hopeless, and to shine God’s love across the world. The “M word,” is no longer accompanied by a mantra of hate in my life, but is now an avenue of trust and a constant opportunity for me to say what my friend Amy so fervently says, “Go God. Amaze us again!”
Laura Claus is the Associate Pastor of Outreach and Small Groups at Orchard Hill Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She recently participated in the Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising program through Luther Seminary, where God continued to open her eyes to the blessings of financial giving and receiving in the name of Christ!