Summary: People give for many different reasons, but the key to joyful giving is love.
It was in the fall of 1968... I interviewed for a job with the Iowa Commission for the Blind. I was sitting across the desk from Kenneth Jernigan, Director of the Commision and President of the National Federation of the Blind. "How much do you want?" he asked, and I said, "$6800." It was strange question for him to ask, but my answer was even stranger. Indeed, it was foolish... because $6800 a year wasn't enough money, not even back in '68. In any event, he hired me (at a slightly greater wage), and I absolutely loved my job! I loved visiting my clients; I loved teaching white cane travel (although I never taught it particularly well), and I lcved selling White Cane Candy in the factories of Dubuque and on the streets of Fort Dodge. Although I didn't earn much, I had a purpose that seemed bigger than money to me, and I threw myself into my work. It wasn't long before we moved to Omaha, where I would earn more money per month than I did in a year with the Commission... but the feeling of using what energy and talent I had to open doors for others... was priceless! Giving, I learned, could be a source of joy... when you're in love with a purpose or a person. I loved the idea of helping others find dignity and opportunity. I loved working for a "cause," and I loved the infectious "we're out to save the world" culture that permeated our workplace. I can still see the factory workers in Dubuque pulling out dollar bills as they came to their parking lots. Yes, we sold our White Cane Candy for a dollar a box, but it was a priceless transaction to me. Joyful giving stems from love, which is why God "loves a cheerful giver."
Now, in the fall of 2013, I'm a pastor in the Presbyterian Church, and it's "stewardship time" again. Year after year, we hand out commitment cards; year after year we ask you to pledge because commitment is an important thing; year after year, we ask people from the congregation to tell you why it's important to give generously; and of course, we always set aside a Sunday (or two, or three) for a stewardship sermon. For those who are practically minded, we'll cite our budget and the expenses we have to pay- which, given the size of our building, are very real. For those who are program-oriented, we will note that it takes money to fund Learning Centers and Tutoring programs, and it does! For those who are committed to "the rules," we will anchor our requests for money in Biblical terms, and for those who see giving as an investment, we will lift up all the things that God can do with our contributions. There is merit to each of these reasons for giving. We do have bills to pay. God will bless our giving, and there is no doubt that God commands us to give. However...none of these reasons for giving will accomplish much.... without love! Unless we give out of our love for Jesus, we will only... and always give on our own terms. We will never give sacrificially... unless we are in love! This is a spiritual axiom, and it's corollary is this: if we are in love, no power on earth can keep us from giving all that we are and all that we have... to the person or object we love!
Unless you're passionate about the person or cause of your giving, "joyful giving" will forever be an oxymoron, and the notion that we will gain our lives by losing them for his sake... will never make sense. In a phrase, love is the key to stewardship because love demands giving. Tell a man who has fallen in love with golf... to play the game just every once in a while. Tell him, and you will find that he won't listen and that he will gladly spend money on lessons, equipment, and as many rounds of golf as he can. Why? Because he's enthused, en fuego, in love. Tell a young man who has fallen in love with the woman of his dreams... to quit buying her flowers and other tokens of love... and see how that works! A family introduces a young girl to the piano, and it steals her heart. So she forsakes all others, even the boys, and plays by the hour, without ever being nagged... because she finds deep joy in giving to what she loves. Tell a Christian who is on fire for Jesus, to "cool it," and you'll find that you might as well be talking to the wall... because... only love is strong enough to sever the delicate cord that connects the heart and the purse. This nerve, as you might suspect, is very sensitive to the touch, and if we even mention it, people get nervous... which is why attendance often falls off in October and why people dread the annual stewardship sermons. Even the best of church members are prone to give in a measured way... unless they are "in Christ," but if they're "in love," they will give and give and give and count it all joy.