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There’s nothing wrong with divine reward

28 Oct

Dear reader, you may think I’m being too picky or too sensitive to seeing criticism where there is none, but indulge me for a few minutes.

The picture below popped up on my Facebook feed today.

But is it true?

It bears the slogan: “Caring people help others, not because they expect a reward, but because it is natural to show kindness.” It is one of many “positive thoughts” hosted on this blog and Facebook group.

It seems like a lovely thought, on the face of it. What could be better than doing good things for other people without expecting anything in return, and to have that generosity bubble up out of one’s very nature?

But is that what this proverb is getting at?

I have noticed recently that there are increasing numbers of messages sent out over social media which affirm certain desirable and uplifting behaviours, yet which also seem to take a subtle dig at Christian faith and practice. Atheists have all the right views, in other words, and you don’t need any of that God stuff in order to be Mother Teresa.

Atheists claim, “We don’t need God to be good!” They argue that any good they do is far more altruistic than that of the Christian because the Christian’s giving is motivated by hope of reward (bad) or fear of damnation (worse).

But does divine reward undermine charity, or even common decency?

Might the idea of reward in fact produce greater, more enthusiastic generosity?

I see it this way, from experience:

1.) Knowing that God rewards me frees me to be generous.
The Bible says, “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9) It also adds that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)

Knowing that God is able to provide for me releases me from worrying about how my needs will be met – and hence frees me to be generous. Does this work? I regularly give to support others whilst not having much money myself – even while in need, to the point of having bills to pay and not knowing how I will pay them. God always provides! It’s called living by faith: expecting God to provide for us as we provide for others, according to the promises of His Word such as those quoted above, which are based on the principle that in order to be receivers, we need to be givers first.

2.) Eternal reward frees me from making my life all about me.
There may be ardent atheists who are deeply altruistic, self-sacrificial and giving. More power to ’em. But atheism, with its emphasis on personal autonomy and fundamental philosophical commitment to the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest, is not a system by which to produce generosity or compassion in those who are not already inclined to be generous or compassionate. How could it? Indeed, it might be argued that most of our financial crises (particularly those involving fat cat bankers) have been precipitated by an atheist-evolutionary worldview: selfish gain replacing the deeply biblical notions of stewardship and accountability. The idea that we can be good without God may seem persuasive at first, but if there is no God, what motive do we have for doing anything other than what feels good or seems convenient?

What about soldiers giving their lives for their buddies in combat? Heroic, yes; altruistic, certainly, but you’ll notice that soldiers are generally inculcated during their training with a strong code of ethics and commitment – something that atheism, the Great Negative, outstandingly lacks.

What is there that pulls us towards generosity, in the way that a planet’s gravity pulls a wayward asteroid towards itself, even from afar? What are we being drawn by, or aiming towards, if not God?

Knowing that my life is most significant when set in the context of eternal judgment and its consequences – in this case, reward contingent upon obedience – sets me free at a fundamental level. If this life is all there is, it only means as much as I make it mean to myself, by whatever means seem most attractive to me, and all of that will be swallowed up by nothingness soon enough. Forgive me if I’m not blown away by that as a cast-iron guarantee of any of us Doing The Right Thing For One Another.

If, however, this life is only a brief trailer for a reality that goes on forever on the other side of death, then I can afford to live this life radically, unbounded by self-centred materialism. This life is not all there is, dying with the most toys is not the highest ambition, and my eternal future is secure in Christ, so why hang onto whatever I can get my hands on during my short stay on Earth?

3.) Reward for kindness is kindness.
Forget for a moment (if you’re sympathetic to the atheist position, at least) the idea that God is mean, nasty, a killjoy and a tyrant who is out to get us. What if God wants to be kind to us because He is naturally kind? And the reason He wants us to be kind is because He wants to see more kindness in the world? And that the people He most wants to be kind to are the ones who demonstrate the most of His kind of kindness?

Think of it this way: suppose you and I both work for a multi-million pound (1.5 multi-million dollar) company run by an older man who has no family of his own, but has real family values. His values extend to the point that he treats customers as family, and his staff too. His idea of a good way to run the company is to invite the staff and employees who give the best customer service to stay at his huge ranch, where they enjoy delicious meals in the fresh air, swim in the lake, walk in the beautiful countryside, and sit with him around the fire.

One night at the campfire, he says, “You guys are my heroes. Because you share my values and demonstrate them unfailingly to my customers, you are the people who I want to inherit the company when I am gone.”

Where is the self-seeking in those employees’ treatment of their customers? There is none! They have simply been best at adopting and reflecting the boss’s desires. Essentially, they have made his nature their own, and in so doing, have reaped a reward. The boss wants to share the best that he has to offer with the people who identify most with him.

(That sounds a little like God to me…)

Does the principle of caring for no reward – which secularists have staked out as their own – work?
Who Really Cares is an enlightening book by Prof. Arthur C. Brooks. In it, he investigates, with the benefit of considerable independent research, whether religious or secular people and/or conservatives or liberals are the most charitable. The answers surprised even him: it is Christian religious conservatives who are most inclined to give by way of personal charity. Secular liberals are most likely to support government giving money to those in need, but (some of you may be way ahead of me here) this also leads to lower personal giving amongst secular liberals as they see it as the government’s responsibility to address inequality on their behalf rather than their responsibility to meet the needs of those less well-off.

“I gave at the ballot box,” in other words.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it? If it is the government’s responsibility to give to those in need, you and I don’t need to. And if the government doesn’t live up to its brief to feed the hungry, and instead embarks on making the rich richer, selling off the National Health Service to cronies in business and school meal services to companies that feed children nutrition-free rubbish, well at least we have the right liberal-secular values, right?

Pat yourself on the back; you deserve a Nobel Prize for Nice Thoughts.

If Christians are giving more (and not palming that responsibility off on Government), it must be because something in Christianity prompts them to do so. If secularists are giving less than Christians, it must be because something in secularism causes them to feel inclined to give less, or because there is something they have given up by rejecting Christianity that results in them giving less.

Could it be that the sure hope of eternal reward, backed by Almighty God and demonstrated in the sacrificial death and consequent reward-resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the ultimate motivation for compassion and charity? And that we can’t do without God after all, if we truly want to see more people caring?

Keep searching!

Open Letter to a Friend About Overcoming Debt

13 Jul

My dear friend,

I am sorry to hear things have been going badly for you in your finances. You may have been giving faithfully to God’s work in the past and are wondering why it’s not working for you now. Or maybe you’ve never really given sacrificially, and you find this a challenge. You may be asking yourself if you are cursed to be in debt forever, but I don’t believe this – certainly you are a child of God, He loves you and He wants you to be free from debt, so even if somebody somewhere really had put a curse on you, it is not the will of God that you be in poverty or debt.

I have written quite a lot, and I hope it’s not too much, but I really want to help you, so I hope you don’t mind taking a few minutes to read this.

I want to share some biblical steps with you that may help your situation. I’m assuming you have already taken charge of the things you can do in the natural, e.g. budgeting more carefully, managing your outgoings, and reducing overdrafts and anything else that charges high rates of interest. Here I want to talk about spiritual principles of provision.

I realise that finances can be a tough topic for some people, especially where they may feel condemned by their church or pastor if they don’t give. What I would like to do is to suggest a way to walk with God through your difficulties and have Him deliver you in the way that only He can. This is not a “formula for success” or some way of twisting God’s arm. Rather, it is a way of walking in faith and power that will enable you to see God’s promises of provision realised in your life. As you grow in making use of these principles, you’ll be able to see both what works best for you and the things that God leads you to do that are unique to you and your situation.

1.)    First, get a revelation of God as your provider. Read and pray over these great Scriptures and underline the bits that talk about God providing for you, words such as blessing, prosperity, provide, etc.:  Psalms 23; 34;  84:11; Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Malachi 3, Luke 6:38; 2 Cor 9:6-15; Proverbs 11:24,25; 22:9; Philippians 4:19. Look in the rest of the Bible too. Don’t worry about whether you can afford to tithe right now – just see what God promises to do for his people, because He is promising to do it for you!

2.)    Next, take all of your bills and unpaid debts and spread them out on a table. Read Mark 11:20-24, in which Jesus tells us that if we have faith in God, we can speak even to mountains and they will move. Debt and lack are your mountains! You are going to speak to them and command them to move in Jesus’ name! Today, tell your bills and debts that they are paid and met in full in Jesus’ name, and that lack no longer has a hold on your life! Of course, this may not mean that you will be debt-free in 24 hours. What you are doing is taking a stand in faith that says that your bills no longer have the final authority in your household.

3.)    Make God’s word the final authority. Every time you get a bill or a debt, or look at your bank statement, speak the verses you read earlier over those pieces of paper. Rejoice in faith, looking to God and thanking him that He has promised to “meet all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:13). There is no debt too big for God! Tell your debts (mountains!) that, and tell yourself that.

4.)    Ask God to give you opportunities to sow good seeds, from which you will reap a harvest. Wait on God, and ask him to guide you. Some seeds may be financial, but there may be other ways you can give too. Remember, this isn’t about trying to make you tithe 10% if you don’t feel ready. I hope you will soon develop the faith to give God 10% of your income, or even more, but right now, take the step for which you have faith.

Ask God the Holy Spirit to reveal to your heart how much you should give, or what to give instead of money. Jesus says, “Give, and it shall be given to you.” (Luke 6:38). God’s giving begins with us giving. It’s the principle Paul talks about: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2Cor 9:6) In order to have a harvest, first you have to sow a seed!

It may be a pound (or dollar!) in the offering plate. It may be buying a meal for a homeless person. It may be doing something practical like mowing the lawn for an elderly person. Ask God to guide you to opportunities to bless other people, and as this happens, give thanks in faith that this is something God is using to meet your needs. He works in ALL THINGS for the good of those who love him! (Romans 8:28) Notice how you feel as you go along. After a while, giving in faith and expectation starts to feel good, doesn’t it?


“Is it wrong to give with the expectation that God will bless me?”

No – sowing and reaping are an intentional thing!

Every farmer expects a harvest on the seed he has sown.
If he did not expect a harvest, he would never plant his seed.

 5.)    Remember the principle of the loaves and fishes (John 6). The crowd could not be fed, and the miracle could not happen, until somebody gave something in faith. God is not going to bankrupt you. Just give what He lays on your heart and trust him to multiply it.

6.)    Look out for the ways in which God is meeting your needs. Maybe he will prompt you to go somewhere, or meet someone, or look at applying for a new job. Will He give you an idea to make something, or sell something, or will He just ask you to trust Him? Be sensitive to the ways in which God is providing. Explore and trust, rather than shutting doors.

7.)    Above all, in all of this, be in faith! Do not speak negatives or say things like, “Well, I tried it, but I doubt it will work.” Rest in the promises God has made – that if you do your part, he will do his part. And don’t let your faith be undermined by people who love to complain and moan and look only at the world’s view of things. God has promised to meet your needs – thank Him that He is doing this, even before you see results, because we live by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)

8.)    It’s worth doing a quick spiritual health check. Repent of careless spending if you have wasted money or recklessly bought things you couldn’t afford. Have you wronged anybody; are you in bitterness or unforgiveness towards anyone, or have you disobeyed God in the past? See Mark 11:25 and Isaiah ch. 58: it’s important to be in right standing with others. If the Holy Spirit reveals anything to you, deal with it. This can be important in removing any barriers to blessings.

All of this is something you can do between you and God. Involve your spouse if you are married. It is all simple stuff that is part of God’s provision for his people, whom He loves.

God bless you, my friend, and may you see His hand at work in your areas of need.

PS Above all, remember, this is not about tithing 10% if you don’t feel ready. Just give what you feel God is prompting you to give and that you feel able to give cheerfully and in faith. Then build upon that faith and give more. You’ll be blessed!

Everything they said I shouldn’t do…

23 May

When talking to Christians from non-charismatic or conservative evangelical backgrounds, I often find myself having to deal with their resistance to the idea that God would want to manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit through them, bless them finanically or meet with them personally in day-to-day life.

Some attempt to write these things off as minor doctrines, but God has spoken clearly in the Bible about a great many things besides forgiveness, holiness and salvation. Generally I find that people start to mention the issue of “minor doctrines” when they are trying to excuse themselves from dealing with parts of Scripture that they find challenging. Unbelief regarding God’s word or fear of what other Christians will think of them is what holds them back from exploring God’s ways. How often do we say, “We don’t do it like that at my church?”

Nothing is as important as knowing you’re saved from sin, but God has given us a lot of very clear teaching about how to live and how to build His kingdom. Receiving salvation (being born again) is just the first step. It’s amazing to see how all the stuff people at my old conservative evangelical Baptist church tried to talk me out of when I was in my teens has become the most liberating and powerful teaching – and all I had to do was take God at his word.

They said I didn’t need to ask God to fill me with the Holy Spirit, but when I did ask Him to fill me with the Spirit, I found power to witness and a sense of Jesus living in me that being a born-again Christian from age 10 and going to church all my life had never given me. (Acts 1:8; Romans 8:11)

They said speaking in tongues was a waste of time, but the more I speak in tongues, the more I hear from God when ministering to people and am empowered to use the gifts of the Spirit. (Romans 8:26,27; Jude v20)

They said I shouldn’t bother raising my hands in the air when I worship, but when I do it I feel more connected to God and worship takes me into two-way communion with Him. (Psalm 63:4)

They said I shouldn’t bother laying hands on people to pray for healing, but I have done it and people have been healed and shown the love of Jesus as a result. (Mark 16:18)

They said I shouldn’t bother trusting God to prosper me, but every time I do, He blesses me financially! (Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:6-11)

The bottom line is that we can do things God’s way, as the apostles and prophets did, and if we do so, we will see what the apostles and prophets saw. Many Christians are discovering this to be true and are seeing God do amazing things through the gifts of the Spirit, as well as being abundantly blessed with financial and material provision, enabling them in turn to provide for the preaching of the gospel and ministry to the needy. Alternatively, we can find reasons not to do those things and have the kind of church I grew up in, in which most of the people we reach are those who are already stable in life and part of the church system.

I’ve begun to see what God does when we take Him at His word.  If you’re looking to see Him do what He said He would do, don’t let well-meaning, “unbelieving believers” talk you out of it.

Is tithing for today? Testimony and teaching

22 May

Somebody asked this question on a forum to which I regularly contribute. This is gonna be a long one, for which I apologise in advance, but if you’re seeking God’s will on this subject or are grappling with financial issues, this may shed some light. (And please don’t just take my word for it, but get out your Bible and concordance and study the subject prayerfully.)

Tithing is one of those issues which people sometimes view as a bit “Old Testament”; perhaps unnecessarily legalistic. To properly understand an issue like this, we have to look not just at the do’s and don’ts, but also at God’s promises and the attitudes He requires of us.

I think firstly it is important to be Spirit-led in all things, rather than laying down hard and fast rules. However, when I have prayed about my giving, God has always brought me back to black-and-white Scripture and given me the choice to obey it in faith or not. However, if somebody is struggling to find the faith to tithe, let them give what they can give in faith and just walk through it with God. A healthy attitude is one that seeks to obey, asking God to help in one’s weakness.

The original purpose of the tithe (giving of 10%) of one’s income was to support the Levites, who had no land (Deuteronomy 14:27), as we find in Leviticus 27. The tithe was holy to the Lord (Lev 27:30-32). The tithe of the produce was to be eaten in the presence of the Lord (Dt 14:23), but every third year it was to be given to the Levites and the poor and needy in the land (Dt 14:27-29). So the tithe embodied firstly worship, secondly celebration and thirdly provision for God’s house and those in need.

The tithe in Bible times was their version of the welfare state.

Is tithing in today’s church actually “legalistic” because the OT law has been superseded?

Tithing actually began before the law was given, with Abraham giving Melchizedek the priest-king a tenth of all he had (Genesis 14:20). Jesus is described (Hebrews 7) as a “priest in the order of Melchizedek”: a king-priest who receives tithes, so one could say that tithing is still “in force”.

Malachi 3:10 talks about the “storehouse”, which I have heard interpreted as the local church. My personal view is that if one is benefiting from the ministry of a church, it should have first call upon one’s tithe, and if one wants to support some other ministry, that should be seen as a freewill offering, given in addition to, and separately from, the tithe. There is perhaps scope for manoeuvre on this, and clearly what is most important is to be led by the Spirit and one’s conscience. However, one should be wary of withholding the tithe from the church, for we find God accusing the Israelites of robbing Him in Malachi 3, because they were not bringing the tithe into the storehouse (Mal 3:7-12)

Where it gets really interesting, for my money (no pun intended) is not in the legalism of “Do I have to do this?” but in the promises God makes concerning tithing.

I began tithing at 15 after it was shown to me that God says in Malachi 3:10:

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

Suddenly there was no question of whether I could afford to tithe: I saw on the basis of God’s promise that I could not afford not to tithe!

God makes other promises of abundant blessing:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. … And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. … Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. … You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (see 2Cor 9:6-11)

Generosity is also linked with abundant blessing and prosperity on several occasions in Proverbs (concordance keywords: “generous”; “prosper” and associated terms).

 Why generosity?

We need to ask ourselves what God is looking for when we consider finances. God is generous and rich in blessings; He gave us his Son (John 3:16) and “along with Him, he will graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). It follows that He is asking the same of us: generosity in our giving, in response to which, God will give generously to us.

This teaching revolutionised my attitude to money (I used to be quite keen to hold onto my cash!): I instantly began giving at every opportunity to support church, the gospel, and to help the needy.

This has had huge benefits: God has really met me!

I have frequently had it happen in my life that God met my needs unexpectedly. When I was a student in France, I got through my grant money a lot more quickly than expected. Without being asked or told of my needs, my grandmother began regularly sending me cheques for £100: several cheques in all. I also had other needs met while I was a student, e.g. I needed new shoes one day, and I received a cheque from my mother, along with a letter saying she had decided to increase the support she and my father were giving me while I was at university.

It has been happening more recently too. For a number of years I have been unable to work and living on benefits. Yet God has again continually met me. For a while I ran an evangelistic project giving away DVDs all over the world via the web. Every time I went to God asking for a particular amount of money, somebody either gave me that exact amount within 48 hours or offered me a little work that would pay the amount I prayed for (amounts that were permissible for me to earn whilst receiving state benefits). I never told anybody of my needs: it was God who spoke to them and provided.

More recently, still while living on benefits, God challenged me to increase my regular support to a homeless chap I have befriended, who hands out my gospel literature advertising my website. I am now giving him the sum God said, and God has continued to meet my needs. Recently an elderly chap next door started paying me for helping him with doing his shopping and other chores, ensuring that while I was supporting my homeless friend, my needs were still being met.

As the man next door became more independent again, that resource began to dry up. Meanwhile, I found myself praying about another need which could not be covered out of my regular income. Within two days, I had a phone call from friends offering me a little paid work that would cover that need!

The “lifestyle of generosity”

 God asks us to have faith in his provision, not just our salaries or the state, to meet all our needs. And He wants us to develop what I call the “lifestyle of generosity” so that we meet the needs of those around us. God always looks at our hearts. The attitude of the world is generally that one should put oneself first. When God sees us with finances, I believe He says, “Does this person have my heart of seeking to bless people; of putting others first?” Then he knows that we are faithful with little and can be entrusted with much (see e.g. Matt 25:21).

Some people write off  biblical teaching about prosperity because the impression they have is that it is all about American TV preachers telling us we can all be driving Bentleys or living in mansions with swimming pools. Others think it is wrong to ask God for anything more than our most basic of needs; that God will be angry or that having more than what we need is wrong. The truth is that God calls us to make Him Lord of our finances, in response to which He will entrust us with more. Our response in turn is to continue to give generously. Few of us have seen what God will do through those whose hearts are truly open to giving in faith the way He gives to us. And when we give freely and in obedience to God, we find that God both provides for us and enables us to finance great things for the kingdom.

So I would try never to tell anybody, “You must tithe!” in legalistic fashion, but I hope I can inspire people to have faith to take God at His word and to begin an adventure of giving and receiving generously.

 Praying and believing

And just a very short word on the practical side of praying and trusting God for finances:

When I have a need, I open up the Bible at the places I have mentioned. I read those promises out loud, praise God in faith over them that they are His stated will for me, and pray over the verses in the Spirit (tongues) too.

Then I believe that it is done and that I will receive what I have asked (Mark 11:23-24). Then I wait in faith and keep my eyes open for the way in which God is answering the prayer (it’s different almost every time!).

There is no formula to God’s blessings, but He has taught us principles by which we can live, and when we live by what His Word says and obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will be amazed at what happens.

May God inspire you with faith and may you walk in all of his blessings!

“And my God will meet all your needs

according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

(Philippians 4:19)

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