I love people-watching. When I was in college, I took a class in which one of our assignments was to go to a place where lots of people walk by and we had to people-watch. While we were watching them, we were to pray that God would give us a heart for people. I never did this before, at least on purpose like that, and I found that it is fun! The mall is a great place. You see people do interesting things! I encourage you to try it.
There was a time in Mark’s account of Jesus’ life where we read about Jesus and his disciples at the temple, and they are watching people when something very interesting goes down right in from them.
Here’s the story from Mark 12:41-44:
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”
The rich people they watched threw in large amounts. Then along comes a widow who gives what? The NIV calls it “two very small copper coins”. In the language this was written in, Greek, the coins are called lepta. But what is a lepta?
Scholars tell us that are many options for what these coins might be. Best guess is called a Prutah, one version depicted below. These were very common in Judea.
What were they worth? The NIV says “a fraction of a penny”. Other translations say “a cent.” The Greek says they are equal to a kodrantes, which is a coin with a tiny value. So the NIV gets it right. The widow has given hardly anything at all. Pennies.
I know Ben Franklin said “a penny saved is a penny earned” but he said that in the 1700s. Transport Mr. Franklin to 2017 and he might be in line to argue that we should just get rid of the penny.
CBS News reported last year that pennies cost 1.5 cents to make. Relative to their face value, the report states, pennies are in fact the most expensive coin the US Mint makes. And they are worth the least. Time to get rid of the penny!
This lady gives pennies in the offering. It is easy to think, Well, that’s a horrible offering. She’s giving money that is basically worthless. What can God do with a couple pennies? It is likewise easy to think the rich people gave a gift that is far more important, meaningful and valuable. The rich people gave a gift that will actually make a difference!
That is, until Jesus points out something about the difference between the rich people and the widow. The widow put everything she had in the treasury. And Jesus’ conclusion is that the widow was the one who put in the most!
When I read this I wondered if it was just a one-time thing? Maybe this widow never gave much at all during her lifetime. And on that day she picked up two pennies and thought “Huh, these are worthless, I’ll just drop them in the temple treasury.” Maybe she was actually trying to look good and gain praise for herself.
But I don’t think so. The reason I don’t think so is because it was Jesus who was people watching. Jesus’ comments show that he had an inside view of this woman’s situation. He knew she was giving all she had. He knew her heart, that her gift was a gift of complete surrender to the Lord.
When I think about that, I think it is much more likely that she was a woman who wasn’t making a one-time gift, or a random gift. She is showing us what happens when a person knows how to practice the discipline of giving.
So how do we grow a habit, a discipline, of giving financially?
First of all, you can grow a habit of giving when you have the eternal view of giving. In his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus talked about storing up treasure in heaven.
See your giving as having eternal value. When you give an offering, you are not just giving money that is going into the church’s bank account here on earth. You are making a spiritual impact in God’s Kingdom.
Next, we need to see ourselves as stewards of God’s money. Jesus’ close friend, Peter, would later write about this. See 1 Peter 4:10. It is a hard statement, but we need to see our money is not ours. It seems like it is ours because we work for it, we invest it, we bank it, we spend it. It is really easy to forget that it is God who enables us to earn it, to have the money. We simply need to see him as the source of it all. It is his money, his bank account, his debit card, his credit card. We need to spend his money in a way that honors him.
Third, God loves a cheerful giver. Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 9:7 when he says “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Cheerful here is the word in Greek “hilaros” which is where we get our word “hilarious”. God loves a hilarious giver. By using the word “Hilaros” Paul is not saying that giving should be funny or comical and you’re laughing your head off. Instead it is the idea of great joy in giving.
We need to see it as a joy to give. We can be excited about it, knowing that giving is being obedient to God, and that God says he will bless us. That does not mean that if you give a regular joyful offering to the church, God is going to turn you into a millionaire. But instead it means that you will be trusting in him, and you’ll have the blessing of knowing that you are being obedient to God. And perhaps the blessing won’t be realized until heaven.
There was a person in Faith Church who years ago came to worship with $10 in their wallet. This person was a struggling single mom, desperate just to keep a roof over her kids’ heads. She could have used that $10 to feed her kids lunch after church. There is nothing wrong with feeding your kids. But right in the middle of worship, that person felt convicted that God wanted her to give her $10 to the church. It wasn’t a guilt-ridden decision. Instead she gave joyfully, knowing she could trust God.
After worship was over another person in the church came up to her, having no idea what had just happened, and gave her $10 saying, “I feel the Lord wanted me to give you this.”
Next, know that you can give joyfully and sacrificially because God knows what you need and he is faithful to his promises to take care of you.
I also heard of a person who gave away a month’s salary and told not a soul about it. One day that month a lady stopped by with groceries for this person and their family.
Or have you heard of George Mueller and the orphanages? Mueller was a deeply godly man in England who ran a number of orphanages. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of money to care for children and staff in an orphanage. And Mueller had more than one! But his practice was not to have a fundraising department. Instead he would pray, and he would accept speaking invitations at churches to talk about the ministry. He would not ask for money. People would give anyway! One day early on, the Muellers and the group of orphans sat down at the dinner table to eat. There was no food left. They set out the plates and silverware, and rather than eat, they prayed. Just as they were praying, a bread man came knocking on the door. He had day old bread that he could no longer sell, and he wanted to see if the Muellers could use it.
Then there is the story of a family from Faith Church that cared for foster children. One day they received a call asking if they could care for a child immediately. They had no bed for the child. They prayed, and a bed showed up.
God is faithful. As Isaiah 41:10 says, “Fear not, for I am with you.”
Again the teaching of Scripture is not that God will make you rich, or make life easy, if you give generously. But he has promised to take care of your needs.
I recently learned of a lady who said the curious phrase, “I would be afraid not to give.” We shouldn’t give out of fear, as if God is going to strike us with lightning if we don’t put 10% of our income in the offering basket at church each week. That is not what this lady meant. When she said “I would be afraid not to give,” her heart was in the right place. She feared depending on herself, when God calls us to depend on him.
Do you need to practice the spiritual discipline of giving? I encourage you to start. But maybe get a trainer. Who do you know that is a very generous person? Who do you know that gives regularly, generously, sacrificially, and cheerfully? Talk to them, and ask them to train you how to give.