I hesitate to talk about all we've received in our decade of radical giving, only because I don't ever want this to turn into a TED talk about how to get more. However, there is a very real return on investment when we live a generous life that cannot be ignored.
When we were first challenged to give away 10% of our paychecks, we looked at our income, added up all our expenses and realized we were woefully short of having anything near 10% at the end of the month to give away. We were at a time in our lives where we bought the majority of our clothing at garage sales and thrift stores and budgeted our groceries down to the penny. We realized that giving away ANYTHING would be impossible if we waited until the end.
The only option was to give from the top, which is actually, quite biblical. God asked the Israelites to give the firstborn animals from their flocks and to sacrifice the first and best of their harvest. We wanted to obey and had no intention of ever again seeing the finances we were laying on the altar. We figured out 10%, gave it back to God via some amazing organizations we'd prayed about, then paid our bills and got REALLY CREATIVE about how to make groceries, entertainment and other purchases happen with the small amount that was left. It didn't make any logical sense that we would be able to make things work, but we quickly learned that generosity is like a boomerang - when you give, it always finds a way to come back to you. The first few months were tricky, but we always had enough. Later that year, we made the decision for me to stay home part-time after our second daughter was born.
During the next 6 years, we continued to GIVE FIRST while decreasing our combined income. Miraculously, our savings grew, we were able to take several dream trips, add two more kiddos to our crew, purchase a van with cash, and move into a bigger home. I cannot explain to you HOW this is true. I just know that when we put what we think is such a small amount into the hands of a BIG God, He is faithful to expand the offering.
Ten years later, this still astonishes me.
God has shown us over and over again in the scriptures that He is a miracle-worker, able to multiply what we entrust to Him. Take the story of Mark 6 for example:
So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. But many people recognized them and saw them leaving, and people from many towns ran ahead along the shore and got there ahead of them. Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Late in the afternoon his disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the nearby farms and villages and buy something to eat.”
But Jesus said, “You feed them.”
“With what?” they asked. “We’d have to work for months to earn enough money to buy food for all these people!”
“How much bread do you have?” he asked. “Go and find out.”
They came back and reported, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish.”
Then Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of fifty or a hundred.
Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he kept giving the bread to the disciples so they could distribute it to the people. He also divided the fish for everyone to share. They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftover bread and fish. A total of 5,000 men and their families were fed.
He took the little that they had, gave thanks for what WAS NOT ENOUGH, and God MORE THAN PROVIDED. This is the upside down, backwards, miraculous Kingdom of God, where the last are first, the rich are poor and the empty are full!
Since experiencing the boomerang effect of a faithful God, we've explored other resources besides finances. Another thing we've learned to part with is time. It seems overwhelming when we look at our calendar crammed with jobs, family stuff, kid activities and days of service, but when we give time away, we REGULARLY have days open up that I truly believe we wouldn't enjoy if we didn't plan to give on the front end.
I am telling you the truth - this works every time. In 10 years of holding every good thing in my life with an open hand, I can say with authority that the theory holds: You just cannot out-give God.