From Giving Money to Relinquishing Power: The Three Phases of Generosity
Giving can change us, but I’ve noticed it doesn’t change everybody equally.
Having closely observed hundreds of donors through my work as a fundraiser and nonprofit executive, I’ve tried to ask: what is the actual process of becoming like Christ through our giving? Is there a logic or pattern to the ways people change through their giving, especially Christians? Might giving actually move us backward in character growth, becoming cynical or even resentful of charities?
I’ve found there are generally three phases that God invites a giver to experience, represented by two questions about giving and finally a relinquishing of power.
“How much do I give?”
Spiritual Journey: The first step in the journey is discovering the other. Givers heed Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor as yourself” and use money as a tool to serve the needs of others. This is often an awakening to the needs of the world and the ways that money can be used to help meet spiritual, economic, and social needs.
This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from accumulation to generosity and from consumerism to philanthropy (or the love of anthropos, humans). Givers at this stage experience the exhilaration of giving and a new sense of making a community impact. The thrill of “doing good” for one’s community gives renewed interest in giving as a core aspect of a happy, fulfilled life.
Giving Habits: In this stage, the quantity of personal dollars given increases and is oftentimes sacrificial. They get used to giving larger amounts of money for the first time and are eager to see “impact metrics” or stories of changes from the various causes they support.
Key Scriptures: 2 Cor. 8 & 9; 1 John 3:16; Matthew 28:16-20. Givers in this stage are motivated by the “Macedonian call” for aid coming from the lost, the poor, or the various community needs they touch. Giving as impact and serving others is the core motivation.
“How much do I keep?”
Spiritual Journey: In this stage, the giver experiences a conversion. The conversation changes from “how much can I give?” to “how much should I keep?” The journey moves from one of outward impact to increasing dependence on God and a willingness to “embrace your limits as gifts” from God.
This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from generous giving and making an impact to contentment. The act of giving itself becomes an avenue of receiving God’s joy, and the giver becomes less interested in specifics of nonprofit or charity impact. Instead, new attention is paid to the spiritual lives and hearts of those you give to and those who are giving. Interior riches are increasingly experienced as gifts from God.
Giving Habits: Givers decide to set a ceiling on what they need to live on and give then give away anything they earn above that ceiling. As personal giving drastically increases, personal consumption now decreases as well. They experience humility and spiritual vibrancy, and they have a lessening awareness of sacrifice. Even as they see friends or peers spend money on houses, cars, trips or entertainment, they’re not bothered by what they’re missing out on, but instead find themselves feeling more whole, healthy, and joyful.
Key Scriptures: Philippians 4:11-13. Givers in this stage have “ learned the secret of being content in any situation.” They experience the joy of “enough” and the power of simplicity.
“I finally have everything I need.”
Spiritual Journey: The final stage of generous giving is the giving away not of money, but of power. The final temptation is relinquished and what lies behind money – which is power over others – is finally laid down. Power is gladly handed over to those with less knowledge or skill, both in work and in family, and God’s work through others becomes more tangible and real.
This Phase is Characterized By: the movement from contentment and sacrifice to self-forgetfulness. Money has finally lost its power as a blanket for security and all security is now found in the reality of God’s good provision and enduring Presence. Generosity spreads from giving money to also being generous with one’s time, attention, and prayers. They experience a genuine freedom from money. Simple pleasures – nature, smiles, smells, memories, words – regain their deep pleasure. For those who give away power, they find it easy to submit to the decisions and leadership of others.
Giving Habits: Givers in this phase give away the means of power, not just money itself. They give away equity in their businesses or decision making-power in their family foundations, including say-so over where the money goes or how it’s spent. In this phase, wealth is given at both personal and business levels. Yet for many, they experience this phase having very little in terms of worldly wealth. They’re released of the need for impact and instead experience a deepening experience of the delight of God. They become indifferent to wealth and cling instead to Christ himself as the final, lasting treasure.
Key Scriptures: Philippians 2:7; Matthew 13:45-46; Philippians 3:7-8; Romans 8:34; Matthew 19:21. This final phase looks like the kenosis, the self-emptying of God through incarnation and ultimately cross of Christ. The call to “sell everything you have and give to the poor” is seen not as a loss, but the great deal that it truly is: the gaining of a treasure of far more value. They “consider all things loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” and enter into deep freedom from anxiety, security and control. Givers finally say, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need.”