With my job ending this month, I’ve been looking over my finances (using handy programs like Mint and Slice) and trying to tighten down on my budget to make sure I can pay for my next semester of seminary. I’ve also been receiving a lot of messages and emails from good friends of mine who are doing missions work or raising funds for their specific ministry. Having raised funds myself many times (and having grown up a missionary kid) I know all too well how disheartening fund raising can be – and at the same time, what a joy it is when people you never expected decide to support you. So my initial reaction is to give an enthusiastic “yes!” to people I care about when they ask me to support them in something that they believe God is calling them to do. It honestly is a joy for me to give to them now that I can be on the opposite end. God has been so faithful to provide for me, and thanks to how my parents raised me (without much at all) I can live very cheaply and have extra to give.
Even still, there comes a point when fear creeps in, for sure. In the past month or so I’ve had at least 8 people that I’ve wanted to give to. For the first couple of friends, my enthusiasm and joy was there, and I pushed myself to give more than I initially decided and trust that God would provide. But as I became aware of more and more people I wanted to support, and as I realized that my job will be ending this month, that enthusiasm has given way to worry and fear. So I began rationalizing how I needed to be careful and would just have to give less to each person (even though I know first-hand that many of them are having a hard time raising funds). Plus, I thought, I still need to give to the church this month – and I want to give most to the local body. And what is the wisdom of giving money when I don’t even have another job lined up and I’m already enrolled in a semester and still have to pay for that? I wouldn’t want to do anything risky – I’ve also got to pay rent, get food, gas, put new brakes on my car, and I really need to keep up my health insurance and get some check-ups… I don’t want things to get uncomfortable for me financially. Don’t worry, other people will give to them since you’re in a tricky financial position – they’ll understand.
But also at the same time – as God would have it – I’ve been reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. (Let me just say, if you haven’t read it – I’d highly encourage you to do so. It’s amazing. Or at least watch the musical.) Hugo starts off by telling about the Bishop of Digne – who is a remarkable character that takes seriously his call to be a man of God. The first 100 pages or so simply tell about this man, who plays a (seemingly) small part in the whole story. I remember my dad having us read about the bishop in high school to get a picture of a godly man, and re-reading it myself has reminded me why he did so. He is inspiring to me for numerous reasons (as you can see from this post and my last one on Beauty). He is the sort of pastor I want to be someday.
What struck me most in my recent reading is his attitude towards money. Hugo lists out his “budget,” and while I don’t honestly know how much the livres or sous of his day translate into dollars, I do know that he lived on a little over 5% of his income as a bishop – the other 94-95% he gave away to the poor. I love the way Hugo describes him: “When he had money his visits were to the poor; when he had none, he visited the rich” (p. 17). But perhaps the phrase that has cemented in my mind recently is this:
“…everything was given away, so to speak, before it was received, like water on thirsty soil; it was well that money came to him, for he never kept any; and besides he robbed himself.“
– Les Miserables (p. 9)
“He robbed himself.”
For some reason I can’t get that description out of my head. Would that ever be said of me?
“He lived frugally and gave some,” yes – but would people say that I gave so much that it seemed like I was robbing myself? I hardly think so. You see, I’m more than happy to give of my excess. I’m more than happy to live more frugally than the average American and thus have more “excess” to give away. But have I ever given something that actually cost me? Has it ever actually hurt me to give to a friend or the church? Sadly, I can’t think of a time. I’ve always stopped giving when it got too risky for me – too uncomfortable – too costly. I’ll give as long as it doesn’t rob me of what I want or think I need.
I want to be like the bishop, though. I want to learn to give more than just from my excess. Like David in 2 Samuel 24:24, I don’t want to just offer a sacrifice to God that costs me nothing (see my post on Sacrifice). I understand that wisdom ought to play into how much I give, but I’m willing to bet most of what I play off as “wisdom” is really discomfort or fear. We as Americans could easily give more than we do – I’m convinced of it. We just don’t want to change our lifestyle – even those of us who think we are “poor” seminary/college students. I think that shows that we don’t really and fully understand the gospel – we don’t understand what the bishop understood of God. I think we could learn a lot from the bishop.
Ironically, later on in the book the bishop actually gets robbed – of his silver plates, the only valuable thing he owns. When the thief is caught, the bishop pardons him and says, “But I gave you the [silver] candlesticks also… Why did you not take them along with your plates?” He gives more than what was taken – and the result is that the thief (Jean Valjean) becomes a changed man who impacts countless others. It’s a beautiful picture of what could happen when you rob yourself and give to others instead.
I hope one day someone will say that I “robbed myself” to give to someone in need. I have so far to go.
I hope that the church would be a people known for continually “robbing themselves” for those in need. Who knows what a change that would bring? We are sadly so far from that. May the grace of God change that.