The first three principles everyone can copy. The second two are a little more unique to my situation, but you should still find help.
1. I study to see and savor the supreme value of Jesus every day. I don’t mean formal study. I make an effort by reading my Bible every day on a quest for a vision of God that will reassert his supremacy in my heart. I want to see him and his Son and his work in this Book every day in such a way that it makes money lose its effect — or anything else that’s clamoring for my soul. That’s my goal: notoriety or pick your idol. The goal in reading the Bible is to see God as so supremely valuable that other things assume their way lower place, and your idolatries fall away, and your obedience becomes driven by what is beautiful. It’s just a glorious thing when God opens our eyes.
2. I pray that he would help me see what I’m after in the Bible. I don’t assume I can get it. It’s a spiritual thing. It’s not merely an intellectual thing. You can stare at the Bible all day long and see nothing wonderful, and nothing glorious, and be moved in your heart not in the least so that you’re free from Best Buy.
But if you pray the way the psalmist prayed: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” (Psalm 119:36). “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). That’s a good prayer to pray every day. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Cry to God that he would reveal his supreme value to your soul so you feel it. You walk into the day, and he is so precious, and so valuable, and communing with him is so satisfying, that pornography loses its power and covetousness loses its power.
That’s the way I fight every day — and it’s a fight to the finish. I have no illusions that between now and when I die, I can coast. I could make shipwreck of my life. I taste it. It is war till you’re dead. And the war is to see.
3. I daily put my trust in God’s promises that the needs of this church and the needs of my family will be met. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Not all the things you think you need, but all that you really need to give him glory. They’re going to be there even if you starve to death. I get that from Romans 8:35, 37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
“I have no illusions that between now and when I die, I can coast.”
I will always have enough to glorify my King, which is all life is about. Life is not about food and clothing; it’s about the kingdom. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). How much? Just enough to seek the kingdom. It’ll always be there. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Is that amazing? There’s not a single good work God has ever or will ever call you to do for which there will not be sufficient resources to do it. You can never say, “God wants me to do X, but I don’t have the resources.” That’s awesome. If he wants you to do it, he provides the doing.
4. I set aside electronically our regular gift to the church, and then add spontaneous gifts in worship services. It seems to me that in the New Testament there are two streams regarding giving: One is the stream of being disciplined and regular and sacrificial in your giving. The other is to be spontaneous and free and uncoerced in your giving. You work it out however you need to, but Noël and I have determined that to make sure we give as we’ve covenanted, we get online and set up an automatic withdrawal for every two weeks. And by the way, what’s mine is Noël’s. That’s what I think “one flesh” means. All my money belongs to her. Her name is on the bank account. It’s just ours.
But I don’t think that’s the only way you should give to Jesus. If it’s out of sight and out of mind, it becomes a pretty sterile thing. I think giving is an act of worship. That’s why we’ve always built our services with a piece of worship called “offering.” And the whole point of that is just to say at that moment, “Letting our goods go shows how much we value you.” It’s just part of worship right here. We’re doing that right here. We’re saying, “I love you. I don’t need this. I’m letting it go.” In those thirty seconds, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a dollar or a thousand dollars or fifty cents. And I know a lot of you don’t think that way. And I just commend to you that these two aspects of giving — the discipline aspect and the free, worshipful aspect — can be symbolized by electronic giving and in-service, participatory giving.
The reason we give allowances to our children as soon as they can count is to teach them to give a portion of it to the church. That’s the main reason for giving allowances to two-year-olds or three-year-olds (though not the only one). As soon as they can say, “One, two, three,” give them a dime every week, or fifty cents, or a dollar, or something, and say, “Now we’ll have an envelope here for Jesus or the church.” And then let them drop it in the basket. Now I know that so many of you grew up in homes where you had no model and no teaching on giving to the church. I want to be a father here. Even if you’ve never given like this to the church, consider whether it might be possible, or right, and good, and helpful, and joyful, and whether the children should be drawn in alongside.
5. I put protections in place against bigger barns, and I turn the prosperity of my fields into blessings for others. This is one that is maybe least like your situation, but let me describe what I do and you can apply the principle. First, I surrender all the copyrights and all the royalties to my books — and I have from the beginning. I surrender them to the Desiring God Foundation, knowing I’d be a millionaire if I didn’t. I am scared out of my wits at being a millionaire. That’s a weakness. Some people can handle it. I don’t have that gift. I chew a whole pack of gum immediately. Why wouldn’t you? The Foundation has a board, and it keeps $10,000 in the bank, and has one meeting a year, and we give everything away and we love it. And all of it goes to Desiring God and Bethlehem, except little teeny exceptions for other things in the church.
“The reason we give allowances to our children as soon as they can count is to teach them to give a portion of it to the church.”
Second, I surrender all my honorariums. I didn’t do this back in the early days. If somebody gave me $100 for doing a wedding or a funeral, I’d take Noël out to dinner. But this church pays me enough to take Noël out to dinner every day. So one of the ways I protect myself is — whether it’s thousands of dollars because of some big speaking engagement or a hundred dollars because of a wedding, or a funeral, or something like that — I’m just writing it off to the church. To save tax money, I ask the ministries to not write the check to me. I can save the church a lot of money that way.
Third, Noël and I regularly go into our electronic giving and adjust it up, both in terms of amount and in terms of percentage, year in and year out. We haven’t always done that. But regularly we’ve done it.
If you were to ask me, “How much do you teach your children to give to the church?” I would say, “Start with the Old Testament standard of the tithe and build on that.” Frankly, I find it hard to comprehend that a child of the living God, after the glories of the cross, would regularly give to the church less than the standard of the Old Testament. I find it incomprehensible. But, of course, you grew up in homes where nobody ever told you such a thing. You never formed that habit. I did. This is no big deal to me.
What happens if you’re competent in your work — and most of you are — is that if you stay at a job long enough, you tend to get raises, and you get promotions, and things like that happen. Of course, catastrophes happen too, and you lose everything. But while you’re growing, what are you going to do about that?
Well, Noël and I have said that if we don’t increase our amount and our percentage, we’re going to get richer and richer because the church keeps giving me raises. What do I mean by “richer and richer”? I mean keeping for yourself. Again, let me say this, unless I forget to say it.
I haven’t said a word against making lots of money. I have not said a word about prospering fields, and profitable businesses, and investments that go up, and salary increases. The issue is not what you make, but what you keep. That’s the issue. You have glorious possibilities if you are given much. And what will happen if you don’t build in some artificial governors, like a graduated tithe, is that more and more wants start to become needs.
One last caution: Businessmen, if you turn a $200 thousand dollar business into a $200 million dollar business, not by glittering your lifestyle, but by plowing profits back into create jobs and expand worthy goods and services, you have done a good thing. This is not an issue of the man’s fields prospering. This is an issue of what he did with it. So God, may you grant us all the joy, all the unadulterated joy, of finding our life in you — not in possessions — and fulfilling our covenant commitments, and showing the world what it means to be rich toward God.
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