It seems to me anytime the church starts talking about generosity our minds immediately go to monetary giving.
While it’s a biblical principle to tithe (giving 10% of our income), this wasn’t the point my pastor brought up recently. Instead, the focus was on giving of our time, resources and more. That we should be generous in every area of our life.
A quick study of the word “generous” will lead you to its origin in the late 16th century. Coming from the Latin generosus - noble, magnanimous - denoting someone of noble birth with the characteristics of courage.
A favourite author of mine refers to the nobility in her novel as ‘Sacrifice’, because they recognised their lives belonged to their people. They sacrificed their wants and desires for those of the kingdom.
As sons and daughters of the King of kings, Jesus said, we are to take up our cross and follow him - to be ‘Sacrifice’ - denying selfish ways in order to be selfless.
So how much more should we look at generosity - the act of being a giver - as a mandate for our lives?
Generosity is actually healthy for us.
A study in 2013 linked generosity with reducing the risks of stress-related deaths. When we give, it sets off a chemical reaction which reduces stress and makes us feel good. Stephen G. Post, director of the Centre for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University, calls it a “giver’s glow”.
Our brain releases ‘happy’ chemicals, in the mesolimbic pathways, also known as the reward pathways. It’s a chemical mix of dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin, which Post says, “give people a sense of euphoria […] which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.”
It’s a chemical cocktail of goodness.
Scientists have discovered even the thought of being generous can trigger this pleasure and reward system. One study in California discovered volunteering - giving of your time - to be more powerful for stress relief than exercising three times a week! Another showed regular church attendance to also reduces stress.
I was excited when I read this. Mostly because the heartbeat of my church is to be ‘Sacrifice’ by volunteering in different ministry areas. Whether it’s the creative team, kids, hosting or cafe, I’d say the majority of my church are volunteers. Scientifically, we’re getting a double portion of “giver’s glow” because we’re volunteering and attending church regularly.
The beauty of this scientific research gives Psalm chapter 139, verses 13-14 a whole new meaning to me. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
God literally wired us to give.
Perspective is a Necessary Key to Generosity
It’s important how we feel when we give. If someone gives grudgingly or out of obligation, it doesn’t produce the ‘giver’s glow’.
When we give, whether it be a financial donation to a charity or volunteering at a soup kitchen on the weekends, we have to want to give in order for the chemical cocktail to kick in.
When we give from a selfless perspective, “people say their friendships are deeper,” Post said, “they’re sleeping better and they’re able to handle life’s obstacles better. On a scale of 1 to 10 – and 10's a really powerful drug like insulin in the treatment of diabetes – this stuff is probably up there around a 7 or 8. And the amazing thing is, you don’t need to go to a drugstore for it."
Both Colossians chapter 3, verse 23 and Ephesians chapter 6, verse 7 mention the importance of giving and doing it whole-heartedly, as if you were doing it for God and not man. Again these verses come more fully alive with the scientific evidence of giving.
More than any other time, this message of generosity needs to provoke us. As Christians we are supposed to be known for our love for one another. (John chapter 13, verse 35) but time and again, I meet people who are surprised when Christians are generous, or loving. I can only imagine how God’s heart grieves for us to be whole-hearted in our giving.
Maybe the idea of giving is overwhelming to you. Maybe you feel anxious about being ‘Sacrifice’ to those around you. I know it happens to me. I feel too tired to give. Too tired to be whole-hearted in what I do.
But the times when I persevere and cling to these biblical truths, I find it becomes easier. Which again makes me think Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Being generous produces in us the ‘giver’s glow’ and love comes quicker when we’re living in a state of inner peace and euphoria.
So let’s take on this challenge. Let’s be generous. Let’s be Sacrifice. Because the more we do, the more the ‘giver’s glow’ will make us whole and healthy individuals. Shining like the star of Bethlehem, proclaiming God’s love.
- Charis Jackson
Written for Christian Today