Life is short. As I have reached well-past the mid-60’s, the shortness of life is a fact that has become at times painfully obvious to me. The old joke about the four stages of life has a solid element of truth (and nearness) in it:

1. You believe in Santa Claus.
2. You don’t believe in Santa Claus.
3. You are Santa Claus.
4. You look like Santa Claus.

Age jokes are as easy as they are common. “If you’re over the hill, why not enjoy the view?” is one bad example. I prefer the four stages of life joke because of the reference to the mythical Santa Claus. So, let’s focus on Santa Claus – because life is a lot about giving.

Yes, I know, and I agree, Christmas is about Jesus Christ and the real gift is what God did for us through the life and especially the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. However, just for the moment, focus on Santa and giving. Why? Because everyone loves a sincerely generous person.

What is a generous person?

A truly generous person does more than string together a few generous acts; a generous person lives a lifestyle of generosity. A lifestyle is defined as the habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, and actions that make up a person’s manner of living. Additionally, a lifestyle of generosity is about a lot more than money, in fact, money is only a small part of a lifestyle of generosity. Instead, a lifestyle of generosity is living, thinking, and acting for the benefit of others before one’s self. Philippians 2:3. A generous life may involve money, but it does not have to cost a dime.

The man who most demonstrated a lifestyle of generosity was Jesus. His life reflected the generosity of the Father which far exceeds anything I can ever do. Even if I can’t live up to that standard, I can recognize His generous nature and His selflessness. Because He lived so generously, I can see ways I can do better. Jesus gave of Himself to everyone, even the smallest and the weakest.

Matthew 19:13-15
13  Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
14  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
15  When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Matthew 15 has two wonderful examples of the generous and compassionate heart of Jesus. He heals the demon-possessed daughter of a Canaanite woman, Matthew 15:21-28, and He feeds the four thousand, Matthew 15:29-38. Time after time He healed, fed, and loved people. He lived a lifestyle of compassionate generosity even without having any assets or financial wealth. There was no profit for Him in either act of generosity and service in Matthew 15, just a blessing to those who received.

Of course, none of us can feed thousands or heal without money; we are short of the power to perform miracles in the same fashion that Jesus did. But we can be a part of a miracle of generosity and compassion when we live a life of generosity.

The best acrostic I have seen to fit this idea of a full lifestyle of generosity is the acrostic made from L.I.F.E.

Labor
Influence
Financial resources
Expertise

To live a L.I.F.E. or a lifestyle of generosity, you give of your labor, influence, financial resources, and/or expertise. We see generosity in health care professionals traveling on mission trips to give labor and expertise to the poor who have no access to health care. It can be seen when a busy business person gives financial resources even when there is no available time to give his or her labor. Some people lend their name and influence to help others raise funds for causes and to encourage others to get involved. However, those are only the most obvious examples of lifestyle generosity. In actual L.I.F.E. generosity, the possibilities are as endless as the creative minds of people who care enough to get involved.

Friends of mine who own a Tampa area business took a mission trip to the Amazon years ago. Their hearts were touched by the vastness of the Amazon basin as well as the darkness of the region with tens of thousands of villages filled with people who have never heard the name of Jesus. Now, dozens of trips later, Marty Davenport heads a national organization reaching deep into regions of the Amazon and has the full support of his wife Christina. Together, they are co-owners of JMI Resource, Inc. and together, Marty and Christina use their enthusiasm and influence to get others to go, to give, and to support their missionary efforts.

That is a lifestyle of compassionate generosity, filled with service and missions!

How can I get started?

Let’s take apart that acrostic and see what you have and how you can become generous. You may not have money (financial resources) but you may have at least some time you can give to a ministry or cause that matters to you. On the other hand, you may have money but little time, in which case you may be able to donate in a fashion that you can watch your donations make a difference to a ministry or charity that works in an area that matters to you. Everyone has some profession, trade, talent, skill, or ability that can be used to serve the Lord. How you start isn’t as important as the fact that you actually start. Once you have started, more and more opportunities will appear. Let’s look at the opportunities in a bit more depth.

Labor

The opportunities to serve at Idlewild Baptist Church (or at any church) are virtually endless. The funny thing is that the opportunities may actually increase in a small church. At Idlewild, many “jobs” are already being filled by eager and able servants giving to God out of their labor. Many smaller churches will have opportunities because there are fewer servants to fill them. Regardless of the size of the church, wherever a servant of God is, service should be the result. 1 Peter 4:10-11. But don’t think that even at Idlewild that our cup of servants is running over. Idlewild always needs more eager servant-hearted folks. Just ask! In fact, in 2019 Idlewild asked its leaders what service opportunities existed and there were literally hundreds of openings.
To give a few illustrations, among the many opportunities that exist at Idlewild are:

• Idlewild Small Group teachers from Children’s small groups through Senior Adults),
• Discipleship and mentoring,
• Special Needs Ministry helpers,
• Small group leaders, including Group Director, Connections leader, greeting and snacks,
• Hospitality, Ushers and Greeters (the HUG team),
• Invitation counseling,
• Choir,
• Orchestra,
• Tech ministry, audio and video technicians,
• Servers and helpers for the Wednesday Fellowship dinner,
• Staffing the Welcome Centers throughout the week, not just on Sunday,
• Connection workers to welcome visitors and to help them find parking, the sanctuary, or a class,
• Nursery workers,
• Hospital visitation,
• Recreation coaches and helpers,
• Security,
• Missions volunteers for trips and planning, and
• Committees, such as the Finance Committee, the Personnel Committee, the Missions Committee, or the Committee on Committees at Idlewild.

That list, which represents hundreds of positions, is only the beginning. No church ever has enough servants, especially when you consider the “job” of the church member is 24 x 7 and includes things you do or should do all week long such as inviting people to visit a worship service or special presentation, visiting those who are hospitalized or homebound, evangelizing, and prayer. Every church member should have at least one ministry inside the church and at least one mission outside the church.

Generosity with your time includes so much more than what is immediately visible that literally, if a person is willing to be generous with their labor and time, churches can use their service well.

If none of those opportunities strike your heart, One More Child and Idlewild have partnered in serving with needs in the inner city of Tampa. Ask about the many opportunities to mentor youth, serve, and help there. If you don’t know who to ask, give us a call at The Idlewild Foundation at (813) 264-8713; we can help.

Influence

Perhaps your time is precious and not particularly available. I have been in a season of life when available time was scarce. However, the word “influence” means you can help with far less time and labor than you might think. Help others by generously giving of your influence with friends to encourage them to serve. Pray for them to volunteer their L.I.F.E. because prayer is a critically important ministry in any church. While you are at it, prayer for your own schedule to lighten up so you can serve as well!

That is only the start of how your influence can be used. Another opportunity is perhaps even more basic. Peter told the elders of the church to be shepherds of the church. 1 Peter 5:1-3. They are to do that by being “examples to the flock.” Influence through shepherding doesn’t end there. The shepherding responsibility of the elders was emphasized by Paul as he spoke to the elders of the church of Ephesus the last time he saw them:

Acts 20:28
28  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Every opportunity to influence others to give generously of their time is an opportunity you have used to be a shepherd of the church of God. Every time you help others share and serve is a way to show that it is a blessing to give, serve, and share. Acts 20:35. Similarly, every other act of generosity, whether of your labor, finances, or expertise, all serve to influence those who are watching, especially your own children and family.

Financial Resources

The most commonly mentioned form of generosity is in the giving of financial resources. It takes money to do ministry. The reality of life in America is that generosity with financial resources is important. But there is a problem. The common perception the world has about the church and money comes from a relatively few televangelists and preachers who lost the way but are so visible to a hostile media. The failures of a few receive extraordinary attention. The result has been that most mainline preachers avoid or limit preaching on money and giving. They don’t want to appear to be focused on money.

But that creates a real problem. With over 2,300 verses on money, wealth, and possessions in the Bible, and with almost half of the parables of Jesus addressing money, deciding not to preach about money means avoiding significant parts of God’s Word. Important parts of God’s Word are neglected and important topics are neglected. One such neglected area is stewardship and Christian financial management. The disastrous result is that on the topic of handling money, the church is silent while the secular world offers its “wisdom.”

Money does matter and the church should not be silent.

To avoid the stigma, there are nontraditional ways to approach giving and stewardship. It may be time for there to be a few innovations in your giving. In Ideas for Living Better Through Stewardship and 7 Steps for Financial Progress, one idea I offered was saving by cutting certain small but repetitive expenses, such as canceling unused magazine subscriptions, buying less soda and coffee, etc. Here is the nontraditional variation on that idea – instead of saving that money for yourself, consider giving it back to God.

Use that one innovation to open your eyes to a realm of creative ways to be financially generous. For a few more starter ideas, try a few of the following:

• Buy canned goods for the Idlewild food pantry,
• Buy Christmas packages for troops overseas,
• Buy clothing, especially warm socks, for men and women at area shelters,
• Buy clothing and bedding for an orphanage overseas,
• Find a family in need and fill their pantry with needed food,
• Contribute to someone adopting an orphan,
• Buy and/or deliver Angel Tree gifts at Christmas,
• Fill a shoebox for Samaritan’s Purse for Christmas or for One More Child, and
• Buy toys for Toys for Tots.

Pray for the offerings to the church and pray for the people of the church to become generous, to live with open hands. Pray for your Pastor to preach well and from the heart about money. Encourage people to attend a stewardship course such as Financial Peace University or Crown Financial, (after attending one yourself). Become intentional with your own giving and funds – and talk about it to others. You may even consider offering scholarships or financial assistance so someone who can’t afford a stewardship class can attend one and start learning God’s plan for financial management. That begins to combine the influence and the financial resources aspects of your L.I.F.E.

But it doesn’t end with giving money. In fact, often giving money is merely the start. One area where many people can be generous is with the intelligence, expertise, talents and skills with which the Lord has blessed them.

Expertise

Peter made it clear that whatever God has given to us should be used to serve Him since we are merely stewards of all He has given us.

1 Peter 4:10-11
10  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.
11  If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Those verses are usually used to discuss spiritual gifts, but the principles given by Peter apply for all skills God has given and not just spiritual gifts. Similarly, see Romans 12:6-8, where skills like serving and teaching are included and we are told to do each well. See also 2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Corinthians 3:9, Ephesians 2:10, and many more.

I love the way the following comment assesses our talents:

“Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with it is your gift back to God.”
 Leo Buscaglia

Whatever skill or ability you have should be given back to God to the best of your ability. God did not give us money for us to use for our comfort or benefit, 2 Corinthians 9:11-13. We have no reason to believe God gave us our abilities and talents for our own comfort or benefit either. He gave us “life and breath and everything else,” Acts 17:25. “Everything else” includes all of our talents and abilities. We were given these things to help us know God and reach out to Him. Acts 17:27.

It is so easy to want to respond to a need with money. Sometimes that is exactly what is needed and what is best. But what if the need is for a plumber because a drain is clogged or a pipe is leaking? What could be better than a Christian plumber donating his or her skill to serve Christ that way. The same can be said for an electrician, a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, a nurse, a teacher, or any other skill or trade. If you don’t think you have a skill, you are wrong. Even if you are not a doctor, lawyer, plumber or electrician or other tradesman, you can mow a yard, rake leaves, sweep a walkway, or dust tall shelves for a disabled person or a shut-in senior?

Don’t stop there with professions and trades. Other skills may be generously donated as well. Examine your life. What particular skills do you have? Can you cook? Is hospitality a skill you have? Are you gifted with children, either as a teacher or in communication? Serve with children and use what has given you. Are you technically skilled with computers? Many people, especially seniors who are baffled by computer technology, need help with their home computers and equipment. The opportunities are endless; the only limits are your willingness and imagination.

Church members and donors must understand that generosity is a natural response to what God has generously given to us. We have been given so much by God that giving back generously seems instinctive and obvious as well as Biblical.

2 Corinthians 9:11
11  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

We have been given so much by God not just so we will be financially secure, but so we can be generous. But in the larger context, we can see in 2 Corinthians 9 that there is enormous benefit to that open-handed generosity.

2 Corinthians 9:6-13
6  Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
7  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
8  And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
9  As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”
10  Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.
11  You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12  This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.
13  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.

We give because God has consistently called upon His people to give. Throughout the Bible God wanted His followers to serve and give generously.

Isaiah 58:9b-11
9b  “If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10  and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11  The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

God is calling His people to live lives of radical generosity, not profligate wealth and accumulation. What is a life of radical generosity? It includes many things:

• Being aware of your own blessings and using your many God-given assets and abilities to serve others, especially to help those in need.
• Being conscious of the needs in the world around you.
• Being aware of God’s call for His people to share with and serve others.
• Being willing to meet needs that can be met and step into the gap for those living with far less than they need.
• Knowing that many people in our post-Christian America will never see more of Jesus than the Jesus they can see when a believer models the generosity and love of Jesus Christ. The negativity of some groups towards Christianity has painted a very jaded picture of who and what believers are; prove them wrong through your life.

The truth is there for us to see. The only issue is whether we can step up and live the life we are called to live. When Jesus was challenged with questions by an expert in the law, He told a story of a despised man who understood radical generosity, the Good Samaritan. The expert in the law was led to the correct conclusion that the true neighbor was the man who had mercy on the injured man. Luke 10:25-37. The closing words of Jesus to that expert in the law are also words for each of us, “Go and do likewise.”

If you are unsure of where or how to start, call us at The Idlewild Foundation at (813) 264-8713 or check out our many resources in Resources for You and in our Blog. Take a look at our Table for Contents to see what is available for you.

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.