By Doug Inglish — Typically, when we see people looking for handouts, we presume they are poor. We could have an all-day-long sociological discussion on the causes, whose fault it is, or whether giving to them is appropriate, but none of that would change the underlying assumption that such people are poor. You may have heard an urban legend or two about exceptions, which even if true, would never account for the overwhelming majority who gather at intersections or in front of stores with cardboard signs.
And of course, we read news stories about “corporate welfare,” which would be at the other end of the scale—big companies with millions of dollars in assets who are seeking tax breaks, grants, or donations. In this case, we could have an economic discussion on the nature of capitalism, or a political discussion on whether the government should pick winners and losers, or a host of other issues related to whether the public, through one form or another, should support big companies who pay their top employees many times the median salary of a taxpayer.
In both situations, there are pros and cons to giving support. Fair minded, compassionate, intelligent people can disagree about handouts to street people or write-offs for corporations. But there is probably one thing we would all agree on: If a rich man, who had immediate and unfettered access to all his assets, asked you for a handout, that would be appalling.
I suppose those who just like to argue could conjure up circumstances where it would be appropriate (the diner won’t take his credit card) but notice that I said immediate and unfettered access to all assets. So, sweeping aside any bizarre scenarios, I’m talking about an embarrassingly wealthy person who could easily pay for anything outright, asking you to give him money with no goods or services rendered in exchange. I don’t think any of us would excuse that for a moment.
Why, then, does God ask you for money?
No question that He has the resources: “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10) “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).
Of course, He also has immediate access to His vast wealth. As the angel said to Mary, “ . . . with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). That pretty much covers access, along with a whole lot else.
Does He need your money? There is an interesting pas- sage about that in Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it.”
That’s sort of like telling me, “If we need someone for special music, we aren’t going to call on you.” I would never be insulted over that because I have nothing to offer in terms of musical performance. It’s just not in me, and there is no shame in me coming to terms with it and admitting the obvious truth that I don’t have that talent.
Neither is there any shame in any of us admitting that if God was hungry, there is nothing that any of us could do about it. Does God get hungry? Well, that’s a whole other subject, but if He did, why should He tell us? He can do everything, and we can do nothing, so no point in complaining to the wrong people.
In the context of this passage, hunger is a stand-in for needs in general. It’s similar to the familiar line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11). That’s the only part of the prayer that addresses our personal needs, so if we want healing, or housing, or work, or help with a geometry test, it all falls into the general category of “daily bread.” Asking for daily bread is shorthand for requesting help with our personal needs.
Therefore, when God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,” the broader meaning is there is no point in Him asking us for any personal need, because we could never supply it. Heaven is His home, creating and managing the universe, is His job, and everything in the physical world is His possession, so what could you do to meet any of His needs?
Nothing. At all. Ever.
So then, why does He ask for your money? Obviously, it is not to meet the needs of the One who owns it all and wouldn’t tell you if He was hungry. So, if it’s not because He needs your money, then the reason He asks must lie at the other end of the giver-receiver transaction.
He asks for your money because of your needs, not His.
It’s not merely because His cause needs support, or that you will be blessed in return (see Malachi 3:10 on both of those points), although both are true. Rather, it involves the more essential elements of your relationship with Him:
Giving builds trust
Giving recognizes His ownership
Giving declares that you are His
Giving says that you support His cause
Giving teaches you to care about the things He cares about
Giving helps you understand the Giver
Those are all relational matters. They have little to do with needs, which makes sense in a relationship where the only need we can possibly fill for God is the need He has to connect with us.
I used to live in a house with nearly an acre of lawn, and I absolutely loved mowing it. As long as I was on that lawn tractor, I had time to think about anything. I could credibly say that I was accomplishing a necessary task, while at the same time, I was not answering the phone, preparing for a meeting, or addressing an unpleasant matter with an angry person. I was mowing, and I used that time to think about whatever I wanted, not what someone else demanded. It was blissful. The last thing I needed was someone to take that from me.
But at the same time, I had a son who was just about the right age to take on some responsibilities for lawn care. So even though I did not need him in the least to help me mow, I taught him how to do it. I showed him how to maintain the trimmer, the push mower, and the tractor. I let him do each task under my supervision, then on his own. The truth is he didn’t enjoy it at all, and I missed just doing it myself, but I had something more important in mind than the length of the grass. I was teaching him to be a responsible adult, and building a relationship with him by having him work with his dad.
Then came the day that he had his own lawn. He called me up to talk about what he should look for in a mower. He respected my experience and welcomed my opinion because we have a relationship, and it matters to both of us.
God does not need your money any more than I needed Josh to help me with the lawn. But He wants to see you grow to spiritual maturity just as I saw the need for my son to develop the skills he would need in adult life. And God wants a relationship with you, just like I wanted time with my son. He loves His work of creating and maintaining the universe, and He doesn’t need your help to manage any of it. But part of running that universe is having you be a meaningful part of it.
So how does He, who owns everything and wouldn’t tell you if He was hungry, help you, who have nothing and couldn’t do anything for Him, develop into spiritual maturity? How does He grow a relationship with you in which you learn to depend on Him, understand His role in your life and your place in His work, and see the world as He sees it?
In part, He asks for your money. It’s not about His needs. It’s about yours.
Doug Inglish is RMC director of planned giving and trust services. Email him at: [email protected]