One of the constant nagging worries that people in ministry and Christian work of all kinds have is about money.
At it's worst, money obsession is about just keeping myself and what I have going, and ensuring my comfort. At it's best it is a desire for financial resources to move forward the work of the gospel in ambitious and exciting ways.
Direct appeals on giving often fall on deaf ears. Christians are not immune to the "Donor fatigue" syndrome that many charities are experiencing - particularly in difficult financial times as household budgets are squeezed tighter in the recession. When a preacher comes to the lectern and announces a text like Malachi 3: 10 – "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse" we mentally stiffen and prepare to resist...
Preaching a few weeks ago on Zaccheus, I discovered again the bigger picture that ought to be our frame of reference for any speaking and thinking about financial support. Zaccheus tasted the generosity of the Lord Jesus as he - a traitorous outcast - was welcomed by Christ. As the Lord Jesus invited himself into his home, Salvation arrived.
And Zac's response? Enormous generosity.
Of course for Zaccheus, the primary way he showed this was in the restoration of funds to those he had cheated - repentance. And his generous donation of half his wealth to the poor was a a demonstration that his world no longer revolved around himself and his own comfort, but that he counted himself as part of the People of God who needed to be cared for. As a Son of Abraham - by birth and by faith - he wanted to care for his new family.
He had been shown enormous generosity by Jesus. He had tasted the grace of God in Christ. His attitude to wealth changed completely as a result.
And generosity on the widest scale is a mark of the truly converted. One might say it is an essential mark – as the Lord repeatedly taught. We only show we have truly understood grace and experienced it, when it overflows into our lives.
And generosity takes a huge number of forms. In many ways I would much rather write a cheque than commit myself to praying regularly for a mission partner overseas. I would rather shove a banknote in a tin than spend an hour in conversation with someone who is emotionally wounded or in difficulty. I would rather set up a standing order for a few pounds a month to an agency than open my home on a regular basis to people who need to experience the warmth and welcome of time spent with other Christians.
So my advice is this. Don't preach about money. Preach about generosity. Don't call on people to give - call on them to see how generous the Lord has been to them, and to respond in a whole variety of generous ways. It's the way to grow a congregation of godly people who give their time, their homes, their effort to the the work of the gospel. A congregation dedicated to a generous life, than a local church of reluctant givers.