The Spiritual Discipline of Giving
Giving to the church is critical to growing those vibrant parochial and diocesan ministries that equip each of us for carrying out God's mission. Regular and generous contributions are a practical necessity for every healthy community of faith. But giving, first and foremost, is a spiritual discipline for the giver. It is an essential element of how we learn to give ourselves completely to God, which is of course the goal of our faith journey.
Just like the disciplines of prayer, service, study, and corporate worship, the discipline of giving exercises the spirit in specific ways, awakening our awareness of what God is doing in us individually and in the world, and developing our response to the divine will. Prayer merges our hearts with the heart of God. Service incarnates us as God's hands and arms. Study deepens the understanding of our own role in God's saving history. Worship knits us together with all of creation in reflecting back to God the same love that God has for us. And giving helps us surrender ourselves to God with the same generous abandon with which Jesus surrendered himself so that we might be both safe and saved.
For a long time I have thought that making regular pledge payments and putting money in the offertory plate each week were a form of calisthenics for the self-surrender to God that is the ultimate vocation of every Christian. The longer I have practiced it, however, the more I have come to believe that disciplined, proportional giving is in fact self-surrender itself, not just practice for it. Like all disciplines, it changes us. As habitual behavior, it both forms and transforms us. It connects us in a tangible and ongoing way with Jesus’s discipline of self-giving, emptying ourselves as he emptied himself, making us more fully the body of Christ, participating in God’s mission in our own day.
The benefit of proportional giving is that it lets us know what our financial self-sacrifice is, how much of what we have we are giving to God. It makes our discipline of giving more informed, intentional, and deliberate, and it provides a vehicle by which we can measure one vital facet of our deepening discipleship.
When we practice giving as a spiritual discipline, equally as essential to our Christian vocation as are prayer, service, study, and worship, it will inform and inspire our continuing conversion and lead us more fully into the image of Christ.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio