Generosity, it would seem, is an easy word to define. It means demonstrating kindness or hospitality. Most often we think of generosity in terms of giving something away: possessions, money, resources.
We hear about people—or are in fact those people—who are generous and who donate resources to a nonprofit or who give money to an important cause.
However, that’s probably as far as most of us go when thinking about generosity—a tangible, practical approach that encapsulates some type of monetary action.
But we’d be remiss if we stopped there, since generosity is about so much more! At its core, generosity proceeds from our hearts (what we value) and our minds (how we see generosity’s importance in our lives).
It’s not strictly a financial exercise.
When we look deeper into how we practice and experience generosity, here are a few ways we’ve never—or at least rarely—heard it explained before.
Remember Geometry class, where we studied all the various kinds of shapes? Circles. Squares. Rectangles. Triangles.
Just when you thought you knew most of these shapes, you’d discover you had only scratched the surface. Quadrilateral. Parallelogram. Rectangle. Rhombus.
While we might not understand or fully grasp all these shapes, they all have important roles to play in the world of Geometry.
Just like these geometric shapes are indispensable in the world of Geometry, so are the shapes that generosity takes in our lives.
How we shape our time, our heart, our words are distinct demonstrations of where our values rest—and where generosity is best practiced in our lives.
Time is arguably our most valuable commodity. It’s something we can never get back once we experience it.
Since it’s our most valuable commodity, how we invest it—work, play, rest, volunteering, etc.—paints an accurate picture of where we place our value.
For example, if I spend my evenings watching TV, hanging out with friends or playing video games, it communicates that these things are valued more to me than spending time with my family—or exercising, reading, mentoring, participating in a hobby, etc.
Generosity is demonstrated in our lives by how we shape our time.
Are we investing our time in ways that are fruitful, life-giving, hope-filled and relationship enriching?
Practicing generosity—being generous—means measuring our hours and minutes and assigning to them activities that grow, build up, support, encourage and educate.
As the Apostle Paul said, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time” (Colossians 4:5).
Time is critically important. Considering how we spend our time is a pivotal way we can demonstrate generosity to those around us.
The same concept holds true in terms of our heart and words. A life filled with purpose-created generosity will be infused by uplifting words and demonstrated by an outward-focused heart.
Think of the words you hear each day. Some encouraging, some disappointing, some hopeful. When your boss tells you how much you are appreciated and how much value you add to the company, those words are borne out of a spirit of generosity.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
It’s probably one of the most difficult exercises we face—ensuring our words lift up and not push down. And it’s not just the occasional compliment or word of encouragement we offer to our co-worker or friend or spouse.
Practicing generosity with our words means applying Paul’s prescription to all our conversations and interactions. It’s allowing the Holy Spirit to infiltrate our words to such a degree that they consistently inspire, encourage and communicate truth—yet with the love of Christ undergirding them.
Words are so powerful, despite the old children’s chant, “Sticks and stone will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Words are incredibly life-giving and life-shaping. Demonstrating generosity through our words is following Christ’s own example and prescription.
Finally, another way we don’t often hear generosity explained is through the shape of our heart. What drives us, what moves us from inaction to action, what touches our innermost beliefs? These things help form our heart’s generosity.
What things in your life demonstrate your heart … your passion?
If your heart is moved by mentoring, volunteering or encouraging others, then your actions will follow. If you love to write, act, play sports or participate in some other hobby, your actions will communicate the importance of these things in your life.
Matthew 6:21 tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In today’s terminology, we like to think in terms of “passion.” What is your passion? What are you passionate about?
When we are passionate about something, we will be inspired to action. And hopefully that action will demonstrate how much we value generosity.
It’s often a less than heartening word in our society. Discipline.
When we hear it, we often think in terms of self-discipline (guarding or restraining the way we act or communicate). Or in terms of a health discipline (eating less sugar, walking a certain number of steps a day, etc.). Both tend to give us a sense of giving up something or living in a different, sometimes more difficult manner.
But there is no question that practicing discipline in specific areas of our lives can lead to more growth, more joy and more fun. Discipline, when practiced productively, can free us up to do other, more fruitful things.
Living with a certain sense of discipline can also help us demonstrate generosity.
When we embrace a certain discipline—say around spending, budgeting or saving—we move closer to being able to practice generosity. And not always in a strictly financial sense.
However, when we commit to budgeting more in ways that reflect our heart, passion and values, we are then able to demonstrate God’s goodness in ways we couldn’t before.
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19, ESV).
There are so many good things in these verses. When we rely on God and not outward riches, we are equipped to “do good” and “be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.”
Discipline with our finances (and this looks different for every individual) frees us up to “do good” and “be generous” not only with our finances but also with the way we spend our time and invest our heart.
C. Less Talk
We can admit it. We probably all talk more than we should at times. It’s easy to recall an incident where we wanted to pull back the words that we just uttered. Or maybe a conversation with a new friend where we bared our soul too much. Or maybe those words spoken to one of our children out of frustration.
We’ve all had those moments.
Words spoken out of frustration or anger can hurt, and words spoken out of love can encourage. But a discipline of wordless action can be even more powerful.
Let me explain. We regularly hear the phrase, Actions speak louder than words. It’s meant to communicate the significance of putting our actions where our words tend to lead us. Don’t’ just talk about something but do it.
In a sense, generosity is the silent speaking of the Gospel.
When we are commissioned as the hands and feet of Jesus on earth, it’s a strong indication that our actions should lead the way in demonstrating Christ-infused generosity.
That can take on a variety of shapes.
It’s so easy to speak 10,000 words on a topic that’s important to us, but it’s so much more difficult to speak 10 words on that topic and practice generosity with the energy it would take to speak those remaining 9,990 words.
Taking time to act—and not speak—may be one of the most generous things we do.
Stay tuned to Part 2 of our Generosity blog series: "Does Your Church Model Generosity." To make sure you don’t miss a post, sign-up for our eNewsletter here.