During my Master’s program when we were relatively poor I went to the local supermarket and found some fantastic sales on foods we enjoy – cheese, hamburger, pork shoulder, it was quite a list. So I felt impressed to buy twice as much as usual, and went home. My wife was delighted. She had been visiting a mother who was literally starving. She felt spiritual promptings to help her immediately, but we did not have the food. And then I walked in, at which point she took half and went to deliver it. The mother called me in tears, thanking me, and I felt good until later, when my wife explained her husband had spent his paycheck on guns and gold coins. I did not want to support slackers. My wife replied she had felt inspired to help the mother and her kids, who were innocent victims here. She also had called the relevant men and women leaders in the church who took over the matter from there and arranged for counseling and food in a couple of days. The point was, that night they did not starve. Did we do the right thing?
This topic is confusing. I realize that nine of the ten people I help might be slackers, who don’t deserve my help. But I agree with Brigham Young, who would rather help all ten in order not to miss the one person who really needs the help, and would suffer terribly without it. Christ did not mince words when addressing those who were too greedy – only serving the needy, hungry, sick and afflicted qualify you for the kingdom of God (Matthew 24:34-40). I think He honors the righteous desires of my heart, even when they do not work out as I hoped.
I think God wants me to sacrifice anything more important to me than He is. Riches are just a tool, they become evil when I lust after them. The Apostle Paul warns the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). On the other hand, while I do have responsibilities towards the worthy poor, I also have responsibilities for my family – I realize that. How do I know when I am giving enough? This is how I try to live that principle instead of worshipping wealth:
Joe J. Christensen says I should give until it hurts a little (not a lot), and quotes C.S. Lewis: “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. … If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, … they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.” (from “On Giving”)
So when I have some cash to spend, I make a point of spending some of it on those who really need it. In my Church we have dedicated funds to help the poor, and for disaster relief. And I seldom sell my stuff, I give it away. This is not because I have to, but because I want to. The scriptures say that is the first reaction of Godly people — Thank you Lord for this money, I can’t wait to spend some of it on others I want to help.
While God does not want me to consume His blessings on my lusts, the scriptures also teach I am supposed to have fun and feel joy. The trick is to make sure it is not selfish fun and selfish joy. And that is relatively easy – include people who are poor in stuff and/or spirit in your fun. Share your fun with those who desperately need some fun in their lives. I have received great blessings that way.
I also make sure my giving encourages work instead of enabling idleness. Jesus asked: “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matthew 7:9-10). Well, I am that man – I sometimes spoil people, particularly my kids, with what they do not need. I have found that giveaways sometimes do more harm than good. When I enable and bring out poor qualities in their character by spoiling them, I hurt more than help – my gifts seem to be bread and fish, but end up hurting like serpents and stones. To avoid that, my successful giving starts with prayer and inspiration. This means that either I or a church leader I trust is personally involved in coaching and mentoring the receivers of the gifts.
When I die and go before the great judgment bar of God, I imagine that one wall will be covered by two projection screens. On one will flow images of all my wealth and stuff, including my cars, my vacations and every room of my home. On the other screen will flow images of the poor and needy who surrounded me in my region, nation and the world. Then Christ will ask me to comment on both, and justify my choices. This reminds me of a story in the Haggadah which I will paraphrase:
Zusia said, “When I appear before the Holy One, blessed be He, He will ask me, “Zusia, why were you not like my servant Abraham?” I will answer, “Lord, Abraham was a great prophet, the father of nations, but I am only Zusia.” Then perhaps the Holy One will ask, “Zusia, why were you not like my servant Moses?” And I will answer, “Lord – Moses was a great prophet, the receiver of the Torah, but I am only Zusia.” Then perhaps the Holy One, blessed be He, will ask, “Zusia, why were you not like my servant Zusia?” And what shall I answer then?