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  • Betsy James

On Generosity and Margin


I want to be generous - at least in theory. I think most of us desire to be the kind of people who hear about a need and actually have the means to do something about it. We know the Bible instructs us to live generous lives, so why don't we? I think it boils down to this: We have nothing left to give. We spent it all.

I'm not just talking about money, but let's start there. In our western culture, most of us surround ourselves with the highest standard of living we can possibly afford - we buy the biggest house and prettiest car and eat out as many times as our budget will allow. If we are avoiding debt we may feel that our spending habits are within God's will (and they may very well be), but check out this passage:

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”

Leviticus 23:22

So what does an old farming practice have to do with our lives? Everything! We are not to reap right up to the edge, we are to leave margin. Why? So we can have a nice padded bank account? Nope. Margin is for the express purpose of generosity. I think this certainly applies to our finances but where else does this principle apply?

How about our time? How often do we notice the young exhausted mom and think, "I bet she could use a babysitter" or "Maybe I could drop off a meal for her this week" and yet we don't do either of these things because we don't have time? What about your friends who are moving or your elderly neighbor who has trouble mowing their lawn - how often are our generous thoughts disregarded because we don't have time? And why don't we have time? Because we spent it all - we gave it all away in half hour increments at work and soccer practice and the gym and Netflix binging and even church activities. "Busy" is the way of our culture but it is not to be the way of the church. We are not to reap right up to the edge.

What about energy? How are we supposed to give to others when we are running on empty? God knows that we are dust - He knows that we deplete and He instructs us to rest. He gives us a weekly sabbath and commands us to honor it, but who has time for that? We need to work all day, every day - reaping to the edge and them some.

The idea of margin is very counter-cultural. It occurs to me that if our family wants to "stand out" for Christ, perhaps the most shocking thing we could do is slow down - spend less - do less - become a family of peace and rest and availability. What would that margin look like in this season of our lives? What could grow in those wide open spaces? Probably generosity.

The idea of margin is not a one-size fits all principle. Each of us has been entrusted with different resources and it is our joyous responsibility to lay them before the Lord and ask Him how and what to keep and how and what to give. Consider laying your distinct resources before the Lord as you pray and ask Him to lead you. Our resources extend far beyond the physical - they include things like our health and education and talents, and remember, they ALL belong to the Lord anyway.

O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name

comes from your hand and is all your own.

1 Chron. 29:16

Since all our resources have been given to us, it only makes sense that we would hold them lightly and spend them in a way that honors the Lord. But what does that look like?

Here are a few things to consider:

What if you honored the sabbath? What would that look like for your family?

What if you set aside $50/month for a family benevolence fund and then decided together how to give it away?

What if your kids didn't do ALL THE THINGS?

What if you didn't volunteer for anything (even at church) without praying about it first?

What if your calendar had some hours/days that were wide open?

I want to be generous. I'm guessing you want that too. Let's ask the Lord to show us how to leave room on the edges of our lives so that when we see a need, we have something left to give.

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”

Leviticus 23:22

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