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If only someone had listened to Dean Baker. In 2002, Baker, an economic analyst in the United States, recognized a housing bubble and warned that there would be a crisis at some point in the near future. Unfortunately, he had trouble convincing anyone of the seriousness of the problem.

Five years later, we began to learn a new vocabulary. It included terms such as sub-prime mortgage and global financial crisis.

While the crisis was more complex than the bursting of the housing bubble, the bubble was a significant part of it. The bubble marked a starting point. And if we ever needed proof that we live in a global village, the global financial crisis demonstrated how small that village is.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became household names recognized worldwide as the first subprime lenders to be in trouble. What gradually unfolded was an interconnection from one banking institution to another. None have been left unscathed.

Developed nations now struggle to work their way through a financial crisis that has taken them into recession or close to its edge. Developing nations are tightening their belts in expectation of reduced financial aid.

Then there’s the impact at the personal level. Retirees have discovered that their savings may not be safe or are being impacted by lower interest rates. Some workers are discovering they have to cut their hours to keep their jobs.

On the news a few weeks back, I learned of a manufacturing plant in a nearby town that shut down its local facility because management said it was more economical to produce their product in a developing country. The move was an effort to keep the company viable, but the eyes of the about-to-be-unemployed had a startled look of uncertainty and despair. They were forced to wonder about their future viability.

These are hard economic times. So how should we respond?

The generosity advantage

An interesting phenomenon occurred in Australia in December 2008. The government gave a lump sum of cash to groups of people who needed it. It was an economic stimulus package similar to the ones in America. And the instructions were simple: Go and spend!

With Christmas coming, many did do just that, though some people put their newfound wealth on their mortgage or in a savings account for emergencies. But something else happened. Charitable organizations reported that they were receiving donations from people who wanted to share part of their stimulus check. In some cases, the source of the donations was easily identified, because with the gifts were notes saying that because the money was an unexpected bonus, they wanted to share it with those less fortunate. Most gave a few dollars, but some gifts amounted to as much as 30 percent of what the individuals had received.

They were being generous, and let’s admit it—it’s easier to be generous when money is placed in your hand. However, there are good reasons to be generous in hard times, whether or not you receive an unexpected cash windfall. Here are seven of those reasons:

1. Your mother was right. Remember when you were a child and playing with a sibling or another child? She always insisted that you share. There’s satisfaction in sharing from what you have, particularly when there are so many who don’t have.

2. Your mother was right, again. There will always be people who are worse off than you are. In addition to helping them, your generosity will help you to recognize your own blessings.

3. Generosity brings a positive attitude to life. And its first impact is on you. So many people are or will be struggling during this crisis. Your generosity may be the spark that helps keep them going. It helps them see that their struggle is recognized, which makes the effort to survive worth it.

4. You can’t help everyone, but you can help someone. Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed a hundred, then just feed one.” Focused generosity that helps form a relationship can be incredibly satisfying.

5. Generosity doesn’t have to be shown with money. To be honest, some of us give money simply so we don’t have to be involved with the people and their situations. So giving time or helping in other nonmonetary ways may be better than giving money.

6. Giving adds to your life. Winston Churchill once wrote, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” That’s a truth worth reflecting on. The everyday concerns of life can become tedious, mere acts of survival. But when you reach outside of yourself to help someone else, your life will take on a larger purpose.

7. Giving can make a difference. The bottom line is that you can make a difference. No matter what the financial climate may be, your generosity can help change someone else’s situation. It may even change their life.

Generosity in hard times can have a side effect that is more beneficial to you than to those you help. Generosity comes back to the giver in a variety of ways.

More than money

The Bible states a number of principles for dealing with both finances and care. Many of them are found in the Old Testament where God set up a nation and care for those experiencing financial struggles was one of His priorities.

Slaves, the most disenfranchised people in that culture, were to be treated well, like hired servants (Leviticus 25:39–43). They were to be given a day off each week— the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). And they were all to be freed in the year of Jubilee that came about every 50 years (Leviticus 25:10).

Farmers were instructed to be generous with their crops. When harvesting, they were told to leave some for the “ ‘foreigners, orphans, and widows’ ” to glean (Deuteronomy 24:19, NLT).* The love story of Ruth and Boaz shows that the poor were allowed to follow the harvesters in the fields and pick up whatever grain had been left (see Ruth 2).

There were also specific monetary requirements. Tithing (giving a tenth of income or produce) is the most obvious. It first rates a mention in Genesis, when the patriarch Abraham gave the priest Melchizedek 10 percent of the stolen goods he had recovered (Genesis 14:20).

This was later formalized into support for the Levites and priests, who didn’t receive any land grant when the Israelites entered Palestine. Interestingly, the Levites and priests had to tithe their income as well (Numbers 18:26).

Through the prophet Malachi (3:8–11), God condemned His people for “cheating” on Him by refusing to give Him their tithes and offerings. Of course, God didn’t need the money. He said, “All the world is mine and everything in it” (Psalm 50:12, NLT). He views our gifts as faithfulness to Him, and He blesses this faithfulness.

On the other hand, Jesus later condemned strict tithe payers for ignoring “ ‘the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.’ ” He told them to keep on tithing, but “ ‘do not neglect the more important things’ ” (Matthew 23:23, NLT).

Taking all this together, we discover that the Bible teaches the importance of tithing, returning a tenth of our income to God to support His work. It’s important to understand that tithing is not an act of generosity. It’s an act of obedience, which recognizes that everything is God’s to begin with. We are simply His money managers.

As a practicing tithe payer, I can testify that paying my tithe can be hard at first. You may wonder how you will survive. I can assure you that even if you don’t immediately see the blessings God offers, you will find satisfaction in following His way. And over time, it won’t seem like a sacrifice, because it simply won’t be a part of your personal spending budget. You won’t miss it.

But let’s also consider the more important aspects that Jesus refers to—“justice, mercy, and faith.” This covers so much more than money. The kind of generosity needed in hard times must be more than money, but it should also, occasionally at least, have us reaching for our wallets to help out.

* Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All right reserved.

The Generosity Factor

by Bruce Manners
From the August 2009 Signs