Have you ever been invited to someone’s house and they served you leftovers for dinner? You show up expecting a nice meal and instead sit down to that morning’s bacon and some limp French fries from the day before. One of the fries still has distinct teeth marks in it.
No doubt you’d feel a little insulted because you’d know this meal was originally prepared for someone else.
If we feel slighted by a meal in which we were only a secondhand thought, imagine how Jesus must feel when we give him our leftovers, when our giving reflects that our treasure lies with something other than him.
What gets the first and best of your treasures?
You see, when it comes to our money, we all operate in two major categories: a “first and best” category and a “good enough” category. In some areas of your life, you devote money to making things right. Compromise is not an option. But in other areas of your life, you know that “good enough” really is good enough. You’ll sacrifice the second category for the first, but never the other way around.
For example, imagine a couple in their late 40s who just received a tuition bill from their daughter’s college and is marveling at the ungodly amount. (Seriously, what is going on with college expenses?) The conversation goes something like this: “I just want our little Jane to have the best education and launch into life. She already got into the best school, and it will give her such a great start in her career. … I think we can do this, but everything else is going to have to change. We won’t be able to upgrade our kitchen, or our car, or even our iPhones for a while. We’ll have to live with ‘good enough’ so that our child gets the first and the best.”
Whatever is first makes everything else relative. So why do we rarely ask questions like this in light of our giving? We never seem to have the conversation that goes like this: “We can do what Jesus is leading us to do in his kingdom, but if we do, everything else is going to have to change.”
Instead, we ask, “How much can we afford to give after all these other commitments are fulfilled?” After we get the kind of house we want to live in. After we go on the vacations we think our family would enjoy. After we drive the kind of cars and wear the kinds of clothes we want. After we achieve the lifestyle we want, and after we send our kids to the colleges we want them to go to.
After all these things, what can we afford to give to God?
In other words, “What kind of leftovers do you think would be good enough for God?”
Jesus does not deserve our leftovers. He deserves the first place in everything.
He also deserves more than a respectable, “good enough” percentage. He deserves a level of giving from us that declares unequivocally his preeminence in our lives.
My wife and I realize our giving is always at risk of becoming “good enough.” We’re not embarrassed by the amount that we give—our giving is intentional, consistent, and generous—but I don’t want to live (and give) as if Jesus is pretty important. I want our giving to declare, “Jesus, you are the reason we exist! You’re the point of living! And if you hadn’t reached out first and gone to the cross to save us, we’d be lost.” I want my kids to see us live and give like that because I want them to see that Jesus is not just important to us; he’s absolutely first.
Think of it like this: When you sit down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, both the chicken and pig had a part in bringing it to you. The chicken made a contribution; the pig went all-in. The chicken is not really changed for the experience; it’s more of a transaction. The pig, however, is fundamentally changed for the experience.
Veronica and I don’t want to be chickens in our giving. We want to be pigs. We don’t want to merely to make a generous contribution; we want to be fundamentally changed for the experience because we establish God as the unchallenged first and best in our thoughts, affections, and priorities as we give him the first and best of our finances.
Even for those that think they are not in a position right now to give like this, there is a place to put Jesus first. God says in his Word to give him your first and best, and all the rest he will give to you (Matthew 6:33). Whether you have a lot or a little, you always have something to put first. Make it Jesus.