How to overcome obstacles to more joyful generosity

Achieving any great goal means overcoming obstacles. This is true even of our desire to lead more generous lives and steward God’s resources. We struggle with how to give, how much, and where to give it. More than that, we often struggle with letting go of what we have.

But struggles and obstacles can be overcome. Here are the five most-common barriers I’ve seen to achieving greater generosity. And here’s how, as believers, I’m sure we can overcome them.

1. The consumption rate is too high

One of the most common barriers to generosity is spending too much in other areas of our lives. We don’t have the margin in our budget to be more generous in charitable giving. In other words, our consumption rate is too high.

“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

As Lewis suggests, if we’re living up to the same standard as those around us, like our neighbors, we are probably giving away too little. Taking a hard look at our consumption habits can be a valuable exercise. Look at your budget: what changes could you make? Are you being significantly generous? Or just average? Or not at all? This is a good time to examine your presumptions and priorities. 

Some people have not lived on a budget for a while. Maybe this is an opportunity to change that practice so you can be more generous. My wife, Jacqie, and I hadn’t used a budget for a long time. We weren’t necessarily being unwise with our money. However, once we instituted an official budget, we found ways we could spend less on ourselves and more on giving.

Perhaps you can do the same. What can you pay off or sell to give you more room to be more generous? Ron Blue’s book, Never Enough, is a great resource for tackling the push-and-pull between the budget necessary for life and maximizing giving for Kingdom impact.

2. Lack of alignment within families

Another barrier to generosity can be a lack of alignment within our families about our intrinsic values and goals for giving. This is so important, and I would encourage you to consider your family’s legacy and values as soon as possible. It can be tough, but there are several resources that can help.

Our team can help you create a giving strategy with a structure to work through. It can help you discover what you’re passionate about. What are your goals? Where are you going? What are you giving? Be sure to talk about these with your family – family discussion can bring family unity. Give kids assignments and find activities together to drive unity in your passions and in your giving. We’d love to start a conversation with you as you think about these questions.

You can also go through a Journey of Generosity (JOG) on your own or with your spouse. It’s free, and it’s vital. You’ll walk away ready to go. If you’re interested, contact our team, and we can facilitate a JOG for you or direct you to one that’s already planned. Read a book about generosity together and discuss it. There are many great resources in our Generosity Library, including Gospel Patrons by John Rinehart. I also recommend Rinehart’s Giving Together: An Adventure in Generosity, which gives you ideas for activities to do. 

3. Success in making and saving money, but struggling to give it away

Another barrier I often see for people who have been very good at making money is that they can struggle to give it away effectively. Most families have a saver and a spender. For example, spending is easier for me than it is for Jacqie. The saver in the family might not be the best one to serve as the driver when it comes to giving – even though they may be largely responsible for your ability to accumulate wealth. Instead, pull in the partner that’s really good at gift-giving and spending money and let them lean into those strengths for generosity. 

There are some great tools for learning generosity. The Gathering is an interesting ministry and conference for families with great capacity for giving. They offer very practical steps and share experiences for effective and responsible giving. You can also read through our list of grantmaking causes to prayerfully consider as you reflect on where God is pulling your heart.

Invite the ministries you know into deeper conversations. Or, if you’re looking for ministries to support, ask friends or someone at your NCF office, and we can tell you about organizations in the areas you’re interested in.

4. Living with scarcity mentality instead of abundance mentality

Fear can be a barrier to generosity. That is particularly true if you live with a scarcity mindset instead of one of abundance. We may have a budget and be doing well controlling our consumption, but viewing what we have through the lens of scarcity may be holding us back. Abundant, by Todd Harper, addresses how to develop and live from an abundance mindset. Spoiler alert: it involves being a courageous risk-taker who seeks first the Kingdom of God.

At different phases in our lives, our desire to be responsible can feel restrictive to giving and generosity. When you’re starting your adult life, the risk-averse mindset tells you to sock away savings for a home or a wedding. Then you have small children, so you want to put money away for emergency medical expenses, insurance policies, and education. You tell yourself you can save later. When the kids are in school, you might be concerned about having enough for retirement and helping your kids get on their feet after they graduate. 

These are worthy goals, but they lead to the thinking that it will be easier at the next stage of life … when we get there. But here’s the thing: it’s not going to get easier. Whatever stage we are in, we must start being generous now. 

5. Not dreaming big enough

At the beginning of the year, I set a Big Hairy Audacious Goal for our office and for our givers. We can do the same thing as families, too. Maybe we’re not dreaming big enough. So many of us support our kids with great compassion. What would it look like if we supported our communities like that too?

What if whole families decided together to save and do something really big for a cause that’s meaningful to them? Or what if groups of friends did this together? (Some are already.) Perhaps create a giving circle. Open a Giving Fund (donor-advised fund) together as a group, so you can give and distribute together for even greater impact.

These big dreams are for God’s glory and our joy. He has all the resources necessary. So what would it look like to make a really big commitment? We have Big Possibilities in the service of our great God. Let’s go after some of them!

Financial advisor Tim Mohns has a wonderful story about setting “big dream” generosity goals. He proposed a matching gift for his church to encourage new first-time givers, up to the amount of $25,000. It was a great big idea, but he didn’t have $25,000. When he made the commitment, he didn’t have the money. But, very quickly, God provided (watch the story).

The easiest way to overcome the obstacle of not dreaming big enough is to start dreaming big. Struggles may come, but nothing is impossible with God. So, what are you waiting for?

Learn how a Giving Strategy can help you overcome barriers to generosity.

Photo: Patrick Wong

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