Broadcast

Cultivating a Heart of Dependency

From the series Sacred Rhythms

In this message, Ryan Ingram explains that sacred rhythms are transformational when we intellectually move them from religious piety to relational intimacy. In this first practice of sacred rhythms, Ryan reminds us that God is lavishly generous and He wants His children to be generous - but that doesn't come naturally. When we practice generosity, it cultivates a heart of dependency and trains us to trust God.

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Message Transcript

It’s been a little bit of an odd year for me. In January I had a large shelf fall on me. I got a concussion. Most of you know that. Then about a month ago, I was playing basketball, broke my nose. And then I had all the concussion stuff come again.

And so, it has been odd having a head injury where I can’t do the normal rhythms that I’m accustomed to. I can’t run at the same pace that I have always been running at. In fact, there was one week that I spent a good three days just sitting in a dark room, in silence, by myself. Man, is that hard.

And as my rhythms of life got interrupted and I was no longer able to run at the same pace that I was accustomed to, I began to wrestle with a few questions in that dark room. First question: are the rhythms of my life producing the kind of person I long to be?

You ever have time to stop long enough to not just be caught up in your rhythms, not just be going along with life, but to actually ask: what are the rhythms in my life producing?

Are the rhythms of my life producing the kind of person I long to be in ten years, fifteen years, twenty years?

Well, if the kind of person I long to be, I asked this question: are the rhythms of my life producing the life of Christ in me? Are they actually shaping me into becoming more like Him? Like the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. I might have gotten all of them for the first time in my entire life.

Like, don’t you want to be that kind of person? That’s the life of Christ, filled with joy, overflowing with love. Like supernatural kindness in the face of hate. Don’t you want to be that kind of person?

And are the rhythms of my life producing the life of Christ in me? See, the truth is, our lives are not a product of our dreams, desires or ambitions. Our lives are a product of the rhythms or habits we have embraced.

James Clear in his New York Times bestselling book Atomic Habits writes this: “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. The same way that money multiplies through compound interest, the effects of your habits multiply as you repeat them. They seem to make little difference on any given day, and yet the impact they deliver over the months and years can be enormous. It is only when looking back two, five, or perhaps ten years later that the value of good habits and the cost of bad ones becomes strikingly apparent.”

And so, let me ask you as we start this morning: are the rhythms of your life producing the kind of person you want to be?

Are the rhythms of your life producing the kind of friend you want to be? Are the rhythms of your life producing the kind of spouse you want to be? The kind of parent you want to be? Are the rhythms of your life producing the life of Christ in you?

The challenge and the problem with some of these questions is our world has an inherent rhythm to it, doesn’t it? A repetition, a constant beat, a pace that we get caught up in.

And instead of thoughtfully engaging with our rhythms, what happens, our tendency is we just get caught up into the rhythm of the world around us.

I will do whatever it takes, work as many hours as it takes, neglect my family to be successful.

In fact, we do it with our kids as well. I will do whatever it takes for my kids to have as many experiences, get into the right school. Yes, I will live there. No, I won’t live there, because of the school or the sport. And the problem is it’s success at the expense of significance. And then the rhythm, because success is our core idol, busyness, then, is worn as a badge of honor. What happens when – what is your kneejerk response when somebody asks, “How are you doing”? “I’m busy.” And if you want to Christianize it, you do this. “Busy, but good.” Like, somehow that made it better. “No, no, no. I’m busy but good! It’s a good busy, not a bad busy.” And we run insane, hectic lives from one thing to the next. And it outpaces our souls.

And what happens is we end up overworked, yet, under-fulfilled, doesn’t it? When you stop, and you allow your soul to catch up, isn’t it true that there’s this aching? This longing for more? In fact, many of us don’t want to stop, because we don’t want to feel. And so, we stay busy. Or, we don’t want to face reality. And at the end of the rainbow, the pot of gold and at the heart of the rhythms is financial freedom is the goal. We want to be able to do whatever we want, whenever we want. We want to be able to have this financial independence.

And so, I am going to embrace a rhythm I would never choose in hopes of one day being free to do whatever I choose. And what happens is we have more money, we have more stuff, we have more and, yet, fundamentally less peace.

Parents, by the way, we buy this logic. “I’m going – I want to provide my kids a better life than I had. I want to provide them things that I never had. And so, I am going to work an insane amount of time. I am going to neglect them during their formative years, so I can be present when they don’t even care whether I’m present or not.”

There’s a reason they are called “formative” years. It is the years that your child and my children are being formed. And if you’re not around to form them, who is? What is? Are the rhythms of your life producing the kind of person you fundamentally long to be?

Jesus said this: “The thief comes to kill, steal, and destroy; but I have come that you might have and life to the full.” Life abundantly. Life overflowing. Like the purpose of the Christian life, the purpose of Jesus coming here is not to be this Debbie Downer, but He wants to give you life!

He wants you to flourish in ways that you have never yet imagined. See, the life of Christ in you and me is the flourishing life, is the abundant life, is the overflowing life. And could it be, what is stealing your life, killing your joy, destroying the flourishing in you is the rhythms that you have embraced? At the heart, I believe the question we must ask isn’t: are the rhythms of my life producing the life of Christ in me, but what are the rhythms? What are the rhythms that will produce the life of Christ in me? What are the rhythms that will produce the kind of person I fundamentally long to be?

And this is precisely where Jesus has us in the Sermon on the Mount and He paints a picture of those who are truly flourishing. And they are not necessarily who you think. And then He moves on and talks about flourishing, blessed, life-to-the-full type people have an impact. Like, they lived this significant life. They are like light. Like a city set on a hill. They make this incredible impact. They are like salt and light.

And then you begin to ask: Well, what does salt and light really look like? What does it look like to live this life of impact?

It’s actually a counter-intuitive, counter-cultural way of living life where flourishing are able to bless those who persecute them. They are able to love their enemies. They are able to stand up in the face of injustice. Like there’s this incredible way that they are able to live and to walk and to love where others are trying to take and to keep.

But how do you do that? Jesus ended it this way, right? “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How? And have you ever wondered how the life of Christ is actually formed in you?

That it’s not just you pray a prayer and hope everything just magically changes. And Jesus is going to invite us to embrace some sacred rhythms that form the life of Christ in us. In fact, let me give you a little definition for a sacred rhythm. A sacred rhythm are spiritual practices. Some of you would know them as spiritual disciplines. I shy away from that simply because discipline has such a negative connotation, but it’s actually a very helpful…

Spiritual practices that help cultivate – notice – cultivation is a process over a course of a time, a habit that where you start here and you keep doing it, keep doing it. And when looking back over two years, three years, four years, you see that your life has been transformed and changed over the course of the process. And we treat the spiritual life like a magic pill. I take this and I wake up and I’ll be – woo!

I read Bible, Ingram, and nothing changed. I prayed once. Sacred rhythms and spiritual practices that help cultivate over the course of time the life of Christ and the follower of Jesus. Dallas Willard would say it this way, “The path of spiritual growth and the riches of Christ is not a passive one. Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Effort is action; earning is attitude. You have never seen people more active than those who have been set on fire by the grace of God. The disciplines of the spiritual life are simply practices that prove to be effectual, enabling us to increase the grace of God in our lives.”

And so, Jesus shifts His attention on the Sermon on the Mount to sacred rhythms for us that will produce the life of Christ in us. He opens it up this way in Matthew chapter 6, verse 1. If you’ve got your Bibles, you can open up there.  If not, you can follow along in your notes.

He says this, “Be careful. Do not practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” He starts out about sacred rhythms with a warning. Be careful. Watch out. Alert! Warning! And here’s the reason why. Jesus understands something about these spiritual practices that are, that we naturally, in our human tendency, will fall into.

It is easy to shift the focus on these. He’s saying there is way to do these that will produce the life of Christ in you, and there’s a way to go about these that will produce a religious hypocrite. Watch out.

My old drum instructor, I grew up as a drummer. And since I had a drum instructor, that makes sense. Thank you very much. You didn’t need to explain that, Ryan. Thank you. He used to tell me this: “Ryan, practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

Anyone who has coached kids knows this. Your form and technique matters. Right? If you’re shooting a ball like this, you can do it all day long. Form and technique matters tremendously. And here’s what Jesus is saying: “Watch your form!”

So, what are we to watch out for? Not to practice – there’s our word; put into practice discipline – your righteousness, the sacred rhythms. How? In front of others to be seen by them.

Here’s what Jesus is saying. Why you do something is just as important as what you do. The why, the hard motive is so important. Don’t do spiritual sacred rhythms so other people think well of you. Do them for your heavenly Father.

See, the danger of sacred rhythms is they can turn into a form of religious piety to show everyone else just how spiritual you are. You ever been a part of a small group where someone, when they pray, it doesn’t sound like they’re talking to God but they’re trying to impress people?

He says, “Secrecy is a safeguard for hypocrisy. Secrecy and keeping something that is beautiful between you and the Father is an antidote for hypocrisy and to keep your heart tender towards Him to keep your motives pure. Now, some of you are going, Ingram, you just talked about that. What about this whole, “Let your light shine before men” business, right? Didn’t Jesus earlier say, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds. So, am I supposed to do everything in secret? No, just finish the verse. “And glorify your Father in heaven.”

The issue isn’t whether in secret or private. Finish the verse here. It says, “Do not practice your righteousness” – how? “In front of others to be seen by them.” You have to wrestle with the question: why am I doing this?

Like, why am I helping this homeless person out? Is it because I want other people to think well of me, or I just want to make God really big in this moment?

See, the issue is not public or private. The issue is heart motivation. And heart motivation is always going to get back to God. And if you’re doing something in public, it is for Him to get the glory alone, not you.

And anytime there’s a hint of, Man, that could, I could have mixed motivation. I’m just going to do it in secret. I’m just going to do it in private so that it’s just before my Father. In fact, it makes so much more sense, what Jesus is saying, when we finish it out. He says, “If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.”

Sacred rhythms are transformational when you move them from religious piety to relational intimacy. The Sermon on the Mount introduces the theme as God as Father. In the next section, you’re going to see nine different times Jesus refers to God as Father as your heavenly Father.

This isn’t a distant, like God somehow to be appeased. It’s an invitation into an intimate, personal relationship with your heavenly Father who loves you. And when we turn sacred rhythms, spiritual disciplines in just to religious forms and checklist, it strips it of its transformational power. And when you go, Okay, I just want to get into God’s Word to know You, God. I just want to, I want to know You more. I want to become more like You. I want to be more like my heavenly Father.

We get this. Every healthy marriage has rhythms to it to help it stay healthy, right? Healthy marriages, they go on dates regularly. They maybe write love notes, give flowers, all these sort of things. Now, just imagine. If I – some of you are like, You haven’t given me flowers. Are we healthy?

Just imagine if the only time I gave my wife flowers was on Sunday at church. I’d come here, I’d bring out my flowers, and I would go, “Here you are, my love! My sweet!

Some of you might think, Wow! What a wonderful husband, and elbow your spouse like, “You need to be more like Ryan.” My wife would think, Wow, what a jerk! Because that wasn’t for me. That was for everyone else.

This is what Jesus is saying here. This is the warning, that we get caught up in a form that is for others and devoid of relationship. And then He goes into our first rhythm or sacred rhythm. And He says this, that there’s a sacred rhythm that’s not even on your radar, that you wouldn’t even think of. And, yet, it’s so connected to heart issues that we can’t overlook it. In fact, it’s the first one.

It’s the rhythm of generosity. Notice this. He goes on, “So when you give to the needy,” circle that word when, we will get back to it, “do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do,” underline hypocrites, we will be there in a second, “in the synagogue and on the streets, be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy,” circle the word when again, “do not let your left hand know what the right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” Why? “Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Circle that word reward.

I want you to notice a few things. This is the rhythm of generosity. For some, you have never thought of this as a sacred rhythm. You just thought of it as something that you do on the side, something you do spontaneous.

He’s like, “No, there is this practice and there is this rhythm to life that will actually draw you closer to God and to the things of God that will help produce the life of Christ in you.”

I said circle the word or underline the word when. I want you to notice that Jesus says “when” and you’ll notice through these sacred rhythms He says “when” and not “if.” When you do it. Jesus doesn’t command these, but there does seem to be an expectation that His followers will do these.

He says, “When you pray,” “When you fast.” Not, “If you fast.” Not a question of: someday will you do that.

But when you do that. And so, it’s important to understand these are not laws to obey, but wisdom to embrace. For some, you’re thinking about your prayer life and going, Wow, I didn’t pray today. I’m such a sinner. No, that’s not sin. I didn’t read my Bible. I’m such a – I’m so bad! No, they’re not laws to embrace, laws to obey, they’re wisdom to embrace. That right there, for many of you, is going to bring such freedom to your spiritual walk, when you stop having a guilt trip, you’re like, Oh man! I only got four out of five times in God’s Word this week.

Because you get so legalistic and miss the heart of relationship. It’s just wisdom to embrace. This is what cultivates intimacy. Then He goes on and He talks about a way that actually kills intimacy.

“Don’t announce it with trumpets like the hypocrites.” He’s talking about the Pharisees. That word hypocrite comes from the Greek where talking about the actors in a play that would wear multiple masks throughout the play and use different voices to be different people.

He’s saying, “Don’t wear this mask to present a false front to others that you’re someone that you’re not.” That’s what hypocrisy is. Don’t give to toot your own horn, is what He is saying here. If you do, you have already received your reward, your recognition.

And then He moves on. I love this. “Then your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Another word for that is recognize. Like, you have a heavenly Father that is so eager just like I am with my kids, when I see them going down the right path, doing things, I just want to reward them.

I want to put my arm around my kids and just go, “Man, remember when you did that? Really good job. Remember when you were so kind to your sister? That was amazing. I’m so proud of you. Keep going.”

You have a heavenly Father that just is longing to just put His arm around you and just say, “Good job! I want to recognize. I want to reward. As you take those steps and as we grow closer, I can’t wait to do that for you.”
But if you’re living for the applause of people, if you’re living for everyone else’s recognition, you got their recognition but you miss out on His. And so, I want to spend the rest of our time getting really practical about this rhythm of generosity and how we actually put it in place.

Because the reality is is most of us embrace sporadic generosity. And the funny part about it is we feel generous. Most Americans would call themselves generous, but statistically, forty-four point eight percent, yes, that’s very precise, of Americans do not give any of their money away. Most of us think we are generous because we remember a time when we did give someone ten dollars.

And Jesus is saying, “This is a sacred rhythm. This is something to put into practice.” And He says, “When you give to the needy…” In the Jewish world and under their context, giving and these offerings happened after a systematic, set allotted amount was given before that. It’s called the tithe.

And you have probably heard about it on Sundays, but I’ve never taught about it. I’ve taught a lot about generosity, but I want to talk a little bit for us and get practical on how do we live this out in a way that forms Christ in us in understanding: what is the tithe? And understanding what the purpose is behind all of this.

Because this is the process for us to become a, not only just a generous person, but get our lives in rhythm with God.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to have this conversation with my daughter, not because we are talking about it. My daughter is an entrepreneur, man. She’s amazing. This girl, she’s got a babysitting gig that is killing it. She’s got a ton of money in the bank. I was asking her, “What are you planning to do?” I love her answer. You know what she’s saving for? College. Fourteen years old! Yes!

She’s so focused on all that. And so, I’m working with her going, “Okay, when I was a kid, my parents had this process to train and teach us and they had three jars and it was like: give, save, spend. And you give ten percent to God, ten percent to savings, and then eighty percent you get to live off and had all this sort of stuff.

And I’m like, “Ella, you’re at the stage where you need to learn to really trust God with your money.” And we are talking about tithing and most of you know tithing has something to do with giving your money away. And we’ll talk a little bit more specifically.

And she’s like, “I know.” It’s just like we’re supposed to give our money to God, right? And here’s what I realized right in that moment. And especially with my kids and this is what I’m working really hard on right now. I’ve spent a lot of time in their early years helping them know what God has to say. And we are in a season to teach them why God said it.

Because you devoid or disconnect the “why” from the “what” it becomes like just a rote action with no deep meaning or significance. So, let me tell you why God says, “Man, embrace this rhythm of generosity and specifically the rhythm of tithing.

The big “why” is that tithing actually trains this habit, our hearts, to trust God. You were not naturally born generous. You were not naturally born giving. One of your first words as a kid, universally in America, so I don’t know how it is in other countries, is the word “mine.” You have to teach generosity. It doesn’t come simply naturally.

And so, tithing is this training mechanism that God has for us to trust Him, that we know that we can trust Him with all of our lives. If you can’t trust Him with your money, how could you trust Him with your life?

And so, He says this a little bit later on in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not store up for yourself treasure on earth where moth and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourself in treasure in heaven where moth and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in.” Why? Why? Why? Why? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Whatever you value and treasure in this life has your heart. Another way to say it, wherever your money goes, there your heart follows. Like, your bank account is one of the most spiritual documents in your life. It shows what you value and dream of and long for.

And there’s this invisible string connected to your finances and to your heart. And if you want a heart change in a specific area, like, if you wanted to have a heart for the needy, just begin to give to a homeless shelter, both your time and your money.

You’re like, I don’t even care about that, but the minute you begin to give to it, your heart will shift for it.

He would say it in a different way, Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much and whoever is dishonest with little will also be dishonest with much. So, if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

Did you notice that money is the little thing to God? It’s just the little testing area. We do this with our kids. It’s like, man, we want to give you greater responsibility as they are little. We want to give you greater freedom. And so, we are going to trust you here. And as you prove yourself trustworthy, we get to give you more because we know you’re going to be able to be faithful with that.

He goes on, No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” God is the God of the universe. He doesn’t need or want your money.

God says, “I want your heart.” And the chief competitor of your heart isn’t the devil. It’s your stuff. God’s not down on you if you have stuff, by the way. For some, you’ve lived with that. Man, I’ve got some really nice stuff. And I always have to defer. I’m going on a really nice vacation. Well, we paid points with it. I have this really nice car. Got a deal! That’s the church way. We don’t – it’s so weird.

God is not down on you if you’ve got nice stuff. He just doesn’t want your nice stuff to have you. And this process of habitually, systematically entrusting our finances to Him is what gives and aligns our heart with Him. That’s why He says tithing trains our heart to trust Him.

Well, what is the tithe? The tithe literally means a tenth. In Leviticus 27:30 it says, “A tithe,” or, “a tenth of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees belongs to the Lord. It is holy to the Lord.”

Saying that a tenth, here’s what He’s saying: A tenth of all that you have is God’s and so it’s not actually generous when you tithe. It’s just simply returning. It’s like it’s already His.

And so, you’re giving back to God ten percent of what you make. That’s what a tithe is. It’s returning to Him. Now, for some, you’re like, Ingram, that’s Old Testament. We are in the New Testament.

Oh, I’m so glad you brought that up. Jesus, in Matthew 23:23 actually reinforces the tithe there and brings that up. And you can read a bunch of different passages. Irenaeus, one of our Church fathers from 130AD to 202 writes this, “The Jews were constrained to a regular payment of tithes giving this ten percent. Christians who have liberty, assign all their possessions to the Lord, bestowing freely not the lesser portions of their property, since they have the hope of greater things.”

See, the Christian perspective is one of steward, and not entitle. Like, God, all that I have has been entrusted by You. And so, everything here, I don’t own. I’m simply a steward and so, I’m going to ask You: how would You like me to spend my money. And, in fact, my life. How would You like me to spend my time and my energy? I am a steward and all that I have is Yours. And what is going to remind me is this regularly giving back to You that trains my heart that, yes, that’s right. You are so trustworthy, Your Word is true, I can take those next steps with You.

Did you know that only two point seven percent of Americans give ten percent of their income or more? Ninety seven percent of Americans give less than ten percent, actually, far less than that. Did you know that thirteen point nine percent give less than two percent away? As mentioned earlier, forty-four point eight percent give nothing away. And, yet, somehow we think we are generous.

There’s this incredible book called The Paradox of Generosity. It was written by a sociologist from Notre Dame. I’ll actually end with a quote from it. But it’s fascinating this ten percent mark. Because this is hard for us. And he – in his book he notes, “The Americans who give away money, and more specifically, those who give away at least ten percent of their income are happier than those who do not.”

Could it be that your tradeoff isn’t a good tradeoff – reality. This rhythm of tithing and generosity. Tithing trains our heart to trust Him. Tithe literally means a tenth. And so, there is this idea of percentage giving. I’m going to choose a percent. And for some, you’re so underwater, you’re like, Ten percent? I can’t do. Start with a percent. Any percent.

For some, you need to start with ten percent and then you begin to give proportionally upon that. And, and, and, and if you’re new or if you’re hearing this and you’re just going, Ingram, I don’t trust you. That’s okay. Give somewhere else. Give to Compassion International, World Vision, Charity Water.

Oh, speaking of, second why I believe we should give to the Church, but I don’t want to miss this. It is too important for your heart and relationship with Jesus to not do this, because you think I have something in part of it. That’s always the challenge of talking about this.

Tithe. Take a tenth. Now, how do we do this? We give to God first. First. Proverbs 3:9 through 10, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the” – what’s it say?

Firstfruits. Not second-fruits. Not third-fruits. Firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats,” all of us got vats, “will brim over with new wine.”

God’s antidote for entitlement and greed and pathway to experiencing financial peace, which is different than financial freedom – and better – is found in the principle of firstfruits. When we give to God first, not last, it does not take faith to give to God last or out of what is left over.

Where you go, “Well, you know what?” Here’s the normative way that we do giving. The normative way is consume what I make. Save if I can. Give if there’s any left over.

In fact, the average American lives on a hundred and ten percent of their income. Tough to give there.

Ninety percent of Americans buy things they can’t afford. Sixty percent of Americans don’t pay off their credit card each month. Wow, that’s an exorbitant percentage that they’re paying. Eighty percent of college students graduate college with credit card debt.

And Jesus is saying, “Reverse it and flip it. It will change your life.” Give to God first. Say, Okay, I’m going to choose this percentage. Ten percent. It’s Yours already. I’m just returning. I’m actually not being generous at this moment. I’m just returning back to You. This is an act of faith and obedience, trusting that You’ll provide. Then I’m going to save, and then live on the rest.

And for some, you’re talking to me, “I can’t do that. I’ve got to tell you, I’m doing it on a pastor’s salary. I think you can too as well. But let me say this: you can’t afford not to. You can’t. The life of Christ being formed in you actually has so much to do with what you value and prioritize and your finances and how you spend your money reveal what you prioritize, what you value, and your affections.

This is so important that God actually invites us to test Him. Did you know it’s the only place in all of Scripture where He says, “Test Me on this. Try Me.” This is God, the God of the universe. I double-dog-dare you!

A heavenly Father who knows what is best and sees that His kids, like it’s really hard, and this is something that we are holding like this and we’ve got a tight grip on. And if we have a tight grip on it and it has a tight grip on us. And He’s saying, “I want to help you learn to trust Me, so test Me.”

Malachi 3:10, it says, “‘Bring the whole tithe, not part of it, into the storehouse that there may be food in My house. Test Me in the way,’ says the Lord, ‘and see if I will not throw up the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”

Let me define blessing real quick. Robert Morris says this, “Blessing is having supernatural power working for you. A blessed person may or may not be wealthy by the world’s standards, but they enjoy a quality of life most billionaires would envy.”

See, when we write the word “blessed” we immediately go…God is going to, I’m going to give ten dollars, He will give me a thousand. That’s not how it works. That’s turning God from a heavenly Father to a genie.

Jesus would say it this way, “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, it will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

The apostle Paul would say it this way, “Remember this, whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. Whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what he has decided in His heart to give.” Notice, there is a pre-decision in your heart: I have decided this.

It shouldn’t be this, Man, I feel oughted and guilted and manipulated. Notice, we already took offering. We are not taking a second, special offering. Not reluctantly or under compulsion. There should be no sense of manipulation. This is a private decision between you and God.

And then he goes on, “For God loves a cheerful giver.” Generous people – they are amazing to be around, aren’t they? And when I’ve been around incredibly generous people, you know what I hear from them? “I can’t believe I get to be a part of this. I can’t believe, this is so much fun to be able to support and give here and to help them. Like, wow! I get to be a part of that!”

They get to experience the blessing. “And God is able to bless you abundantly” there’s our word again, “so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need,” not all that you want, all that you need, “you will abound in every good work.” Notice that the blessing of God is so that you can abound in good work.

The Paradox of Generosity, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson say this. Their conclusion to their study. It says, “If Americans want to become happier, healthier people who live with greater purpose, suffer less depression, enjoy more personal growth, one way they might better accomplish that is to learn to be more generous. The scientific evidence shows clearly that more generous people are doing significantly better in their lives in many important ways.” The rhythm of generosity begins with this practice of tithe.

And when you begin to practice this, you get to see God at work.

We were moving from Georgia to California and we actually had this weird circumstance. Got actually ripped out of money from our employer. And so, we had about two months with no payment. Our bank accounts going to zero. We’ve got to move across country. And I’m trying to sell our Honda Passport, one of my favorite cars. And I’m trying to sell it for five thousand dollars and it’s supposed to be our spending money to be able to move across country. Because, seriously, we are looking at, we’ve got nothing.

I’ve got a mortgage. Couldn’t sell the house yet. And God just tapped us on the shoulder and said, You know what? That family in your church that has five teenagers? Yeah, five. I want you to give them your car. And I wrestled with it for a while. I’m like, okay, but that’s our plan. That’s how we are going to provide for our family. No, I want you to give them your car.

I said, “Okay.” We talked about it. Prayed about it. Went over, said, “Hey, you know what? We just felt like God asked us to give you the car.” He said, “No, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t.” I said, “You don’t have to deal with me. That’s what God told us. So, you need to talk to God about that one.”

And we give them the car and we are days away from moving. I think we had just a few hundred dollars in the bank. Like, Okay, God, well, I don’t know how this is going to work. I get a knock on the door and I have a courier show up. It’s the first time in my life, at that age, I ever had a courier show up. Hands me an envelope. A guy I met once wrote me a note. “Hey, heard you’re moving away. Sad to see you go. Thought you could use a little moving around money.” Inside was a check for five thousand dollars.

You have a God who can provide all that you need. Would you just begin to take little steps of faith and trust Him with what you have today?
I want to spend the rest of our time getting really practical about this rhythm of generosity and how we actually put it in place.

Because the reality is is most of us embrace sporadic generosity. And the funny part about it is we feel generous. Most Americans would call themselves generous, but statistically, forty-four point eight percent, yes, that’s very precise, of Americans do not give any of their money away. Most of us think we are generous because we remember a time when we did give someone ten dollars.

And Jesus is saying, “This is a sacred rhythm. This is something to put into practice.” And He says, “When you give to the needy…” In the Jewish world and under their context, giving and these offerings happened after a systematic, set allotted amount was given before that. It’s called the tithe.

And you have probably heard about it on Sundays, but I’ve never taught about it. I’ve taught a lot about generosity, but I want to talk a little bit for us and get practical on how do we live this out in a way that forms Christ in us in understanding: what is the tithe? And understanding what the purpose is behind all of this.

Because this is the process for us to become a, not only just a generous person, but get our lives in rhythm with God.

A few weeks ago, I was trying to have this conversation with my daughter, not because we are talking about it. My daughter is an entrepreneur, man. She’s amazing. This girl, she’s got a babysitting gig that is killing it. She’s got a ton of money in the bank. I was asking her, “What are you planning to do?” I love her answer. You know what she’s saving for? College. Fourteen years old! Yes!

She’s so focused on all that. And so, I’m working with her going, “Okay, when I was a kid, my parents had this process to train and teach us and they had three jars and it was like: give, save, spend. And you give ten percent to God, ten percent to savings, and then eighty percent you get to live off and had all this sort of stuff.

And I’m like, “Ella, you’re at the stage where you need to learn to really trust God with your money.” And we are talking about tithing and most of you know tithing has something to do with giving your money away. And we’ll talk a little bit more specifically.

And she’s like, “I know.” It’s just like we’re supposed to give our money to God, right? And here’s what I realized right in that moment. And especially with my kids and this is what I’m working really hard on right now. I’ve spent a lot of time in their early years helping them know what God has to say. And we are in a season to teach them why God said it.

Because you devoid or disconnect the “why” from the “what” it becomes like just a rote action with no deep meaning or significance. So, let me tell you why God says, “Man, embrace this rhythm of generosity and specifically the rhythm of tithing.

The big “why” is that tithing actually trains this habit, our hearts, to trust God. You were not naturally born generous. You were not naturally born giving. One of your first words as a kid, universally in America, so I don’t know how it is in other countries, is the word “mine.” You have to teach generosity. It doesn’t come simply naturally.

And so, tithing is this training mechanism that God has for us to trust Him, that we know that we can trust Him with all of our lives. If you can’t trust Him with your money, how could you trust Him with your life?

And so, He says this a little bit later on in the Sermon on the Mount, “Do not store up for yourself treasure on earth where moth and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourself in treasure in heaven where moth and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in.” Why? Why? Why? Why? “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Whatever you value and treasure in this life has your heart. Another way to say it, wherever your money goes, there your heart follows. Like, your bank account is one of the most spiritual documents in your life. It shows what you value and dream of and long for.

And there’s this invisible string connected to your finances and to your heart. And if you want a heart change in a specific area, like, if you wanted to have a heart for the needy, just begin to give to a homeless shelter, both your time and your money.

You’re like, I don’t even care about that, but the minute you begin to give to it, your heart will shift for it.

He would say it in a different way, Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much and whoever is dishonest with little will also be dishonest with much. So, if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

Did you notice that money is the little thing to God? It’s just the little testing area. We do this with our kids. It’s like, man, we want to give you greater responsibility as they are little. We want to give you greater freedom. And so, we are going to trust you here. And as you prove yourself trustworthy, we get to give you more because we know you’re going to be able to be faithful with that.

He goes on, No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” God is the God of the universe. He doesn’t need or want your money.

God says, “I want your heart.” And the chief competitor of your heart isn’t the devil. It’s your stuff. God’s not down on you if you have stuff, by the way. For some, you’ve lived with that. Man, I’ve got some really nice stuff. And I always have to defer. I’m going on a really nice vacation. Well, we paid points with it. I have this really nice car. Got a deal! That’s the church way. We don’t – it’s so weird.

God is not down on you if you’ve got nice stuff. He just doesn’t want your nice stuff to have you. And this process of habitually, systematically entrusting our finances to Him is what gives and aligns our heart with Him. That’s why He says tithing trains our heart to trust Him.

Well, what is the tithe? The tithe literally means a tenth. In Leviticus 27:30 it says, “A tithe,” or, “a tenth of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees belongs to the Lord. It is holy to the Lord.”

Saying that a tenth, here’s what He’s saying: A tenth of all that you have is God’s and so it’s not actually generous when you tithe. It’s just simply returning. It’s like it’s already His.

And so, you’re giving back to God ten percent of what you make. That’s what a tithe is. It’s returning to Him. Now, for some, you’re like, Ingram, that’s Old Testament. We are in the New Testament.

Oh, I’m so glad you brought that up. Jesus, in Matthew 23:23 actually reinforces the tithe there and brings that up. And you can read a bunch of different passages. Irenaeus, one of our Church fathers from 130AD to 202 writes this, “The Jews were constrained to a regular payment of tithes giving this ten percent. Christians who have liberty, assign all their possessions to the Lord, bestowing freely not the lesser portions of their property, since they have the hope of greater things.”

See, the Christian perspective is one of steward, and not entitle. Like, God, all that I have has been entrusted by You. And so, everything here, I don’t own. I’m simply a steward and so, I’m going to ask You: how would You like me to spend my money. And, in fact, my life. How would You like me to spend my time and my energy? I am a steward and all that I have is Yours. And what is going to remind me is this regularly giving back to You that trains my heart that, yes, that’s right. You are so trustworthy, Your Word is true, I can take those next steps with You.

Did you know that only two point seven percent of Americans give ten percent of their income or more? Ninety seven percent of Americans give less than ten percent, actually, far less than that. Did you know that thirteen point nine percent give less than two percent away? As mentioned earlier, forty-four point eight percent give nothing away. And, yet, somehow we think we are generous.

There’s this incredible book called The Paradox of Generosity. It was written by a sociologist from Notre Dame. I’ll actually end with a quote from it. But it’s fascinating this ten percent mark. Because this is hard for us. And he – in his book he notes, “The Americans who give away money, and more specifically, those who give away at least ten percent of their income are happier than those who do not.”

Could it be that your tradeoff isn’t a good tradeoff – reality. This rhythm of tithing and generosity. Tithing trains our heart to trust Him. Tithe literally means a tenth. And so, there is this idea of percentage giving. I’m going to choose a percent. And for some, you’re so underwater, you’re like, Ten percent? I can’t do. Start with a percent. Any percent.

For some, you need to start with ten percent and then you begin to give proportionally upon that. And, and, and, and if you’re new or if you’re hearing this and you’re just going, Ingram, I don’t trust you. That’s okay. Give somewhere else. Give to Compassion International, World Vision, Charity Water.

Oh, speaking of, second why I believe we should give to the Church, but I don’t want to miss this. It is too important for your heart and relationship with Jesus to not do this, because you think I have something in part of it. That’s always the challenge of talking about this.

Tithe. Take a tenth. Now, how do we do this? We give to God first. First. Proverbs 3:9 through 10, “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the” – what’s it say?

Firstfruits. Not second-fruits. Not third-fruits. Firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats,” all of us got vats, “will brim over with new wine.”

God’s antidote for entitlement and greed and pathway to experiencing financial peace, which is different than financial freedom – and better – is found in the principle of firstfruits. When we give to God first, not last, it does not take faith to give to God last or out of what is left over.

Where you go, “Well, you know what?” Here’s the normative way that we do giving. The normative way is consume what I make. Save if I can. Give if there’s any left over.

In fact, the average American lives on a hundred and ten percent of their income. Tough to give there.

Ninety percent of Americans buy things they can’t afford. Sixty percent of Americans don’t pay off their credit card each month. Wow, that’s an exorbitant percentage that they’re paying. Eighty percent of college students graduate college with credit card debt.

And Jesus is saying, “Reverse it and flip it. It will change your life.” Give to God first. Say, Okay, I’m going to choose this percentage. Ten percent. It’s Yours already. I’m just returning. I’m actually not being generous at this moment. I’m just returning back to You. This is an act of faith and obedience, trusting that You’ll provide. Then I’m going to save, and then live on the rest.

And for some, you’re talking to me, “I can’t do that. I’ve got to tell you, I’m doing it on a pastor’s salary. I think you can too as well. But let me say this: you can’t afford not to. You can’t. The life of Christ being formed in you actually has so much to do with what you value and prioritize and your finances and how you spend your money reveal what you prioritize, what you value, and your affections.

This is so important that God actually invites us to test Him. Did you know it’s the only place in all of Scripture where He says, “Test Me on this. Try Me.” This is God, the God of the universe. I double-dog-dare you!

A heavenly Father who knows what is best and sees that His kids, like it’s really hard, and this is something that we are holding like this and we’ve got a tight grip on. And if we have a tight grip on it and it has a tight grip on us. And He’s saying, “I want to help you learn to trust Me, so test Me.”

Malachi 3:10, it says, “‘Bring the whole tithe, not part of it, into the storehouse that there may be food in My house. Test Me in the way,’ says the Lord, ‘and see if I will not throw up the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”

Let me define blessing real quick. Robert Morris says this, “Blessing is having supernatural power working for you. A blessed person may or may not be wealthy by the world’s standards, but they enjoy a quality of life most billionaires would envy.”

See, when we write the word “blessed” we immediately go…God is going to, I’m going to give ten dollars, He will give me a thousand. That’s not how it works. That’s turning God from a heavenly Father to a genie.

Jesus would say it this way, “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, it will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

The apostle Paul would say it this way, “Remember this, whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly. Whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what he has decided in His heart to give.” Notice, there is a pre-decision in your heart: I have decided this.

It shouldn’t be this, Man, I feel oughted and guilted and manipulated. Notice, we already took offering. We are not taking a second, special offering. Not reluctantly or under compulsion. There should be no sense of manipulation. This is a private decision between you and God.

And then he goes on, “For God loves a cheerful giver.” Generous people – they are amazing to be around, aren’t they? And when I’ve been around incredibly generous people, you know what I hear from them? “I can’t believe I get to be a part of this. I can’t believe, this is so much fun to be able to support and give here and to help them. Like, wow! I get to be a part of that!”

They get to experience the blessing. “And God is able to bless you abundantly” there’s our word again, “so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need,” not all that you want, all that you need, “you will abound in every good work.” Notice that the blessing of God is so that you can abound in good work.

The Paradox of Generosity, Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson say this. Their conclusion to their study. It says, “If Americans want to become happier, healthier people who live with greater purpose, suffer less depression, enjoy more personal growth, one way they might better accomplish that is to learn to be more generous. The scientific evidence shows clearly that more generous people are doing significantly better in their lives in many important ways.” The rhythm of generosity begins with this practice of tithe.

And when you begin to practice this, you get to see God at work.

We were moving from Georgia to California and we actually had this weird circumstance. Got actually ripped out of money from our employer. And so, we had about two months with no payment. Our bank accounts going to zero. We’ve got to move across country. And I’m trying to sell our Honda Passport, one of my favorite cars. And I’m trying to sell it for five thousand dollars and it’s supposed to be our spending money to be able to move across country. Because, seriously, we are looking at, we’ve got nothing.

I’ve got a mortgage. Couldn’t sell the house yet. And God just tapped us on the shoulder and said, You know what? That family in your church that has five teenagers? Yeah, five. I want you to give them your car. And I wrestled with it for a while. I’m like, okay, but that’s our plan. That’s how we are going to provide for our family. No, I want you to give them your car.

I said, “Okay.” We talked about it. Prayed about it. Went over, said, “Hey, you know what? We just felt like God asked us to give you the car.” He said, “No, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t.” I said, “You don’t have to deal with me. That’s what God told us. So, you need to talk to God about that one.”

And we give them the car and we are days away from moving. I think we had just a few hundred dollars in the bank. Like, Okay, God, well, I don’t know how this is going to work. I get a knock on the door and I have a courier show up. It’s the first time in my life, at that age, I ever had a courier show up. Hands me an envelope. A guy I met once wrote me a note. “Hey, heard you’re moving away. Sad to see you go. Thought you could use a little moving around money.” Inside was a check for five thousand dollars.

You have a God who can provide all that you need. Would you just begin to take little steps of faith and trust Him with what you have today?