Winston Churchill famously said: ‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give’. That’s why where, how and what we give is really important.

This week many people at The Belfrey are renewing their financial giving to church. And on Sunday we’ll be dedicating our pledges to God, and asking him to help us to be faithful in giving, and for him to give us all we need.

Many churches do this kind of thing around this time of year. This is not a one-off Gift Day. It’s more about planning. Planning to give regularly. Generously. And gladly.

Last Sunday was Vision Sunday and I spoke at four of our congregations about plans for the year ahead – and it’s great to have had really positive feedback during the week. I also spoke about how our giving is one of the key ways we get behind vision and plans. In preparing, some things came to me really clearly about ‘planning to give’. For instance:

· The bible tells us to give first before we spend. (1 Cor 16:2)

For many of us that’s a whole new way to handle our money. It means that giving becomes top of our list when we do any financial planning. If you hope to give the left-overs after you’ve paid your mortgage, rent, bills, etc, you’ll never manage it. Much better to plan to give and then continue to pray that the leftovers is more than enough to live on. That’s why a ‘tithe’, according to the bible is giving the first 10%. Giving first is something I learned to do when I was a student and it’s what we’ve done as a family for the last 20-something years and we’ve always had more than enough. Always.

· God will always give you enough to be a generous giver. (2 Cor 9:11)

When things are tight, as they are for many people at present, we can think we have nothing to give. But God can’t multiply nothing. He needs something to work with – and you always have something. There are a number of stories in the bible of people who are asked to give and their first reaction is they can’t, as they think they don’t have anything. That’s what the disciples thought before the feeding of the 5,000 in Mt 14:13.  The widow who gathered jars of oil in 2 Kings 4 also thought that. But actually they had something. We all do. We never have nothing. So the disciples found a boy who had 5 loaves and 2 fish, and that became more than enough. The widow found she had a small jar of oil from which God filled many jars. We never have nothing. God wants to take what seems to us like a small offering and multiply it into something great.

John Wimber discovered that when he first became a believer. Here’s what he said:

‘I remember when I had been a Christian for about a year and clearly desiring to do something for the needy and praying for direction about it.  At the time I could have been thought of as poor.  Carol and I had four small babies, all under age six, and I had been out of work for several months.  I did have a job at the time, but I was only bringing home $87 a week, and I was already tithing on that.

 As I prayed God showed me a picture of a hand, which was closed at first, but then it opened up.  He then seemed to say, “The world tells you to have a tight-fisted hand, particularly if you are in need yourself.  It says you’ve got to cling to everything you’ve got.  It advocates a logical and sensible economy; but that economy is not mine.  I want you to see that everything is in my control and to live your life with an open hand.  If you do that, I will give you ample resources both for yourself and for others”.’

· God gives to you, so you can give again, and again, and again. (2 Cor 9:11)

This is not the so-called ‘prosperity gospel’. The prosperity gospel says: give and God will give back to you so you can become wealthy. The bible doesn’t teach that. The bible teaches that if we are prayerfully generous, God will look after us so we can give again. It’s like God is looking for somewhere where he can invest his resources, and if he sees you investing wisely in people with the time, things and money that he gives, he will want to put more resources into you. Surely that’s the simple message of the parable of the talents:

Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.

The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

 After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents.

 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

 So – may I strongly encourage you to plan to give. Do that prayerfully and with a generous heart, and you will be wonderfully surprised at the results.