I have had one of those life questions rattling in my heart and mind for some time. It’s like a word on the tip of your tongue that you can’t stop thinking about until you find it. My concern is how much money we spend on our own lives while so many live without the everyday needs that we have in abundance.  And even more importantly, our lack of urgency to share the Gospel of Christ while so many people have yet to even hear the name of Jesus. And how these two concerns our so closely tied together. What are we really supposed to do about this? This has been fueled a little bit more these last couple of months by going through David Platt’s book Radical with my community group at church.  In reality, I started Beggartown to answer this question and struggle in my own life.  Four years ago, Carlie and I were struck pretty hard with the challenge of Haggai to build God’s house and not our own.  I found myself in my first full time job, in ministry, and with a modest salary to live on.  With more money than I had in college, I was always looking for a new golf club to buy or a pool table with a ping-pong top, to be specific.  But we quickly found the words of my good friend Solomon to be true, “This too is meaningless.”  We were right there, surrounded by the poor, locally and internationally, and all I could think about was a silly pool/ping-pong table combo.  As Platt says on page 115 of Radical,

“I am much like the rich man, and the church I leads looks a lot like him too.  Every Sunday we gather in a multimillion-dollar building with millions of dollars in vehicles parked outside.  We leave worship to spend thousands of dollars on lunch before returning to hundreds of millions of dollars worth of homes.  We live in luxury.  Meanwhile, the poor man is outside our gate.  And he is hungry.”

So how much is too much in our lives?  How much should we spend on ourselves compared to how much we give to others?  I honestly do not have the answer to this question.  I struggle with it everyday.  Is it OK to by an IPad 2 when that $500 could feed thousands of people today?  It is OK to buy a 5,000 square foot house just because we have a loan that says we can?  I don’t know.  Ultimately, these are questions that we must ask ourselves and that we alone can answer as the Holy Spirit is working in us.  But I do know that God cares about how we answer this question for ourselves.  Perhaps He is just as concerned with how and why we spend our money as what we spend it on.  There are many verses and Biblical narratives that deal with money but I really want for us to consider the widow and her offering.

Mark 12:41-44:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched  the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

It seems that we have a lot to learn from these verses.  It is intimidating to think that Jesus was actually watching these people give.  He took a purposeful position to be able to see people give offerings.  He obviously was concerned about something.  But as the story continued we find that one thing He was not concerned with was how much they gave.  Jesus used a poor woman who gave a fraction of a penny as an example of true giving, not the rich folks who gave large amounts of mullah out of their wealth.  They gave out of their abundance but she gave out of her poverty.  The widow gave everything.  She had nothing left to her name after her offering.  God cared about her sacrificial heart.  Is the moral of this story that we should give until it hurts?  Should it make us question, in our flesh, if that was really the best idea?   I wonder what the widow was thinking.  Maybe it was, “Oh, goodness.  What have I done? How am I supposed buy bread now for dinner?”  Or maybe, “It sure is awesome that I get to be a part of God’s work in this temple.”  We don’t know what she was thinking when she gave but we do know what Jesus was thinking.  He thought she gave more than the others.  Surely Jesus is not bad at math.  He was simply speaking to the fact that she gave everything that she had.

So what does this story mean for us in America who have much more than a fraction of a penny in our bank accounts?  I think David Platt said it best again on page 129 of Radical, quoting a man who lives in a country where it is illegal to share Christ:

“The truth is, there will continue to be millions and millions of people who do not hear as long as we continue to use spare time and spare money to reach them.”

Imagine the people that could be helped if Christians didn’t just use spare money to help the poor and to advance the mission of the church.  Imagine how many people would hear the Gospel if we didn’t just spend a week a year on a mission trip but spent every day as if we were on the mission field, which we are.

There are many ways for us to be able to individually and communally eradicate the plight of the poor internationally and in our own neighborhoods.  And we can get to that later.  But first things first.  God cares enormously about the heart behind how we spend our money and how we give, no matter how rich or poor we are.  As we seek to answer these questions for our own lives we would do well to follow the words of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

“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.”