I’m embarrassed to say it, but I once fell prey to a 20 minute weight loss ad before my 30 second YouTube video started. I could have clicked the “skip ad” button, but the speaker had formed his infomercial so carefully that I hung onto his every word. He pulled every psychological trick in the book to keep me hooked. Most annoyingly, he didn’t even tell me his secret. After a 20 minute ad, I had to click on a link to go watch another 20 minute ad, which… I maybe did. I knew that I was falling for his ploy, but I didn’t know how to pull out of it. Eventually I made a quick Google search to prove to myself that it was all snake oil.
The church often uses these tactics too, which I find bothersome. Don’t get me wrong, financial generosity is Biblical and essential for churches and ministries to have vitality, but there’s a big difference between the generosity that comes from the heart and generosity that comes from cheap psychological tricks. Some churches reserve the longest prayer in their services for the offering time. Some TV programs promise you miracles and blessings if you send them donations. Some organizations find speakers to pitch their ministry everywhere they speak, convincing people to make decade-long giving decisions off of a 30 minute message.
The last time I saw this happen was at a Christian concert and the whole thing felt weird. The speaker’s 30 minutes of cheap tricks were far too obvious, ending with him saying, “On the count of three I want every person who’s going to support a child to raise their hand high in the air as our volunteers bring you a sponsorship form!” The tension was real. We were all being set up to look like bad people if we didn’t raise our hand. It was also creating the energetic expectation for us to think we were all going to raise our hands. But I think everyone in the room was familiar with the tactics, creating an awkward scenario as about 10 hands went up in a room of hundreds.
When the early church got saved, they began to pool their possessions together out of the fullness of their hearts. Out of the abundance of what God had given them, they abundantly gave to one another. They didn’t guilt trip one another—they simply ensured that things were provided for. The converts the early church reached lived out the same kind of generosity. Sometime after the gospel reached the Greeks in Antioch, these new Greek Christians received the prophetic word that a famine was coming. In response, they generously pooled together some resources to send to the Jewish-Christians that had brought them the gospel in order to help them through the famine.
Give out of the generosity of your heart. Raise money out of the generosity of hearts. Inspire—don’t rob.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Acts 11:19-30 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net.