If God Owns Thousands of Cows, Why Can’t Missions Afford Steak?
“God doesn’t call us to live above our means, or even at our means. God calls us to live below our means, so we can be generous.” (Dr. Julius Wong-Loi Sing, on Ephesians 4:28)
I’m not being asked to write this by any one or any agency. The truth is, missionaries need money to live and minister all over the globe and the truth also is that often times they don’t have enough to stay or to get back if they are in the U.S. And sometimes when they do, they still have reason to be concerned with the state of their account.
I have to confess I really do not get this. I do not understand how any organization backed by Bible-believing Christians can struggle financially. At least in a nation where those of that faith are not struggling financially. Because the Bible is very clear in both testaments about how God’s followers are supposed to use their money.
I have to confess I really do not get this. I do not understand how any organization backed by Bible-believing Christians can struggle financially. At least in a nation where those of that faith are not struggling financially.
Haggai offers a couple of very sharp and timeless points about giving to God that I think can be easily applied to present day missions giving. His context was a bit different, but the goal is the same. The people of Judah, after coming back into their homeland 70 years after they were kicked out, had neglected the rebuilding of the temple. They instead chose to live in what Haggai calls “paneled houses.” The meaning of this is not complex. It means they chose to make their houses nice and luxurious instead of putting their wealth towards God’s house. And so God in Haggai 1:5 asks the question:
“Is it time for you yourselves to be living in paneled houses while [God’s] house remains in ruins?”
I think the same can be said today. Not as much about church buildings, but about building the church around the world. Materialism in the US is an easy target, but we do very much have paneled houses. We have accessories like big screen TVs and cable and Netflix and home wifi. And of course I am not bashing these things. I have some of these things. I have been around the block; I know that a good house can be used as a ministry tool. But at some point I think we have to stop and ask ourselves the same question God asked his people above through Haggai.
The problem with paneled houses is that we never can get enough. We will always want more. In fact, God even says in Haggai that this was their judgment, that He himself made it to where they could never be satisfied and would always be longing for more. They had a lot to eat, but were always hungry. They had clothes, but were still cold. They had money, but it was put into pockets with holes in them. If you panel your house too much, you’ll never be content. You will always want the next thing. God makes it that way, so that only He can be our true source of contentment.
The problem with paneled houses is that we never can get enough. We will always want more. In fact, God even says in Haggai that this was their judgment, that He himself made it to where they could never be satisfied and would always be longing for more
In 2010 I learned that the College Football Championship game was going to be broadcast on ESPN instead of FOX. I didn’t have cable. I decided I would get it, because I can’t live without college football. The very day I decided to do this, I was at my church and in the lobby I found a newsletter from a church planter in Wisconsin. He spoke very boldly and plainly about how much need his ministry was in. He made the comment that he could use a few people to give $40 a month. That’s a cell phone bill, a cable bill. And I stood there, letter in hand, as convicted as I could be. I can assure you this is no attempt to puff myself up. I’ve failed in this and many areas my whole life. I have been defeated by lust many times in my life. I care about approval on social media way too much. I’ve not shared my faith out of fear many times. I’ve been selfish with money. But on this occasion the timing of the letter and my cable decision was too weird and God, by his grace, got through to me. I passed on cable to help the missionary.
God says something in Haggai that I thought about that day that I want you to think about now. He said:
“Consider carefully your ways.”
He says this twice in this chapter and again (with different phrasing) two more times in chapter 2. God wanted the people to think deeply about–to seriously evaluate–what they were doing in regards to their own personal kingdoms vs. God’s desire for a temple. We have the same issue in front of us. We have our paneled houses while Christian missions often suffer. And while I am sure that much of my audience does something for missions and that some even have a budget or a plan for giving, I’m asking everyone to carefully consider your ways in how you give. Maybe you have not evaluated your missions giving in a while. Maybe you have more money now than you did a couple of years ago, or the last time you made a conscious decision to support a missionary. Maybe your finances are a mess and you need to start at square one and consider your ways in all of your budgeting. Regardless, there is a good chance some full time missionary or some short term missionary in your circle of influence is in need of money right now. Consider carefully if there is a way you can help. And I don’t mean giving a modest amount out of a huge surplus. God often calls us to give sacrificially. Not the detriment of our family or our health, but to the detriment of our personal paneled houses and kingdom building.
Sometimes I am not sure how to evaluate generosity as a spiritual gift. Because I think just about anyone who has income can be generous. Anyone can give sacrificially. Now may be the time for you to bump your missions giving up 3%. Or 5%. Or $40 a month. Or $5 a month. Or to give a huge one time amount to a teenager going to Japan this summer for two weeks that could possibly ignite a fire for international ministry that will never go out. I’m just asking everyone to do two things God asked his people through Haggai to do over two millennia ago – evaluate your personal kingdom and carefully consider your ways. It is hard for some missionaries to ask for money. So I’m asking for them. Not on the basis of what I feel, but on the Bible. Because this issue is extremely Biblical. And the Bible isn’t just a book of interpretation. It demands an application, a response.
How will you respond?
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14 thoughts on “If God Owns Thousands of Cows, Why Can’t Missions Afford Steak?”
You killed it, Gowdy!
Thanks. I saw the “solid gold” comment on Facebook. I see what you did there….:)
Gowdy- out of curiosity are you speaking mainly of FWB missionary or missionary as a whole
The majority of missionaries I know and support are FWB. But my wife and I have and do support missionaries from other denominations and through organizations like Cru. So I’d say I’m speaking to any missionary or agency that a giver has vetted and deemed to be worth giving money to.
Thank you, Gowdy. As a retired missionary, I am forever grateful to those who gave to the Lord’s work to keep us on the field all those years, but it hurts to know that we as a people could do so much more. And getting the gospel to those who have never heard must remain one of our highest priorities.
Thank you, Steve. I respect you about as much as I can. Not just for your missionary work, but for countless other reasons.
Thank you for this article.
Thank you for writing this, Gowdy. Even those of us on an international field of ministry need this reminder.
I was going to post the same. Always a great reminder for anyone, anywhere.
Thank you, guys. I didn’t think about that perspective.
I appreciate your candid challenge! I really believe people don’t REALLY know and understand! If we could REALLY see and feel the heart of God for the LOST and dying…we would NOT be able to NOT respond. It’s hard to imagine that there are people who STILL have never heard the name Jesus! and STILL do not have a BIBLE..at all! REALLY?? How can it be?1 But it’s true — millions!!! oh that we would understand this! And even for those who do know and understand, there’s the quandry of real life and living and balance!! There’s a tension… a constant tension….that never goes away! I pray God will call more and more to live in that tension and that we will respond. That THIS generation will give up, give over, and give in to the tension that calls us to dig deeper, give more, and go willingly!
Thank you Angie. Your opinion matters a lot to me. I know you do more than you talk and I appreciate the challenge in turn and the encouragement.
It’s marvelous to see God provide. Your post’s story of the desire for ESPN for entertainment competing in the soul is insightful; it reminded me of Greg Ketteman’s sharing at the 2015 NAFWB. While I’d love to have ease with money, I’ve found that God times his provision at just the right times accomplishes what needs attention in both the life of the giver and the receiver. It really is amazing . . . awe inspiring on reflection. Our return to Cote d’Ivoire is a case in point. God moved specific donors at an hour of precise timing when our insight and knowledge proved very needed here. May we all err on the side of generosity toward God, but most of all, may we sense His directing all of us together in a symphony of lives that glorify Him in every generation, age, and eon to come. Thanks for the post Gowdy. Thanks for ‘liking’ it Mirial.
Thank you for the kind, thoughtful response.