Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. (Jesus, speaking in Matthew 8:20)
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. (Jesus, speaking in Matthew 10:37-39)
I’m fresh an internship that provided a window into a mix of City of London firms. What started as a nonchalant chat in the office sparked a quick-fire train of thought:
We used to just purchase coffee. Now, we go on a coffee-hunting mission, searching for a specific roast, a region, a blend. We used to just buy chocolate. Now, we stalk into Hotel Chocolat craving the finest cocoa, the nichest wrapping, the most unusual tempering available. Consider bread – we can take our pick of a rainbow of sourdoughs from artisan bakeries.
Don’t misunderstand: buying ethical coffee, chocolate and bread is a fantastic habit for life. And good food is a great gift from God. The point here is not that we have become more conscious of product origin. It’s that our consumer culture has become more madly aspirational than it has ever been before. Buying food has become artful, even posturing. What are we aspiring to when we dip into the latest trends? Why do otherwise high-flying, go-getting City workers madly embrace crazes like raw foodism and paleo…?
The more aspirational my consumer habits, the more disagreeable a Christ-like lifestyle is going to seem. Christ calls us to sign away our own sovereignty and our right to our own life and decisions, in order to turn to Him. In this, He is not asking us to do anything that He Himself has not done, because Jesus surrendered equality with God to go to the cross. The route to everlasting blessing is to let God be your Lord and King (see Psalm 2).
For Christians working lucrative jobs, this means truly radical generosity. This does not lead to throwing money away – rather, it means giving prayerfully out of a heart overwhelmed by the grace of God. The costly and lavish gift of redemption that Jesus offers – a fresh relationship with God himself – will lead to an outpouring in return. We love because he first loved us; we give because he first gave to us. We cannot be more generous than God has already been to us on the cross.
This goes totally against the flow of City culture. But it is possible, for Christians with money at their disposal, to pray, perhaps to discuss money with well-chosen accountability partners, and then give to Christian causes which they know will use the money for God’s Glory.
In the 19th century, Lewis Tappan and his brother Arthur offered an example of radical generosity. Their faith—and reading the biography of William Wilberforce—nourished a passion for the cause of abolitionism and the growth of the church. Lewis became a wealthy New York merchant and founded The Mercantile Agency—today called Dun & Bradstreet (a Fortune 500 company). He was a key financial backer of the evangelist Charles Finney and gave most of his money away to social reforms such as abolitionism and church projects. They gave to the American Bible Society, which provided every family in the United States with a Bible, and to the American Sunday School Union, which helped form Sabbath schools in the newly settled Mississippi Valley.
It can be tricky for university students without an income of their own to give formally or radically. But it is of great importance to put in place habits that will last into our post-university lives. What can we do? Pray. Consider how best you can give. It’s not about how much – it’s about the heart attitude behind the generous action (see Luke 21 – the story of the widow and her two tiny coins). As students, we can also give our time in a way that many professionals cannot. Consider offering regular time to initiatives which you are passionate about.
Pray for Christians who work in jobs which enable them to give: that they would look at Christ and have generous hearts as a result, giving out of love and not out of compulsion. Pray for churches in areas such as the City of London to teach radical generosity to their members. Pray for Christian students moving to graduate schemes in September to put into practice careful giving. Pray that this kind of giving, and the tuned-down lifestyle that inevitably results, would give Christian professionals the opportunity to witness to their peers. Pray that they would find satisfaction in Jesus that has nothing to do with their material circumstances, and that their non-Christian friends would be intrigued and see Jesus’ light shining from us.