For the most part, you can be a good steward by simply using some good common sense. However, above and beyond the application of common sense, there is spiritual dimension to wise giving that sometimes makes no sense at all.
FIRST OF ALL, THE COMMON SENSE STUFF.
A giving ladder is an illustration used to represent stages or levels giving. The idea is that as we get smarter, more generous, or more altruistic, we move up or graduate to a higher rung on the ladder. I’ve seen several of these ladders and made up a couple of them myself. The problem is that good stewardship, particularly the giving part, is not a one-dimensional endeavor. It is better measured with a matrix rather than something linear like a ladder. Here are a few elements that I plug into a matrix:
1) Good stewardship involves giving passionately. I’ve known of people who gave with extraordinary passion, but in terms of being an efficient giver, they never kept their tax receipts or even claimed a deduction.
2) On the other hand, I have also known of people who have employed every financial, estate, and charitable gift planning strategy possible. Giving for them was a means of social esteem or the execution of some kind of financial strategy. They gave mechanically because they needed the deduction, but their heart wasn’t really in it.
The former example was a passionate but inefficient giver; the later was efficient but uninspired.
3) Good stewards also give effectively and meaningfully. An effective gift is one that actually makes something happen. A lot of money, however, is given to non-profit organizations that spend a large majority of the budget on fundraising. There are also quite a few examples of organizations being driven off their mission by a very large designated gift. In either case, the gift turned out to be ineffective.
4) Concerning meaningful giving, I am constantly amazed by the bizarre causes people support. What is even more astounding is the amount of money given to organizations that do not reflect or support the values of the donor. In the end, it is God’s money and as stewards, we need to give wisely.
A woman came to Jesus hours before his crucifixion, bringing with her an alabaster vial of costly perfume. As she began to pour in upon Jesus’ head, the disciples became indignant saying, “Why this waste? (Matt 26:6-13). By their estimation, the gift (though very passionate) was neither efficient, effective, nor meaningful. They also suggested a means of better stewardship saying, “This perfume could be sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” Jesus corrected them stating that she was doing something so meaningful that wherever the gospel would be preached, what she had done would be remembered.
THE TAKEAWAY FOR US
At some point we will all encounter giving opportunities that do not measure up very well in terms of common-sense stewardship. In those situations we will ask, “Will the money be put to good use? Will the person spend it on alcohol? Will that mission trip really bear fruit?” Though we don’t have good answers those questions, we nevertheless feel impressed by the Holy Spirit to give. What we learn from the lady with the alabaster vial is that when we follows those intuitive prompting, we might be surprised at how significant a little gift turns out to be.