The ‘butterfly effect’, the theory that small individual actions can operate within a wider ecosystem to affect huge change, is a wonderful metaphor for so many of our activities as Christians. When boiled down to their bare minimum, so much of what Christians do personally, and what the church does corporately, can seem hopelessly small scale, and bereft of the big firepower of how the world achieves its goals. Most local churches represent a tiny percentage of the communities in which they are placed, their gatherings do not garner much attention, and even the gospel kindnesses of Christians to their world can often go unnoticed and unseen by a wider world. In this series of posts, concluding today, I have been examining some of the ways in which obscure individual actions can have a profound effect on what can be done for God in the world, and have been reflecting that the butterfly effect is embraced within how God sovereignly does his work (see the first and second posts here and here). The practical examples offered have all emanated from the work of Grace Baptist Partnership, whose month of prayer and giving is taking place through March.
In this final article the work of giving can be held up to the light, enabling us to see that seemingly insignificant sums can yield rich dividends for the kingdom of God. For missionaries and agencies, financial giving is one of their most needed resources, and yet one of the most difficult things to mention in any depth. We tend to nurse a view which sees it as uncouth, unspiritual, or ill-mannered for those who most need our help to solicit it. On the part of individuals and smaller churches the scale of the need can often seem to transcend their scope to meet it, and a sense of silent embarrassment can prevail between both parties. In this post I hope to show why giving what we have, for the glory and service of Christ, can send out implications which outstrip our resources and might outlive our lifespans.
Obscurity, necessity, invisibility
The biblical picture of giving broadly traces the contours of the butterfly effect, often emphasising the humble quarters from which our sovereign God elicits the resources to further his mission. The ministry of Jesus was not divorced from the financial realities of the world around him. His own work was funded in part by women who contributed to him, and helped sustain him. Jesus often actively engaged with the financial structures of his world, overturning tables of corruption in the Temple, and commending the grace and charity of those who freely spent what they had as an act of faith in what God could do.
One of the most famous examples of this is the widow whose name the gospels do not disclose (Luke 21:1-4), but whose activities were minutely observed by the Saviour. In the offering at the Temple the big hitters lined up with their well-heeled contributions to the work of God. Going on Jesus’ own testimony in the Sermon on the Mount, such giving was marked by fanfare and acclaim, a kind of financial virtue signalling which enriched reputations more than the cause to which they were given. Weaving among those who were splashing their cash, was a mere widow, an individual likely bereft of many of the financial securities enjoyed by the showmen financiers who gave for their own glory. Jesus’ eye fixed, not on the small percentage giving which yielded big amounts, but the large percentage giving of this woman which yielded a comparatively small amount. The butterfly effect of such giving was not the treasure in the temple but the pleasure of God in sacrificial service financially. In kingdom terms this woman was pivotal not because of what she had to give, but because of the heart from which she gave.
This idea of small and insignificant people digging into their finances, assured of God’s blessing on their seemingly meagre labours, runs right through the New Testament. The Apostle Paul took on the mission of providing famine relief for Judean churches, gathering funds from Gentile churches, grasping the gospel significance of fellowships who had first heard the truth through Jewish fellowships giving back materially to them. In stirring up the Corinthians in their giving, Paul points to the Macedonian believers who blazed a trail by their attitude to giving (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). These believers were under incredible pressure, facing deep affliction, and living in financial deprivation, and yet they understood the butterfly effect of what they could give. Out of their resources, and at times beyond their means, they gave gladly and eagerly, not despising themselves for they could not do, but stretching themselves to do what they could.
Jesus’ teaching on giving in Matthew 5 suggests that this is just the kind of financial ministry that God honours. Giving which doesn’t weigh the deficit of being small in scale but which sees the benefit of serving God with our goods is invisible to the world, but of huge significance to heaven. It should be a point of amazement to us that the God who owns everything often uses those who own nothing to do his will in the world.
All of this should encourage us about what we can do, rather than ushering in guilt at what we haven’t done, or defeat at what we are unable to give. God credits Christian giving which is authentic, sacrificial, and ministerial, and only heaven itself will give us an eye to the ledger which records just how God uses seemingly paltry resources.
The gift that keeps on giving
A local church in Watford grasped this gospel principle close to ten years ago. Daniel Shwe, mentioned in the the first two parts of this series, had been working in that area faithfully and effectively as an evangelist, reaching many with the gospel of Christ. The local church observed how God was using this brother and decided that they would covenant £3000 per year to help fund Daniel’s ministry in other areas as well. Their contribution made each year has enabled Grace Baptist Partnership to send Daniel one day per week to other church plants, providing encouragement and ministry whose effect will reverberate right into eternity. One church’s focus on what they could fund, what they could do, how they could contribute has led to the wider dissemination of the gospel, and the encouragement of workers in areas desperately in need of help and manpower. The outflow of such ministry is not merely its immediate help for gospel work, but its ultimate effect in leading more men and women to faith in Christ. A single church offering a simple gift has opened up a wide door of effective service, whose butterfly effect is hard to quantify.
We are too easily overwhelmed by the vastness of the spiritual need in our world, and the smallness of what we can contribute. The upshot of this can be a conservatism on the part of churches in their giving, and an impotence on the part of individuals about what kind of difference they can make. The New Testament does not call us to write large cheques to be presented before the clicking cameras of the media, but it does encourage individuals and churches to see that giving what they have to the ministries known to them can cumulatively set the world ablaze with the gospel of Christ. This should challenge us to consider what we are doing, and what we are not doing, and think through the legacy we would leave for all eternity by embracing our part and place in handing over to God’s work what he can multiply and use in ways we could never have imagined.