Impulsive generosity

August 29, 2012 | Viewpoints | Number 17
By Kevin Davidson |

In his book Money, Sex and Power, Richard Foster tells this story: “A doctor once asked a very wealthy patient, ‘What on earth are you going to do with all of that money?’ The patient replied, a bit reluctantly, ‘Just worry about it, I suppose.’ The doctor went on, ‘Do you get that much pleasure out of worrying about it?’ ‘No,’ replied the patient, ‘but I get such terror when I think of giving some of it to somebody else.’”

Times haven’t changed. Being generous, especially with money, isn’t easy. Would you believe that I, too, struggle with giving money to others? Just ask my wife. We stopped at Starbucks one warm, beautiful afternoon and were in line waiting to place our order. Knowing what I wanted, I ordered and paid for it out of my weekly spending money and then moved along to wait for my drink. Looking back, there was my lovely wife placing her order and the first thought in my mind was, “She has her own weekly spending money, she can pay for it herself!” Yes, she’s still married to me.

As I think back over the years, I realize how often my family and I have been the recipients of someone else’s generosity. Or should I say, impulsive generosity. I attended Capernwray Bible School in New Zealand. My friends and I would often travel on weekends and semester breaks to tour the country. Many times we crashed overnight at people’s homes and woke up to a delicious breakfast. We didn’t know these people personally, but they had generously offered hospitality on the basis of a last-minute phone call from one of our professors.

I was in the Tim Horton’s drive-through and when I got to the window to pay for my order, the attendant told me there was no charge. The previous customer had paid for it.

My family and I attended an auction and my 4-year-old son was introducing himself to everyone as Peter Parker (aka Spiderman). There was a Spiderman sheet set up for auction and another couple noticed my son’s interest in it. The following week when I arrived at my office, there was the sheet set. This same couple had bought it with the highest bid. My son has been sleeping with it ever since. 

Jesus tells a similar story in Luke 10:33-35: “Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, ‘Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.’” defines impulsive behaviour as “behaviours that occur quickly without control, planning or consideration of the consequences of that behavior.”

However, we can truly experience the joy of impulsive generosity when we plan for it. First of all by acting our wage. Living within our means and learning to be content with what we’ve been given in today’s world is a tricky business. Second, building capacity within our means. Reducing and/or eliminating expenditures we can learn to live without, affords us greater capacity for generosity. And third, listening and watching for the Lord’s leading. God opens many doors for impulsive generosity. Are we ready, willing and able to walk through it?

Through my work at Mennonite Foundation of Canada, I have been witness to, and a participant in, these acts of impulsive generosity and I can tell you firsthand that the model works, time after time. Experience joy. Plan to be generous. Then act impulsively. Experience joy…

Kevin Davidson is a stewardship consultant at the Calgary office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit

--Posted Aug. 29, 2012

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