Generosity and Coffee :: The Coffee Tithe

Generosity is a difficult topic for those of us steeped in the culture of consumerism and selfishness.

We are never so generous with anything as we are with excuses of why we don’t give more…
We are never so stingy as when we are tallying the generosity of those we dislike…
We are never so demanding as when we expect to be on the receiving end of the generosity of those we view as privileged…

Analogy and metaphor have their limits and are imperfect by nature. But I have a morning ritual that has become a way for me to better understand the nature of generosity and what its natural progression should be when it is properly motivated.

Generosity begins with noticing need

Since I started working at home, I wake early and make a large amount of coffee. I drink it, little by little, over the course of the day. In the past, my wife would make an iced mocha with a small amount of coffee when she rose a couple hours after me. But there was a problem.

If I rose earlier than usual, or my wife awoke later than usual, or when I was especially caffeine-needy and drank coffee faster than usual, she would rise to find all the coffee was gone. No iced mocha. I noticed that she needed her iced mocha.

Noticing is the beginning of generosity. When you notice that someone is suffering — especially when you realize that someone is suffering as a result of your own selfishness or carelessness — you must choose to step toward generosity or apathy.

Initiating generosity requires systems to short-circuit our selfishness

Those who give out of excess when they have something left over, are generous only by accident. Generosity is too important a discipline to leave to chance.

To short-circuit my selfishness, I developed a system. I made the same amount of coffee as normal, but before I poured my first cup, I would get the glass that my wife used to make her iced mocha, pour the proper amount of coffee in the glass, and set it aside either on top of the coffee maker or in the fridge. When she rose, she would happily find the coffee and make her iced mocha.

Generosity is too important a discipline to leave to chance.

I called this system the “coffee tithe” not because it was a literal tenth — it wasn’t — but because it was the “first fruits” of the pot of coffee. I poured it out before I poured any for myself, because it mattered too much to leave it to chance that I might drink it all up and forget to leave enough.

This is the base-level of generosity. It is an elementary school starting point.

Legalism freezes generosity. Love changes it.

Generosity, especially for Christians, does not stop at the tithe. Tithing is only a baseline. It’s a simple rule for beginners to give them an easily achievable win. Generosity that is properly motivated — by love — always grows in response to a deeper relationship.

After the coffee tithe had become an established system and had been functioning well in our home for a while, generosity grew. I started making the iced mocha for my wife.

I honestly don’t remember if this began because she asked me to do it one day, or if the idea came to me. It doesn’t really matter. My generosity grew out of love. My investment in the gift grew. I started not just reserving the coffee tithe, but preparing it and adding to it.

Generosity that is properly motivated — by love — always grows in response to a deeper relationship.

The next step was natural after that. Eventually, instead of waiting for her to awake and then stopping my work to make her iced mocha, I started taking a break from my work to make the iced mocha, and take it to her in bed as she awoke.

The next step was extending that break and instead of just delivering a drink and returning to my work, I began refilling my own coffee and joining her to drink and talk together.

The next step beyond that was to occasionally began preparing a bit of breakfast* to take to her as well — a bowl of cereal, some oatmeal, a bagel-egg sandwich.

*This is more of a special occasion thing. I’m not super-husband.

**In fact it should be mentioned that this entire post makes me look a lot better as a husband than I deserve. On many days I’m a complete failure, redeemed only by my wife’s unconditional love for me. That’s a whole other post.

Generosity motivated by love always grows

Generosity that is motivated out of love grows. If you are a Christian, this applies to the generosity you display toward the church. Tithing is just the beginning of what loving generosity toward the church should be, but that is not the only generosity God is interested in inspiring in you.

God cares about more than just your gifts to the church.

God cares about more than just your gifts to the church. If you gave 90% of your income to the church and were not generous in the rest of your life, God would not be pleased with you any more than Jesus was pleased with the Pharisees who denied to assist their family members in order to fulfill a higher standard of religious giving.

Generosity is not an end, but a beginning

This post is written to myself as much as to anyone else. Checking off the box of contributing the “correct” amount to generosity — of giving my “fair share” — is an undeniable good. But that doesn’t mean that it might not simply be an extremely self-satisfying, extremely self-aggrandizing, extremely self-righteous sin.

If paying my fair share doesn’t lead me to more generosity in every other area of my life beyond the financial…
If paying my fair share becomes an exemption from assisting needs that arise in my community because I already contributed…
If paying my fair share is in any way a point of pride or a gradient that differentiates me from others less worthy…
It is worthless.

Let generosity grow in you.

There is only one individual in the whole of scripture who was ever commanded to suddenly sell all that he had and give it all away to the poor. In everyone else, God seems pleased to grow generosity gradually as seeds of love in good soil. So cultivate generosity and let it grow in you, spreading roots into every area of your life.

Cultivate generosity and let it grow in you, spreading roots into every area of your life.

Let generosity grow in your speech, making you a more generous listener to those who disagree with you. Let it make you more generous with compliments and words of love and affirmation. Let it make you more generous with words of mercy and forgiveness.

Let generosity grow in your actions. Let it make you give more hugs. Let it make you greet others with a holy kiss. Let it make you open more doors for others — physical, cultural, and economic. Let it make you pick up the trash on the ground that isn’t yours and act to correct other damages of which you are blameless.

And, yes. Let generosity grow in your finances. True generosity will not compel you to give from guilt, but seduce you to give from love. Let it make you count each penny, not out of greed, but out of stewardship. Let it make you a good tipper, because you don’t go unless you can afford to tip well. Let it make you sacrifice your comforts to spend more on the comfort of others. Let it make you a saver so that you don’t have to second guess giving due to unexpected expenses.

True generosity will not compel you to give from guilt, but seduce you to give from love.

These practices of generosity are good for any person living, Christian or not. No matter what your religious beliefs are, these practices will make your life more satisfying. Some of God’s principles are like gravity. They work the same for everyone whether you believe he created them or not.

But for Christians there is an X factor. Your generosity doesn’t have to come from your own spirit, your own kindness, or your own love. You have the supernatural love and generosity of God to rely on and to tap into. Speaking of the man commanded to give away all, Jesus said…

“Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” — Jesus

The man walked away sad, exiting stage-left outside the proscenium of recorded scripture. But that doesn’t mean his story ended there. With God everything is possible…

You don’t have to walk away from generosity’s call in sadness. You don’t have to give all in a dramatic impractical gesture. Take small steps and let generosity grow with the supernatural love of God. You have access to the love that motivated Christ to give all that he owned — sacrificially and sufficiently for all. That’s your unachievable goal to strain toward — your windmill to tilt.

Generosity. It’s good…to the last drop.

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