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Jesus calls his followers to acts of giving that war with our psychology of personal safety, that violate social norms, that extend beyond self-interest. This is hard to do because we battle all of these psychological, social, and economic instincts that have become programmed into our decision-making DNA. Let's be frank: Who among us (besides Pope Francis) invites the poor, the blind, and the lame to a gathering at our house? Yet this is our benchmark and our challenge, impossible for us without submitting our natural will to the Holy Spirit. Understanding the self-interested motives behind our giving can lead us to into purer acts of charity that more closely mirror those of the one we claim to follow.

Bruce Wydick is Professor of Economics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. His novel about fair-trade coffee growers in Guatemala, The Taste of Many Mountains, is forthcoming from Thomas Nelson (HarperCollins Christian) in August 2014.

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Why We Give (or Don't)