Here’s Part III in our ten-part series of life lessons I have learned in my short time on earth. I had so much to say about this topic that #12 deserved its own blog post:
I think it’s safe to say that I know for sure that one ought to tithe and that God always provides.
Tithing is supposed to be sacrificial. It’s easier to tithe when money is flowing in; it’s not so easy to tithe when money is funny, change is strange, credit won’t get it and you have no means in your jeans. It’s one thing to tithe when you still have enough money left over for your other expenses. But it’s quite another when you know that if you give God what’s rightfully His you won’t have enough left over for everything else…. or for anything else for that matter. That’s where faith comes in.
I will admit – I have been tempted to say, “Lord, I’m getting more money next week. When I get the money next week, then I will give you this week’s and next week’s tithe.” I’m tempted to pay my bills now and “pay” God later because God can wait and Bell Canada can’t. But I now know that to be a lie. Give to God was is due to Him. Period. Even if it means you won’t have enough money for everything else.
I believe that God ought to be my first creditor. He gets first dibs. He gets His share — first — even if it means that there is not enough left over to pay everyone else. This is how we honour God with the money He allows us to earn. When I think of it that way — of God as my first creditor before all other creditors — I have a hard time justifying paying Bell before returning money due to the Person who puts air in my lungs and helped me find a job so that I could work and now can write said cheque to Bell.
When I work out my budget, my necessary expenses have often exceeded my income. Discouraged, I tell Him that the math doesn’t work – the numbers don’t add up and I’m going to be be severely short. I pray, I tithe and leave the rest to God. I’ve seen Him work out situations and do math that I never thought possible.
You never know what God will do for you as a result of your faithfulness. Here’s my testimony: When I’ve tithed, God has stretched the food, things will go on sale at the grocery store, God has softened the heart of and given me favour with my landlord, all of a sudden there will be a potluck at church that Sabbath, cheques come from people who I never realized owed me money, people have straight up given me money, new job opportunities have found me and fallen into my lap… I’m just sharing my story. I have found that when I tithed, I always had enough. I never had any excess, mind you, but I always had just enough (like literally, with cents to spare). It is when I didn’t tithe that I found myself scrambling for dough.
I’m not saying that when you return the Lord’s tithe that you’ll be on easy street, however. Sometimes, when you return your tithe, things get worse. That’s happened to me too. They cut back on your hours at work or you lose your job. You discover yet another expense. You are attacked or surprised by unforeseen expenditures. But that’s when you put your faith to work and tithe anyways because God provides.
I know — it’s hard. I’m speaking as someone who has, admittedly and shamefully, found it hard at times to return the tithe. I haven’t always been a cheerful giver, let alone a faithful one. But the relationship makes it easier. You need to trust God to tithe. If you don’t trust God, you won’t tithe. I know this because it happens to me. When my faith wavers, the tithe suffers. It ought not be that way, but there is a link between faith and tithe. You can’t tithe unless you have a relationship with God. You can’t tithe based on or depending on your own free will. Your relationship will facilitate your tithing. It’s your relationship with God that will allow you to tithe. Tithing takes faith, and faith in who God says He is. You can only do this, and will do this with much more ease when you get to know Him. When you are in a relationship with God, and when you are acquainted with His character, tithing becomes easier and easier. If you are hesitant with returning that which God has entrusted to you, it means you don’t trust God – you don’t know just how faithful He really is.
Can I just slip in here that God provides? I’ll talk about God later on in the series, but I’ll just pause here and be vulnerable for a moment and say God provides.
There have been many months when I didn’t know how my rent was gonna be paid, but I remember one month in particular – March 2014 — when I didn’t know where the rent money for next month was gonna come from. As I neared the end of the month, I wondered if I should tell my landlord that I had no money, or if doing so would be premature because God was (somehow) gonna come through. The thing is, I have noticed that usually when God does finally decide to come through, He often does so at the last moment (like with Lazarus in the grave and Jesus was four days late). I wasn’t sure if I could handle the emotional stress for another two weeks, not knowing how I was gonna keep a roof over my head, waiting for God to provide when He was good and ready at the very last minute.
I remember one night in particular, sitting in my bath tub, rent due in about a week and a half, and still having no money, and I tried to sing to encourage myself: “Be not dismayed what’er betide. God will take care of you. Beneath His wings of love abide. God will take care of you…”
And then I burst into tears. I couldn’t finish the song.
Would God take care of me? Would He really? Why would He take care of me? Why should He take care of me? How would He take care of me? I’ve never been the best saver or the most thrifty spender, but I do try. I try to economize. Perhaps I should have been more scrupulous with my dollars? But how? How can one be scrupulous if you never had enough to begin with? I had gone on vacation weeks prior because I was exhausted after finishing law school. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone? But I had prayed…about going on the vacation, about my financial needs…really, about everything. So I was crying because of my mixture of guilt, unworthiness, fear, doubt and uncertainty. And, of course, when I got out of the bath tub, I prayed again.
The next week I went to a conference for Women in Business. While I was checking my e-mail on my phone in between sessions and panels, I saw an e-mail from the Golden Key International Honour Society (of which I am a member). The e-mail said that they had been trying to get in touch with me for months, and that I had won the Debt Reduction Scholarship worth $5000 US but they couldn’t get in touch with me, and so if I didn’t respond in the next few days they would have to award it to another recipient.
You can be sure I responded right then and there.
You see, I had applied for this scholarship months earlier in October 2013. When I hadn’t heard from them within the specified time frame, I soon forgot about the scholarship.
What’s beautiful about the story is how God timed the provision to be bestowed just when I needed it and not when it ought to have come. I’ve learned that many of our blessings are on time release. He has already answered at the moment when we prayed (and even before we have prayed) and then He waits for us to get into alignment and get to the right spot – geographically, emotionally, spiritually, or just in our lives before He drops the provision. That’s what He did for Abraham with the ram in the thicket.
I thought the cheque wouldn’t get here in time, but sure enough, I received the cheque by UPS Emergency Express Mail – days before rent was due.
God provides. This is just one of many instances where I have personally seen God provide. So don’t worry about not having enough for your other expenses.
What should you tithe? Everything (Gen 28:22). When I hear discussions about “should I tithe on the gross or the net?” then I know that we’ve totally missed the point. What difference does it make? Why are you asking the question? You can’t “out-give” God, since He is the supreme Giver. Giving is in His very nature (“For God so loved that He gave…” — John 3:16).
I’ve found God to be an absolute gentleman. He is never intrusive. He is a “behold I stand at the door and knock” (Rev. 3:20) kind of God. Thus, because He is a gentleman, I believe that if, somehow, I’ve given Him more than I ought to, He will return it to me. And He does. I will admit – I haven’t tithed absolutely everything as I perhaps should have. But I’ve tithed my scholarships and most times I’ve tithed birthday money. I tithe my income. My basic test is if the government of Canada considers it as income, it should probably be tithed, since God probably considers it as income too. Mark Batterson, in his book The Circle Maker, talks about reverse tithe (live on 10% and give away 90% to church, missions, etc.). I think I may ultimately want to do that.
The Lord says to test Him (Malachi 3:10). The blessing in tithing is not only the fulfillment of the promise that He will open the windows of heaven (and He will do this); the blessing in tithing is that it keeps me in check. It forces me to remember that even though I work, I am not the one sustaining me – God is. It reminds me that there is more money where that came from. It would be silly to then hoard money as if God couldn’t and wouldn’t give me more. It reminds me that I look to God to supply my needs (Phil 4:19) and not to myself. It reminds me that God is God and I am not God. It reminds me that this is God’s money and anything that I supposedly “have” is God’s (like the hymn says: “all that we have is Thine alone, a trust oh Lord from thee”). And the Lord says that he that is faithful in little will be faithful in much (Luke 16:10).
Tithing is an act of worship. It is a way of saying “thank you.” It forces me to check my heart – if I have trouble giving God’s money back to Him freely and without reservation, I am forced to ask myself why that is and reassess the place and importance of money in my life. It puts a safe distance between me/my soul and money, and weakens the hold of money on me. After all, Scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10). Tithing helps me not to love money too much because it helps me practice being comfortable with parting with it. Tithing saves me from idolatry. Tithing refines my character and builds my faith. Tithing helps save my soul (although I know that “for by grace are we saved through faith, not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast”). That’s the real blessing. I need that reminder.
I will not be a student or live like a student forever. One day, by God’s grace, I will be much more financially well off and I will make more money, and it is especially in those times that I will need a constant reminder that all of this is not all because of me. It’s in those times of financial wellness that I will need to fall back on these lessons learned in leaner years.
Tithing is still relevant today. It may be an Old Testament concept (Mal. 3:10), but Jesus praised the widow who gave her last mite to the church (Mark 12, Luke 21). When Paul, in Phil 4:19, said that “My God will supply all your needs…” it was in the context of the church having met Paul’s needs (physical and financial needs included), and Paul now saying that God will meet their needs in turn (presumably physical and financial needs included). If, for some reason, I am wrong in my understanding of the tithe and I’ve been sacrificially giving money needlessly, I know the Lord is merciful and He winks at ignorance. He will still bless sincere efforts to be faithful.
I don’t think of tithing as “paying the pastor” or “paying the conference” or donating money to the church. I know that thinking that way has discouraged many in returning their tithe or to not take it seriously. If I thought of it as a mere donation to the church, I wouldn’t be so strict about my giving. But because I see it as a religious obligation, failing which I, in effect, steal from God, I take this seriously. It is not my responsibility to ensure that the money I put in the offering plate goes directly straight to the orphanage in Malaysia or to build the Adventist school in Papua New Guinea. God just asks me to give and He has designated the church to be the vehicle of that giving. We are the church and we have an obligation to support the work of the church. Whatever corruption that happens in the process is on that person’s or institution’s guilty conscience. He or she will have to face God over that one. It has nothing to do with me.
It’s one thing if your pastor encourages you to tithe. You might think it disingenuous because he is preaching a message that will ultimately benefit him. However, I’m not an employee of the church. This is not a paid advertisement. I have nothing to gain in telling you to tithe. I don’t benefit whether you decide to tithe or not. If you don’t believe me, that’s on you. I’m just telling you what I know and have seen for myself. The message gets lost in translation because the people preaching the message on tithing (aka pastors) benefit from the preaching of that message. Don’t worry about the pastor. This is between you and God.
I look to God to supply my needs. He knows them full well. This money belongs to Him. To keep the Lord’s tithe would be an act of self-reliance — i.e. “I need to keep this money because this is my money and because I need to pay my bills.” To tithe says, “This is God’s money. I will give this back to God and God will pay the bills. God will take care of me.”
Other Resources on Tithing:
To be continued…