Nightmares. Fits. Heartburn. That’s what I’m going to give folks in some circles by even posting this thing. For some, what I’m saying is more controversial than accepting the Creation-as-Temple model of Genesis 1-2, than taking a stand for biblical marriage, than telling people that science has the wrong set of tools to even begin to prove (or disprove) the existence of God. This little post- humble though it be- might all but get me blacklisted.
You see, in the very month of my 30th birthday, for the first time EVER….I failed to tithe. Failed. And I don’t think God’s mad at me. The earth didn’t stop moving. My house didn’t burn down (a fact which surprises anyone who’s seen what previous owners have done to this place.)
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m the budget king. My wife hates it when I start balancing checkbooks, creating spreadsheets, and running reports, because the bottom line is that I’m not going to be going to bed on time. It’s just a fact. Oh, and a big deal in my spreadsheet budget is the tithe line. It’s a protected cell that runs a simple little formula for calculating the monthly tithe amount based on every red cent we make. Since my first job in high school, I have always tithed over 10% of my gross earnings. Heck, even when I was in elementary school, my tithe made it into the offering plate. It may have been a whopping quarter that month, but it always happened. It’s a good habit to teach your kids early on, so that’s what I learned.
I grew up hearing about the importance of giving, and missions conferences were always a big deal at my church growing up. These are positives, not negatives, by the way. I’m not trying to cast evangelism, discipleship, or Christian charity in a bad light. At all. However, as an adult, I’ve come to reject a few assumptions I’d made about giving. First off, faith promise giving toward missions is great for churches who want to budget missionary support….if everyone keeps the promise on the envelope. (Good luck with that. Every pastoral class on budgeting in seminary will warn you that church-going folk are tremendous liars with big hearts.) It is, however, not the only method for providing for missionaries. Secondly, and more controversially, I do not believe that tithing is a requirement for New Testament Christians.
Sorry. It’s just the truth. I’ve visited the topic over and over again, yet I see no biblical command for Christians to tithe. Oh, I see commands that involve generosity, compassion, and giving…..just not a tithe. The Church is simply the wrong type of institution and- for the most part- made up of people who are the wrong nationality to be truly tithing. In short, tithing is for Israel, not the Church. More on that some other time.
These are beliefs that I’ve held to for years, but I always still gave 10% or more per month, sometimes out of generosity, sometimes because of the Spirit’s promptings, and sometimes out of either habit or some form of superstition. What if God pulled back the blessings on my life because I wasn’t giving to Him? Giving is, after all, a duty– a responsibility. A duty to be accepted joyfully, but a duty nonetheless. So over the years, my wife and I have given to individuals, groups, churches, and ministries that we felt led to help in some way. (“What?!? You don’t give just in church?!? That’s where tithe’s belong!!!”) We hold to a few key points:
- Giving should be planned. We should budget how much to give each month, and we should have guidelines governing who qualifies as a recipient of that money.
- Giving should be spontaneous. We determine how much is set aside in the budget, but how it is used is not always planned. Sometimes we wind up giving at unexpected times or in surprising ways.
- Giving should be generous and extravagant when the Spirit so leads. In seasons of life where God has blessed us, we have thoroughly enjoyed surprising someone or some group of people God has laid on our hearts with something a little special.
- Giving should be sacrificial. Sometimes it’s good to “give ’till it hurts.” I don’t believe in going into debt, but choosing to avoid a personal “want” to meet someone’s need- or a special Church need- is healthy. It helps keep things in focus. I’m not always good at this part- we humans are selfish by nature- but saying “no” to ourselves and “yes” to God is always worth it.
To my four points above, I’ve had to add a fifth point:
5. God doesn’t need my money. Ever.
How will evangelism go on? How will a church ministry survive? What about the poor? What about needs locally? What about the world?
Do you really think what your church, your neighbor, your missionary needs is your money? Even in our giving, we humans can be materialistic. My church doesn’t need my money. It needs the Spirit to move. My neighbor doesn’t need my money. She needs Christ. My favorite mission team doesn’t need my money. They need a the Heavenly Father to do what the flesh cannot. God is capable of providing food in the wilderness and water from rocks. He can dress flowers more beautifully than Solomon. Do we really think that our giving is all that important?
Maybe, if instead of focusing on “my” money, “my” church, “my” neighbor, and “my” missionary…..we chose to focus on a God capable of providing for all those areas and more without a second thought, we’d discover that all of those things– money, church, neighbor, and ministry– aren’t really ours after all. That little possessive pronoun can just go away.
Edit: To respond to a few criticisms I’ve received for a moment, yes- I do believe charity is important. I’ve been the recipient of cash, kind words, time, and meals more times than I can count. There are needy people and worthy causes out there, so do be on the lookout. Just don’t talk yourself into believing that you are the only hope a person or cause has. I’m grateful for those who have been so kind to me and my family over the years, but know that the adoration and worship is properly directed at the Father.
So, no, we haven’t met our percentage goals for giving in the last two months. The day will come, Lord willing, when that will happen again. For the moment, we’re learning contentment instead of financial stress, God-reliance instead of self-reliance, and how to humbly accept blessing rather than feel the burden of trying to selfishly be that blessing all the time. It is more blessed to give than to receive- and I don’t mean this post to de-emphasize the importance of generosity- but it is most blessed of all to simply learn to lean on Jesus.