Nightlight Series: God's faithfulness
My parents raised me in a tithing household. I remember my Dad putting checks into the golden tithe plates at Trinity Church in Montreal, Quebec. As a young girl, I thought that these gold plates were brought to the God’s kitchen table in heaven once service ended- He would need his dishes for lunch, after all. I didn’t understand tithing, but I witnessed it from an early age.
As a teenager, I began working as a babysitter for families in our church. My parents encouraged me to dedicate some of this money to the Lord by tithing to our local church. My older sister also modeled giving behavior by suggesting that we sponsor a child through Compassion International (a FANTASTIC idea for teen siblings to do). My sister and I continued sponsoring this child into our “poor, starving” college years (which was a great reminder that we were neither poor nor starving). By the time I was an adult, the culture of tithing was so second nature to me, that I barely registered when someone gave me advice on tithing that would change my life.
It was the winter of 2012 and my fiance, Josh and I were planning a wedding, honeymoon, and massive move from New York to Florida. So many well-wishers were advising us that I barely acknowledged when my future mother-in-law gave this profound guidance: “Just make sure you tithe. I promise you will ALWAYS be provided for.”
To the unbeliever, this may sound insane. It sounds trite, like a fortune cookie, or a tea-towel proverb. To me, a Christian since childhood, it seemed like a no-brainer. Of COURSE, I would tithe. It was a part of my faith, my family, my whole culture. Why wouldn’t I tithe?
Little did I know….
Fast forward to July 2012: Josh and I had entrusted ALL our worldly possessions to a moving company so we could travel to Florida unencumbered and search for our first apartment. We found our apartment and sent the address to the moving company. On move-in day, we were shocked to see a massive refrigeration truck pull up in front of our new home. Inside the truck, squished between three or four other family’s belongings, were some of the things we had packed.
Apparently, our moving company had sold our contract repeatedly to various moving companies for more profit. In the process, they had broken, stolen, or misplaced most of our furniture, many keepsakes, and several of our wedding gifts. These damages, coupled with the fact that my job didn’t start until the school year did (two months later), meant that Josh and I had to do without several household items.
Then Josh got pneumonia. Our health insurance was in limbo since neither of our jobs had started yet. We didn’t have any income (again-jobs) and we didn’t have a PCP yet. We were rapidly burning through our savings and had no idea how we would afford an inevitable and costly trip to the emergency room. Soon after our first trip to the ER, we returned home to discover that we weren’t alone in our new home. We had several hundred unwelcome guests. Little, cockroach-sized guests. We were stuck in a bug-infested dwelling without even a couch to sit on or the means to call a competent exterminator. Then, to top everything else off, I soon received notice that my first payment toward my graduate school loans was due. Awesome.
At least we had the church
Throughout these trials, Josh and I were searching for our new church. As we visited church after church, the sermon themes remained the same: tithe. Tithe. TITHE.
I remember feeling annoyed. Why were these churches so fixated on money? Our church “back home” didn’t talk about tithing. We just did it. Or at least I did. Here we were struggling in an unfamiliar place with the first real trials of our adult lives and the churches we visited seemed to only care about what was in our pockets. These churches appeared cold, unwelcoming, and greedy. The last thing I wanted to do was given to them- not that we had anything to offer.
Despite this awful attitude, I couldn’t get my mother-in-law’s words of wisdom out of my head:
“Tithe, and you will always be provided for.”
I knew I needed provision. I needed it in a way I had never needed it before. But how could I give? How much could I give? And who was I going to give it to?
Growing up in the church, I had heard the adage that tithe should be 10% of your income dedicated to your local church (God’s house). In selfishness, I began thinking to myself, “Fine. BUT since we don’t have an income or a church right now, we don’t have to tithe.” My sinful nature kept me from wanting to tithe. My feeble excuses seemed like justifiable rationalizations for not tithing. Yet, try as I might, I just couldn't seem to provide for myself with 100% of "my" money.
I see now, that the Lord was working. He was reminding me to tithe with my mother-in-law's advise. He was pointing me towards Himself with each trial and circumstance. However, while the Lord worked on my heart and continued to remind me to tithe, I started to hear another "voice" countering Him and telling me lies. This voice said: “You’re in debt because of student loans. God doesn’t like debt. You need to get out of debt before you even think about tithing.”
I had never thought this way before. It seemed so spiritual and yet twisted. I knew that tactic. It was familiar to me from Bible stories I had read all my life. There was only one character in the Bible who consistently took God’s Word and distorted it to suit his own needs. The author of lies, the deceiver, the enemy of God: Satan.
Now, I am not a “the devil is in the doily” kind of person. I don’t believe Satan was speaking directly to me. But I do believe in both God and Satan. I know spiritual warfare is real. I also know that the Holy Spirit was saying that I shouldn't give because I was a sinful debtor was a lie and not from the Father.
So, what does one do when the enemy throws his darts of twisted Scripture interpretations at a believer in an effort to get her to sin? The answer is obvious: Do what Jesus did (see Matthew 4).
I went directly to the Bible to see what God had to say about tithing.
what does god say about tithing?
One of the first passages I came to when I looked up “tithing” was the story of the widow’s offering in the temple (Mark 12: 41-44, ESV):
The Widow's Offering
41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.[f] 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
WOW! This story combated many false rationalizations I had about tithing. The widow gave when there was nothing to offer. She gave 100% of what she had. She completely trusted God with not only her finances but her very existence. I had been looking at tithe all wrong. Tithing had nothing to do with money and everything to do with my relationship with God.
I kept reading and discovered more truths from God’s Word:
1) God doesn’t need my money.
He is the God of the universe. He created everything in it and therefore is the wealthiest being in existence. Furthermore, the Bible itself speaks of the riches of God. In Psalm 50:10, God affirms this by stating that he owns “every beast of the forest” and “the cattle on a thousand hills.”
He is not in need of my meager offerings. So why does he ask for it?
The answer is obedience. As I read further God kept bringing me back to the same verse:
“Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the LORD?
To obey is better than sacrifice…” -1 Samuel 15: 22 (NIV)
This verse brought me to my second discovery:
2) God is less concerned with the amount I tithe and more concerned with my obedience to Him.
God wasn’t impressed with the rich people’s lavish offerings at the temple. He wasn’t impressed with Saul’s offering in Samuel 15. He was impressed with the penny that the widow gave. She was obedient. Trusting in God entirely and doing what He asked of her even when it was hard. The hefty gifts of the rich and Saul’s impatient offering were for show, for the praise of man. Additionally, they didn’t give what God asked for; they didn’t obey Him or listen to His voice.
God calls Christians to obedience in tithing. While this may mean that God asks a person to give 10% of his or her income (the historical offering outlined in Deuteronomy), God may call a person to give a different amount. This concept was terrifying to me because I realized that God might call me to offer more than 10%. After all, the widow gave everything she had. How would I live if I lived like that?
I found the answer to this question in my third discovery about tithing:
3) God has promised me provision if I tithe- He says I can test him in this.
My mother-in-law was right (as she often is). The Scriptures show that God promises provision to the one who tithes. In fact, God backs up his promise by stating that this is the one thing that we can test Him on:
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
Malachi 3:10 (NIV)
WOW. Again. WOW! What happens when we bring the whole tithe into the storehouse (aka God’s house)? God promises to throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out blessings!
Ummm…. Yes, please!
This verse blew me away. I had heard it countless times before, but it had never “sunk in” until I was faced with the choice to withhold my tithe. Here it was, in black and white, 9-point font: God’s promise to provide and take care of me if I trusted him and obeyed. Or in other words, “tithe, and you will always be provided for.”
Finally, I understood:
4) God wants me to TRUST him.
My search for God’s Word on tithing put an abrupt stop to the false assumption that I didn’t have anything to give- I did. It didn’t matter that money was tight or that I had debts to pay. God was calling me to tithe. I knew that God wanted me to trust him with 100% of my finances- not merely 10%. I knew that His call to tithe a portion of my income was not because He or some “greedy” church needed it. It was simply an act of faith and obedience. He asked me to do something, and that should be all the reason I needed to do it.
Josh and I prayed. We asked God what he would have us give, and then we gave it.
Our lives changed dramatically.
If you are expecting me to say we won the lottery or become millionaires on the stock market, I’m sorry to disappoint. That is not the point of tithing, and it is a twisting of God’s Word. Tithing doesn’t mean you will get rich; it means God will provide.
And He did. In many unexpected ways.
Josh and I survived the summer of 2012. We gave to our church and never once went without paying a bill, buying groceries, or meeting an unplanned expense. Josh was blessed with a new job (with benefits) and later transferred to an even better job. I worked throughout our marriage offering duel income support. We began rapidly paying off our debt using the snowball method.* Finally, we paid off the last of my student loans, my car payment, and shredded all of our non-essential credit cards. Josh and I were debt free, and we had tithed the whole way through.
Now, six years later, I sit in my second apartment, back in New York. I am surrounded by bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, and miles of packing tape as we prepare to move into our first house. As I look around, I see God’s provision in so many ways. We are comfortable, clothed, and well fed. We have replaced every single belonging that we lost in our first big move. We have a down payment for a house, and we are both happily employed. God is good!
Hindsight is 20/20
I believe God allowed financial, physical, and spiritual struggles early in my adult life to point me towards Him. God doesn’t make “bad things” happen, but He does allow trials in a Christian’s life to develop his or her character and hope. I see this in one of my favorite Bible verses:
“3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:3-5 English Standard Version (ESV)
This word has certainly been true in my life. My reaction to hardship, trials, and financial pressure has been changed and shaped through the lesson of learning to tithe. I no longer try to hold on to my money, but see my tithes and offerings as the non-negotiable expenses in my life (we will eat PB &J and Top Ramen before we will stop tithing). Today, as I prepare to spend more money than I ever have on a new home, I laugh at the enemy’s feeble attempt to keep me from tithing.
I hear the subtle whisper: “wouldn’t this be easier if…”
And the Holy Spirit shuts it down:
“No, it wouldn’t. God will provide.”
These days, when the car needs a repair, when the bills are due, or when the bank calls to tell us about yet another hidden fee in the lengthy process of buying a home, Josh and I can laugh. We don’t worry about the days to come. We know we will be provided for.
*Snowball Method- i.e., pay off your smallest debt first while paying the minimum payment on remaining debts. Once the lowest debt is paid, add the amount you were paying on the low debt to the amount you are spending on the next smallest debt, etc. I highly recommend resources like Dave Ramsey or Hey Howard to anyone interested in getting out of debt.