Disclaimer: I have a LONG way to go before I have a good grasp on tithing and giving. I can't stress that enough.
Not quite two years ago, Matt and I made the decision to get serious about tithing and giving as neither was an area producing much fruit in our lives. I will share with you what God has revealed to us through our searching and journeying and failing and praying. Did I mention we are still learning and growing and failing? Lots of failing. Lots of humbling.
- Let me start with the definition of tithe. Tithe literally means "a tenth part." You can give 2% or 8% but you cannot tithe it, much like you cannot call 5 eggs a dozen (great analogy, Rebecca.)
- Semantics aside, our goal is that all of our tithes and offerings are acts of worship. This is one of the reasons I love writing the check. It helps me to stop and be aware of what I am doing, praying and praising as I write. But don't get too excited, I am guilty of treating this action just as I treat the water bill, without reverence.
- We are called to have a steward mentality and eternal perspective. Being a good steward of God's money (and resources) involves many things (saving, investing, giving, tithing, just to name a few). Ultimately we will give an account of our lives, according to the fruit of our deeds (Jeremiah 17:10). I love this quote by Matthew Henry: "It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day." Being a good steward of God's resources while maintaining an eternal perspective is where we try to position ourselves, and try as I might, I fail miserably at this all the time.
- I want to share a quote from Randy Alcorn's book Money, Possessions and Eternity. He does a good job of helping me understand how the tithe applies to my life today in the era of grace. "[Tithing] is a meaningful expression of dependence on God and gratitude to him. Tithing requires calculation. When we deal specifically with the amounts God has provided, we assess God's goodness to us . . . Tithing was, and can still be, a built-in reminder at every juncture of life of our unlimited debt to God." Dontcha just love that?
- The tithe (10%) will always remain non-negotiable for our family (Please don't read this as legalism. I pray you understand that this is what God has revealed to OUR family. I'm not implying this is what God commands for you. That's between you and Jesus.) In the Old Testament, the tithe was the starting point for giving (I love the passage in Exodus 36 when the Israelites were actually restrained from giving materials to build the tabernacle because they had given more materials than needed!) The model of paying back to God His firstfruits was the tithe, and as I've studied the OT, I found that it was more than paying 10% off the top. There were actually multiple tithes required of the Jews - their tithes and offerings well exceeded 10% (Deuteronomy 14). In the New Testament, every example of giving goes beyond the tithe. The way I see it, there is no evidence for less than 10% of giving anywhere in the Bible. For us, the tithe is a base figure. It is merely a starting point for our giving.
- Can tithing be legalistic? Of course. As can any other spiritual discipline. The dangers don't only include legalism, but also complacency. When we view tithing (or church attendance or volunteering) as a box to be checked, we've missed the point completely. But when we approach tithing (and giving, among other things) with prayer and a worship-filled heart, we put ourselves in a space to receive the eternal and internal blessings that God promises to those who honor Him (The story of the rich young man in Matthew 19 is one of my favorites. He's promised eternal reward for giving to the poor, and it is in this passage when Jesus tells His disciples that they will receive a return of hundredfold for their sacrifices.)
- I have to wonder what it communicates to God when we don't tithe, when we don't give him the firstfruits of His provisions? I think that is when we begin to say, "God, you can't handle all my needs, not to mention my debts and loans and the demands of this crappy economy. You can't handle it, but I can." What if instead we said to God, "I don't know how this is going to all work out, but I trust that you will provide. Therefore I give you the firsts of this paycheck, before I pay a single bill or make a single purchase." This is also a good space to pray that God shows you what is (and what is not) a need, not to mention showing you ways that you can save money when you didn't think there would be enough - this is an area where God has humbled me big time. I sometimes feel like Veruca Salt, spatting, "I want an Oompa Loompa! I want an Oompa Loompa now!" I so deserve her fate, a bad egg who is dropped down the garbage chute. But God's mercy is so good. In time, I find myself getting used to life without the coveted Oompa Loompa, ultimately experiencing contentment with less.
- To the point of being able to give like no one else, my suggestion: start with the tithe. Start with the building blocks that are revealed in God's Word. And then don't stop. Continue to ask God to stretch your dollar, your heart, and your pocketbook. Not for you, but for the blessing of giving.
- I so appreciate the comment from my dearest friend Mary Kate. She said, "I cling too tightly to my 10% tithe, because giving it all can seem terrifying." I can SO relate. The tithe isn't my ticket to spend the other 90% on whatever I damn well please. It's not for me to clear my conscience, so to speak. All - all 100% - belongs to God. I don't get to do whatever I choose with any of it. The 10%, the 90%, the 100% - it's all His. And it's His to do with as He pleases.
He who has God and everything has no more than he who has God alone. - C.S. Lewis