It’s not really about the amount we give; instead, generosity is often measured by the cost to the giver to give it [hint: as in “sacrifice”]. In other words, it is some part of the story about the woman who gave only two coins, her last two coins, and she was cited for being far more generous than the rich men who gave out of their abundance. [Luke 21:1-4]
In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. . . . They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. [2 Corinthians 8:2-3, 5b, NIV]
As a believer for many years, I have been around the bend several times about giving and tithing. As a baby Christian, although I loved Jesus dearly, I was church-skeptical. Why should I give them my money? How will they use it? How can I trust them to use it wisely? (So self-righteous, as though I was using my funds well. Hardly.)
Then I went through a period of legalism where I tried to follow the letter of the scriptures, from purity to tithing; I was determined to please God, to perform superbly. And perhaps, if I was very good and very faithful and very exacting, I could become a super Christian and perform miracles for God. Forgetting of course, that we all fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].
Shortly after that, I began to follow various teachers and did my best to align my understanding of the intentions of God with their explanations. I became a kind of disciple, from teachers who garnered thousands in arenas to popular television evangelists. It was during this time that I met my husband, who I put through the paces of meeting my mother and getting her approval, etc. (it was a Gothard thing, for the folks who remember him). And yet, we were engaged in 3 days and married in 4 months. I think it was all that “purity” talk that put us on a fast track.
As a couple, we started out in a more traditional setting in Mike’s home church. The people were kind enough, but there was little fire. I had been introduced to contemporary praise and worship by then and a traditional service felt wanting. The whole giving thing went to a back burner as newlyweds and he had never practiced tithing.
Then, we found another church and our faith exploded through the body of believers, the anointed pastor, and the call to service. Here we gave willingly and for the first time, even sacrificially, of our money and our time. We trusted God and we trusted them. We also discovered several Cursillo-type para-church organizations that moved yet closer and closer to Christ, and another outlet for giving. Such joy.
When we came to Maryland, we continued in our love and faith, but we were being challenged to give where we knew no one. Again, the distrust from old came rearing its head.
Around this time, I was challenged by the remarkable story of Jackie Pullinger who went alone, in her zeal, to Hong Kong in 1966 (and still remains) where she made a powerful impact. But what stayed with me the most from one of her sermons was her story of giving without reserve to the poor. A visiting friend chastised her saying that the man to whom she gave money would probably spend it unwisely, and she said that her Christ instructed her to give; what happened to funds afterwards was God’s problem.
And with that, we began to tithe faithfully, ten percent, as written.
But, then, the challenges to our commitment began: the costly adoptions, a new house, travel to family far away, and so on. And although we gave consistently, I would not say it was generous of us at all. Not really. We were doing good things, serving, and going on mission trips, of course. But we simply got out of the habit. Like anything else, the longer you do (or stop doing) something, the more natural & comfortable it feels.
Finally, Mike and I found ourselves at our current church, Restore Church, right in our small Maryland town. The love for the people and the pastor was an updated experience of our Atlanta days. But we were also being challenged to consider giving generously, not comfortably. A few months before Mike’s death, we committed to tithing again. And God blessed our decision immediately, with a light shining out of the financial morass we had made.
Now, with Mike gone, our family financial situation is tenuous at best, but I am in this one mind: God is the author of my journey, which now is missing my life’s mate, but God is God and so, this is the new way. I have an inner conviction that I cannot shake that I must trust God more than ever, tithe and even give above that tithe, because I am no longer my own, but God’s and God is my essential one priority.