It’s Sunday, we’re sitting in church, and the offering basket is coming our way. I nudge my husband and pointedly suggest with my eyes: “The offering basket is coming! Get the offering money out of your wallet!” He raises one eyebrow and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “Whoa, now! That was my job this morning?” I give him a blank stare. “REALLY?!?!” my eyes scream at him. “AGAIN?!” Sighing as dramatically as one can manage to sigh in absolute silence, I dig through my purse and rummage up a quarter, three pennies, and a stick of chewing gum. I hope God likes Juicy Fruit.
I’m guessing I’m not the only one who occasionally (ok, frequently) gives to God only as an afterthought. What can I say? I live a busy life! I have three young children. Making it to church on time with all three of them wearing some type of clothing is an accomplishment. Bonus points if I’m able to comb my hair before walking out the door! Remembering to add offering money to my diaper bag is frankly the last thing on my mind Sunday morning. So sometimes I forget! God won’t hold it against me. I’ll remember next week. Not the biggest deal in the world, am I right?
You know what I don’t forget though? The credit card when I’m headed out the door on my way to Starbucks. No way would I forget money when my enjoyment of a Grande Iced Mocha is on the line! When those much needed shoes for my kids go on sale, I’m on it. If I owe a friend twenty bucks, you can bet I’ll have cash in hand the next time I see them. Date night with my husband? THAT’s important. We can’t skimp on that because our very relationship depends on our enjoyment of our alone time together. The car needs a crucial repair again and I’m headed to the mechanic, checkbook in hand. This piece of furniture is an investment, right? The tickets to the baseball game were practically free so may as well indulge in some overpriced hot dogs! Library fines, student loan payments, rent, groceries, gas, zoo pass renewal, a frugal vacation, utilities, clothing, shoes, Internet, Netflix, fast food, paint for the bedroom, farmer’s market, kids' activities, a new rug, savings, thrifting, Dr. bills, vet bills, car insurance, haircut, and suddenly it’s the end of the month and we have no money left over to give to God.
Sometimes we as Christians get caught up in the details when it comes to giving to God. We want to know exactly “how much” is expected of us, so that we can give just enough to feel good about ourselves without giving more than we have to give. What exactly do you want from us, God? Isn't ten percent of our income the magical required amount? Is that before taxes or after taxes? If I give nine percent am I still going to heaven? Is it justifiable to give less if I volunteer at church a lot? Can I just do nice things for people and call it good for now? I kind of have a lot of debt I’m trying to pay off here, God.
I feel like in all this reluctant mental bargaining we do with God when it comes to tithing, we’re kind of missing the point of giving to God entirely. God doesn’t want our begrudging guilt money packaged in an even 10 percent with an extra .5% to spare any more than he wants the change from the bottom of our purses presented as an afterthought. The money itself isn’t important to God.
Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
What God wants is the FIRST and BEST of us.
Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. (proverbs 3:9-10)
He wants us to give to him FIRST. He wants our BEST. Most of us no longer have choice cows or sheep to sacrifice to the Lord as they did in Old Testament times, so it can be tricky to define what our first and best is, exactly. In the modern era, giving God our first and best may mean deciding at the beginning of a pay period what to give to God. God ought to be the most important line item in our budget. Every other item should be weighed in light of that importance. If I sit down with my budget, reflect, and pray over how I’ve been spending my money, it’s usually pretty clear to my conscience which spending habits I have been prioritizing over giving. A month that ends with no money left over for God probably did not need to include quite so many iced mochas.
When attempting to make room for God in your budget, don’t start by listing everything you’d like to spend your money on for the month and giving to God only what is left over at the end of that list. Instead, try listing first what your heart feels called to give to God, and see if you can make sacrifices in other areas of your budget in order to make that happen. Had I prioritized giving to God this month, I might have made a thousand different spending choices in order to make that gift possible. (Fewer mochas, no new rug, a cheaper date night, a stricter grocery budget, no vacation, to name a few). Instead, I intentionally used that money to glorify only myself and my family instead of God.
God doesn’t just want our first fruits. He wants us to give them to him cheerfully.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7).
Believe it or not, as easy as it is to place giving to God on the proverbial back burner, it’s just as easy to employ a reluctant over-diligence. Maybe you’re someone who prefers to pay several months worth of tithing at a time, just so you don’t have to think about doing so for awhile. Or maybe you’ve set your giving to an auto-withdrawal system and it’s so simple that you don’t think a single thought about those gifts until tax time. While this type of auto pilot giving is not a bad thing in and of itself, it can reduce the opportunities we are given to come before God presenting our gifts with joy in our hearts. Scheduling advance payments just so we don’t have to think about them isn’t a fantastic motive for doing so. We should think about the gifts we are giving the Lord and should rejoice often in our God-given ability to give them! If you have an auto-withdrawal system in place, consider setting an alarm on your phone or writing a reminder on your calendar to stop, reflect, and pray to the Lord with joyful gratitude whenever that payment goes through.
This joyful gratitude business--it isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have months (or years!) when our budget is absolutely stretched to its limits, and that’s only including the costs of the most basic of human needs. In difficult financial times, giving to God can feel like an unnecessary chore. How can we possibly make room for giving when we feel He isn’t providing?
Yet God promises He will take care of us. In fact, He challenges us to “test (him) in this.” Give freely, and stand in awe at the capacity of his ability to bless us.
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:8-12)
This week’s challenge: 1. If you haven’t already, sit down and plan your budget with giving to God your FIRST and BEST at the top of your priorities this month. Then stick to that plan. What else can you eliminate or reduce in your budget in order to meet your desired giving goal this month?
2. When you bring a gift to God (or when your auto-payment goes through), take a moment to say a silent prayer of joyful Thanksgiving for the blessings God has given you. Ask God to accept your gift and pray that it will be used to his glory.