LOVING JESUS AND PEOPLE MORE THAN THINGS
(Or why I stopped tithing)
A little over a year ago, a conversation with some friends about loving people and Jesus more than things set some things in motion in my life that I know are unpopular within the church and arguably arguable. But here’s what I know: I would rather walk by faith than sight.
This post is going to be controversial and so up front you should know that this is what I’ve decided in my heart–and it’s not a judgment against anyone who’s decided differently in their heart. The beauty of faith is that we’ve each been given a measure and I’m about to tell you about my measure. So I hope that this encourages you (much in the same way that conversation in the summer of 2010 encouraged me) and I hope it challenges you. That’s all.
So, I don’t tithe. Ever. At all.
I used to be the girl who gave a tenth off the gross, always rounding up to the nearest dollar, religiously. I’d get my giving statement at the end of the year, though, and see how pitiful my giving was and determine to give more, and fail every year. I always fell back on that firm 10%. Why? Well, first, I thought that obedience was better than sacrifice and that God would see my obedience and reward that. And I also hoped that He might see how small my income was and know that that pitiful number was still the best I could do. I was barely paying my bills, couldn’t He just be happy with my obedience, see how it was sacrifice too?
In that provoking conversation, though, a wise-guy (literally and figuratively) pointed out that the only two times the New Testament uses the word tithe it’s preceded by a “Woe to you…” or as it pertained to the rich, young ruler who was using his acts as proof of his goodness. In fact, my friend went on to say, the Lord seems more concerned about our hearts in the New Testament than even our obedience. In other words, if we’re obeying but our heart isn’t in the right place, we’re in danger of losing our first love.
This resonated with me. Especially because I wasn’t even sure I’d had a first love, let alone lost it, at that point in my life. And you know the story, I decided in my heart to attach worth to nothing I owned, get rid of almost everything, quit my job, move to Texas on a whim and a prayer. But what you don’t know is that I stopped tithing.
I just started giving.
Last week I was suddenly gripped by a panic, I know I’ve given a lot this year, but what if I haven’t reached the magic ten? What if God is disappointed in how much I’ve given or how much I haven’t given?
And immediately I was reminded a few things that have been my barometer for giving this year.
GIVING IS A HEART MATTER
“And each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly, or under compulsion.” II Corinthians 9:7a
There are always opportunities to give. Needs are great and asking is hard, so when I’m made aware of a need, I always ask: God, speak to my heart and let me know what you want me to give. He’s a good accountant and he usually gives me a nice, round number. Sometimes I balk at the enormity of it: You really mean that much, God? Then I remember this:
1. He owns it all anyway and can take it all away any day (and He has before, so I don’t mess around with that).
2. Have I thought about what He gave for me? Sometimes all it takes is a simple reminder of my salvation and I want to upset the piggy bank, empty out my savings account, and give the whole thing to some need. His love for me, His sacrifice for me, and His gift to me is worth measures more than any amount of money. But I have to decide in my heart that I trust Him and then follow through on what might feel like a risk.
Obedience is important, but for me, the condition of my heart before God comes first.
I ONLY GIVE CHEERFULLY
“…For God loves a cheerful giver.” II Corinthians 9.7b
I always ask myself if I am giving cheerfully. If I’m tight-fisted about what I’m about to give, that’s my first sign to stop, check my heart before the Lord, and then find out why that selfishness exists. Usually there’s no good reason for it and I’m ready to give cheerfully within a matter of seconds, but sometimes there’s a check in there that is worth exploring and exposing for the selfishness or wisdom it is.
The other thing this helps me do is not give robotically. It used to be that I’d write out that tithe check so consistently that my emotions weren’t tied to it at all. It was a religious experience, but never a spiritual one.
Now I understand that there are emotions tied to our resources and that’s not wrong. In fact, we’re warned in the Bible that a love of money is a root of all kinds of evil–so I know that wrong emotions toward my finances can lead me down paths I don’t want to go. However, there are also right emotions toward our finances and that’s where the cheer comes in. I want to give cheerfully. But I want to feel something about my giving—that’s not wrong, in fact, I think those emotions are there to keep me from doing something religiously or robotically.
MY GIVING OUGHT TO BE SECRET
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.” Matthew 6.3
I used to think that this meant to keep your giving secret as much as possible from other people. Whether for you that meant not flaunting the 5k check you wrote for a family in need or folding that dollar bill so tiny lest anyone should see the meagerness of your giving, I don’t know. For me it means this: my right hand shouldn’t know what my left hand is doing, I don’t personally care who else knows or doesn’t know. I just don’t want to keep an account personally.
This comes through in a multitude of things for me (time, resources, emotions, etc.), but the most practical one is my giving. I don’t keep an account of what I’ve given. I have no idea how much I’ve given (or not given) this year and I don’t plan on knowing. I can make as many excuses as I want (tax purposes or meeting some imaginary quota, etc.), but what it comes down to is this: if I’m keeping account of my financial giving, I’m probably keeping account of other giving I do, and I don’t want to attach worth to my finances, my time, my emotions, or my resources.
The principle reason for this is that I don’t know the real worth of anything I do or give.
In kingdom economics, the widow’s two pennies were worth more than the riches others were giving in the temple, and I don’t want to be fooled into thinking that more expenditure from me means more to Christ. He chooses what is worthless and what is priceless, the only thing I can do is give everything I have. I want to physically acknowledge in everything that it is all His. If I’m keeping account, I’m making an idol, no matter how small.
EXPECT NOTHING IN RETURN
“And if you lend to those whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? …Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High.” Luke 6.34-35
This has been the biggest life-changer for me. I used to give, hoping desperately that God would see my obedience and nod in my general direction, approve me for something. Hoping that He would give me a little extra financial cushion. More and more though I see that what He has lavished on me in the gospel is absolutely more than I could ever deserve or pay forwith my meager 10%.
I have everything I could ever need in the pure status of His righteousness covering me and so it is no longer even part of my giving equation. I expect nothing—and yet He still continues to give me more than I could have asked for–and it is not necessarily financial blessing.
I don’t say that as a reason for giving (don’t give expecting nothing so that you’ll get something, because even in that, you’re expecting something), I say it because giving completely open-handedly means risk for me. It means that there is a chance that I will not have what I think I need to live on this month. It means there is a chance that what I sow will take a long, long, long time to reap. But it also means that I will not be left standing here openhanded, after the money is given away, waiting for my hand to be filled. It means my hands will be about my Father’s business. And there is no better thing for my hands to be busied with than the Father’s business.
I want to say again that these are just the things that the Lord has convicted me personally about and I’ve never been more grateful for a life-changing way of living. Please don’t assume that I am rolling in the dough right now, I work for a non-profit and live in a small house with a simple lifestyle, and sometimes I don’t have enough money to fix my car or buy what I think I need. Just because I’ve been measured this dose of faith doesn’t mean that I have also been measured a plethora of earthly goods or much in the way of earthly finances.
But here is what I do know: He’s clothed the lilies of the field and He cares for me. He always cares for me.
He always comes through for me.
He always gives me what I need, and sometimes what I need is to need for a little bit longer. But always what I need is to trust Him with every penny He given me to steward.