I had lunch with my cousin Dave today and we got into an interesting conversation about God’s expectations for our giving. Both of us have been blessed in our careers and our ministries and we had a discussion about two different topics. The first is how difficult it is for many people we know who are out of work and suffering problems in their marriages or how the banks are lining up to repossess their homes. I have dedicated a great number of years to helping people find jobs and I am here to tell you that it is a serious problem in our country today. I don’t care what the stats say – I know better.
The employment situation is not getting any better and if you are a 40 (or older) year old male, you have a better chance of starting a business than you do of landing an acceptable job for you and your family. I know it’s an election year and all, but the truth is the truth. Most companies are still struggling and Lord knows that it is not a slam dunk that any company is going to be successful in today’s market.
At the other end of the spectrum, we discussed the people who have been abundantly blessed. What is their responsibility to reach out and help others? It’s easy to make excuses to not give in proportion to what you earn, mainly because we can all come up with other things we are doing or other obligations we have that demand our attention. And while it is easy to give up on giving when things are tough, it’s even tougher to start giving again once you are re-employed. That’s because we feel that we must make up for lost time, or lost wages. We tend to save rather than give and this is contrary to the desire of God.
In fact, God makes it quite clear that much is expected from those who have been given much. Most of us in this country qualify as having been given much. So we have a great responsibility to help others. How much is enough? And who do we give it to? That was the context of my conversation with Dave today.
Undeniably, each of us has particular thoughts about giving. According the the Apostle Paul, we are to give abundantly, but no percentage is given. The Old Testament clearly lets us know that the tithe is the beginning of giving. And how much is the tithe? 10%… and remember, that’s the starting place. There is some evidence that there were several tithes in the Old Testament that meant real giving was closer to 30%! And just to put it in perspective, the average family gives a little under 2% according to the latest polls. And we are the wealthiest country in the world.
Unfortunately, that’s how it goes. People in poorer countries actually give a higher percentage of their income to charities than we do in this country. Many times, those of us who live here use excuses not to give. Things like our commitment to help our kids through school, caring for someone else, saving for college, etc. They are all valid excuses, except for one thing. God wants us to give – sacrificially. And you don’t hear too much on the subject because it is a tough conversation to have. Just ask David – and we hold each other accountable so we have some pretty serious talks when we have lunch together. Since he works in financial stewardship ministry work, he has even more stories than I do.
Now the tough question of what is acceptable giving in the eyes of God. For starters, most people would say that it is quite clear that the church is the vehicle for promoting the kingdom of God on this earth. Especially among conservative churches and their members, para-church organizations are not a reflection of correct giving. Para-church charities are those groups that have a mission to fulfill but one that is technically not part of a church effort. Things like the YMCA, or anything that may be construed as being good for society but without the direct connection to a church.
On the other hand, I have an inclination to believe that seminaries and other institutions that prepare pastors for a life of service are fair game for giving. Admittedly, I have to pray about that one, but I think that God wants us to advance His kingdom so more people can learn about the saving grace of a life with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Let’s face it – 10% can be a big chunk and most of us might find it difficult to meet that standard. But one thing is for sure – God tells us in Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament that we are to test Him. In fact, it’s the only place in the entire Bible where God challenges us to test Him. In Malachi 3:10, we hear directly from God, “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 you will not have room enough for it.”
In other words, God will bless our effort – but be careful that you don’t give to get the blessing. We are to give to honor God and build His kingdom – the blessings come later, and there is no promise that they are financial blessings, by the way.
My encouragement this evening is to assure you that God wants you to put Him to the test. He wants you to give as much as you possibly can. And where you put that money is between you and your Father. My prayer is that God will shower you with blessings – so many that you won’t have room for them all! So as I process today’s conversations, I hope that you will have a great day in the Lord, and in the meantime, grace and peace…