Friday, October 13, 2017

Is Tithing a Big Deal?

There's been a lot of talk about giving in my circles lately. Tithing - giving ten percent - in particular. 

I wasn't always a tither. 

I didn't grow up seeing my family tithe. In retrospect, I realize it's because most American synagogues simply mail you a bill for your membership dues (sometimes reflecting a tithe of what you've reported as your income, but usually a set membership fee). So if you're a member, you write a check and mail it in. Done and done. And your kids are generally oblivious to your giving. 

Churches aren't like that. We pass a plate - or a popcorn bucket, if you go to my worship service. So no one knows if you're being generous or stingy. Or disobedient. 
I'm pretty sure that if we're not supposed to be tax-evaders,
we're not supposed to be tithe-evaders either. 

But God knows. And so do you. At least I know I did, as I regularly passed the plate right on by.

I didn't have much money right out of college. I didn't have a job and was working as a temp.  I watched my pennies. And I didn't give many of them to the Lord. 

See, I just didn't have much yet. I'd give more when I had more. At least, that's what I told myself. Besides, I was, after all, giving my time as a volunteer in student ministry. Yes, I was tithing my time

Eventually, I got a job. A great one, actually. One that paid me an annual bonus that almost doubled my salary. I finally had plenty to tithe. But I didn't. 

The truth is, finances stressed me out. Physically. I got a knot in my stomach whenever I received  bills, paid bills or thought about bills. So the thought of tithing made the knot tighter. Especially when I had some credit card debt. 

But I had a solution. Each year when my bonus came through, I paid off any debt, bought something I'd delayed all year, and then gave the rest to church. Unfortunately, that leftover amount never came even remotely close to a tithe. And the knot didn't go away. 

One year, I forgot to skip the put-your-annual-pledge-on-the-altar Sunday. So I filled out the card with what I thought was a reasonable amount to give. It was a small number, but it was more than I'd been putting in the plate before. And, more importantly, it established in me a pattern of giving. 

The knot loosened just a bit. I don't remember how or when, but eventually I decided to give ten percent. I realized that it wasn't a church "rule;" it was what God asked of me. And hadn't He given so much to me? For me?  

I tentatively began to tithe - fully expecting the knot in my gut to grow. But instead, it disappeared. Completely. 

I didn't win the sweepstakes or get unexpected checks in the mail like some people say happened to them. But I got peace. And I got joy. I loved giving.  I vividly remember one week when the usher missed my row. I was so distraught I started to cry. So I stood up and chased him up the aisle just so I could drop my envelope in the velvet-lined tray. 

My heart - and my gut - had been transformed. 

Fortunately, I married a man who has led our marriage and our family with the same desire. Even when we were a family of four living on one grad student salary along with significant medical bills, he made sure we were giving ten percent. Off our gross, not net - which astounded my non-believer parents (giving can be a witness!).

What's my point? Beside the fact that tithing is a command, giving is a joy

I also think it's a litmus test for American Christians of whether we truly trust God. Whether He is first in our materialistic world and materialistic lives. In fact, tithing revealed to me that I was much more materialistic than I thought I was. And it still does. 

I've found that tithing is a measure  of whether trusting God is something I say, or something I really do.