If you have been following my blogs, you know that the primary theme is to encourage the brethren. This blog is no different. However, I am going to do something that I have not done yet. I am admitting to a sin which I have been struggling with for a long time: “uncheerful” giving.
Paul encourages us (Christians) to give cheerfully:
2 Corinthians 9:7
“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
Now, I have given cheerfully, but I admit, I don’t usually give cheerfully. I admit that most of the time when I give, I am actually searching for what I would call the “tipping point of giving”. It’s the absolute limit of what I could give, without feeling resentful of giving. I’ve even done worse. There was even a time when I tithed, and inside, I was so proud of it. At that time, when my earnings were more abundant, I could throw around those Malachi verses, which reference tithing, with the best of them; thinking that I was providing an encouragement to my fellow brethren; guaranteeing that if they tithed, they would then be rewarded financially by God:
“Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you? ’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”
But, God had a long term lesson in mind for me and my sin.
I lost my job.
You’d think that a job loss would awaken one to one’s sin in this area. Nope. I continued to legalistically and even pridefully tithe, even while receiving unemployment checks, thinking that my wonderful action would prompt God to bless me financially. I was so confident that He would, I bought an above ground swimming pool on credit. I mean, I was tithing, right? God will reward my wonderful giving. Malachi says such, no? Basically, my prideful confidence led to a poor and cavalier stewardship of my finances, and those financial blessings I anticipated, never came.
Seven years later I am now paycheck to paycheck, no longer tithing, barely able to give anything. But, God provided me with a new career, and most recently (and more importantly) a new understanding regarding giving. I am starting to learn how deep and profound it really is. I could even make the case that giving is the greatest blessing, second only to repentance and trust in a Christ.
There is something incredibly fulfilling about giving. We all know the expression: “It is better to give than to receive.” Deep down, we all know that this is true. There are those awesome stories about anonymous people who go around handing out $20 bills or $100 bills, and even people who randomly pick out people on line during the Christmas shopping season, and then pay for their purchases. Imagine being able to do that? What a cool thing to be able to do, no? How often do we fantasize about winning the lottery and then giving some away? Or those touching tv programs where a needy family has their home rebuilt, or those undercover shows where people are blessed with financial gifts at the end of the program, awesome right? How often do we say to ourselves something like, “When I get all of my debt paid off, I’ll give like that”? We all do it. But, I am starting to think that there are other lessons which need to be learned, before one is granted the privilege of being truly blessed with the opportunity of cheerful giving.
“Live like no one else, so that you can live like no one else and give like no one else” – Dave Ramsey
My wife is a huge Dave Ramsey fan. Her dream is to be able to one day scream: “WE ARE DEBT FREE!” I have to admit, that would be pretty special. We are not debt free. As I mentioned above, we live “paycheck to paycheck”. I basically make just enough to get by. (Praise God, for us to be able to get by!) But, if our debt was gone, we would have plenty left over to give. We only “get by” because I have been a poor steward with what God provided. Dave Ramsey teaches that being able to give abundantly is the ultimate goal of our finances, and I agree.
But, there is one more sin I must confess. I was actually getting angry with God for not providing me the means to give. I wrongly assumed that since I was a Christian, I am then owed the ability to give. I was envious of those who have the means to give cheerfully, like the examples I mentioned earlier. I would watch those stories, and even though I was genuinely happy for the recipients, I thought it was unfair that I couldn’t do the same for people. Once God opened my eyes to the fact that He is not obligated to provide me the opportunity to give, my approach to personal finance has changed. I recognized that the privilege of giving cheerfully is reserved for those who are proper stewards of their finances. In other words, cheerful giving is the result of proper financial stewardship, it’s not a blessing which is separate from it. This was tough lesson for me to learn.
Look, I could just start giving abundantly and then gain the rush of giving, but it wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t be real because it would come at the expense of those I owe, and that’s not Biblical. If I possessed proper financial stewardship, I would have the opportunity to give cheerfully. Until I am financially whole, my giving will be less than what it could be, and that’s my fault, not God’s.
Will my wife be able to one day scream, “WE ARE DEBT FREE!”? Sure, if God wills. But in the mean time, I now have a better understanding as to what cheerful giving really means. And I am grateful to God for this lesson.
Does God bless those who tithe? I believe He sometimes does, and praise God for such testimonies. But, it seems as though there is a more profound blessing in view, in the Malachi passages, than just finances. They point to something more important: Christ.
Malachi 3:1 – 4:6
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers ‘soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return? ’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you? ’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you? ’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape. ’”
Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and rules that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel.
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Praise God, because my sins of poor financial stewardship were taken care of at the cross. May the brethren be blessed by the remembrance of You, Lord Jesus, and what You accomplished for us (Christians) 2,000 years ago in Palestine. May we never forget that the true blessing we have received is repentance and trust in Christ Jesus. Such a blessing is what You, Lord, poured out from the “windows of heaven”. Thank You, Father, for giving so cheerfully… to us!
Godspeed, to the brethren!
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