I am feeling challenged, I am writing a letter about giving as a part of discipleship, I have also been asked to preach on it, so I am feeling challenged. I am challenged because this is an area where I have always struggled, it is not that I don’t give because I do, but I struggle with all of the rules and promises that often surround the topics of tithing and giving.
I do not believe in or preach a health and prosperity gospel, I certainly don’t think that the purpose of giving is to secure a blesing for ourselves, as if God/ the church is some kind of divine slot machine. I grow tired of the way that the promise
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”,
Can be and is misrepresented! Our discipleship should lead us to become more like Jesus, not into richess and comfort for ourselves, and if it does then the call is not to hoard it but to share it!
I have to admit that I am not particularly disciplined in my giving, I have some gifts that go out as Standing Orders they are to support ministires that are important to me and the automatic payment from my account means that I don’t forget, but it also insulates me from the act of giving and I can and do forget to increase the gifts when I am able!
Which brings me on to tithing, that 10% thing that we really don’t want to hear about, and I wonder how I am to preach and teach on tithing to those in my congregations who face things like benefit sanctions. I brought a meeting to silence the other week when somebody suggested that everyone should tithe without question and with joy, by stating that those who are sanctioned might in that case be forgiven for taking money from the offering plate rather than putting it in! It was a tongue in cheek comment, but semi-serious too, when you are a church who not only serves the poor, but a church where rich and poor rub shoulders on a daily basis then teaching on giving can become a loaded subject.
Let’s face it money is one of those things that we don’t like to talk about, our bank accounts are personal and there is no way we want our financial linen aired in public. Then of course some people are really good at money management and others are not, which leads us straight into an area of guilt and shame, we should have this sewn up, but we don’t, we ought to be able to manage but we can’t, and I place myself stumbling along firmly in the latter category, I try and I fail, so I haul myself up and I try again. I like many others am a work in progress.
So back to tithing; there have been times in life when I have tried to do this and do it well, but I must admit that there have been times when my priorities and motives for doing it have been totally out of balance. I have given to recieve, and that is all wrong, instead I am now coming to the firm conclusion that giving/ tithing needs to be for us an act of worship.
Let me explain, I believe that worship is our response the the gospel of love revealed to us so wonderfully in the life of Christ, and that our whole lives can be and should be in the process of becoming an act of worship. What I do, how I live, what I spend my time, money, on, what I think and how I respond, all of these are worship. Joyful and free giving should be a response to a love that overwhelms me heart and soul, a response that comes from a changed mind because discipleship is a process, a process by which the God who works in me is making me more Christlike as I yield my life to the power of the Spirit.
My problem of course as always is me! I have fears, and perhaps my biggest fear is the fear of lack, what if I tithe and my car breaks down and I am unable to fix it. Now I have already stated that I don’t believe in slot machine economics as far as tithing is concerned so this fear is real: but then I know for myself that for me proper budgeting would mean that the likelyhood is that I am able to do both, but I also believe that perhaps there are times when the tithe migt be realistically and sensibly used to fix the broken car when it is a tool for the work I am called to, but again balance is called for, if I have a broken car and a concert ticket then we have another picture entirely. Discipleship calls us to sacrifice, another emotive and loaded word that we don’t like very much, and yet sacrifice is of course an act of worship! So I find myself stopping and asking how the love of Christ compels me to act.
How does the love of Christ compel me to act? It calls me to look at the world from Christs point of view, and it calls me to do the same with myself, so I am not going to beat people up with laws and rules, but rather call them, and myself to consider the one who gave all, and in that light to consider their walk of discipleship which includes the act of giving/ tithing.
As for those who have like me at times looked at their bank accounts and come to the conclusion that “I wouldn’t start from here” the truth is that “here” is where we are, and change becomes possible one step at a time as we dare to walk and work with the one who loves us more than we have ever dared to dream! We may not get it all right, some will and some won’t be able to begin to or continue to tithe, others might consider/ reconsider their giving. More than anything I hope to inspire people to act with love and joy, and to dare to allow that love and joy to overcome and overwhelm their fears, perhaps that way we might be amazed at the ability and generosity that God releases from within us!
Lastly I want to say that our giving should not be, and is not to secure the future of a particular church that has hit hard times, it should be out of love and a desire to see the community ( I don’t like the word kingdom) of God grow and thrive bringing the God colours and God flavours out in a world that needs them so badly. When our giving is to a particular church then that church takes on the responsibility for it and considers its dicipleship in the light of love…
Christs love compels me, Christs love compels us….