Last Sunday Greg Walker, a faithful church member of many years and Vice-Chair of the Marble Board, told of a time early in his life when he made a financial commitment to the church. Subsequently, he found himself temporarily without work. He had committed to tithe (biblically, that is to give 10% of one’s income to God’s work). So, Greg said, “It was not too difficult back then, since 10% of nothing is nothing.” That’s a great line! Greater still, though, was his ongoing commitment as times changed and his work and income increased.
Across the years I have had so many people tell me that tithing is beyond their capacity financially. They (like we all) have bills and obligations. Discretionary giving for them translates to “what is left when everything else is paid.” I get that. 10% to them may have seemed like too high a mountain to scale. And yet, all those persons felt and feel a desire to contribute to God’s work.
Usually in those conversations I pass along some advice that I heard from Dr. Charlie White, my pastor when I was in high school. I probably didn’t pay enough attention to sermons back then, and even less so when the topic was money. Tithing had little meaning for me as a non-wage-earner, since 10% of nothing is nothing. But, for whatever reason, I remember Dr. White’s advice. He said that whether or not a person feels able to donate a tithe to the church, everyone can easily become “a percentage giver.” “Start with 2%,” he counseled. “Giving 2% of your income will hardly be noticeable. Then, once you see how easily that can be managed, the next year pledge 3%. Move in the direction of tithing.” That was great advice, and so I pass it along to you.
I think that discretionary giving should be more than just parceling out a bit of what is left when the bills are paid. “Discretionary giving” should equal “Disciplined giving.” Pick a percentage to contribute to your church, and stick with it. Make it part of your spiritual discipline and your personal budgetary discipline every pay check. If 10% seems out of reach, pick a figure you can maintain (2,3, maybe 5%). Do that for a year until you sense how easy it is, then adjust. The point is, we can all make a difference in the life of the world by making a contribution to the work of the church. And don’t forget the old adage: “You can’t out-give God.” We do not give in order to get back. That would be an attempt to purchase blessings. We give out of a sense of thanksgiving and love for God. However, I can assure you that when we give we do get things back. Most of all, we get a sense of participating in something larger than ourselves, something which makes life better and brighter on this planet. We get a sense of investing in a future that could be awfully bleak without us. We get a sense, again as Greg said last Sunday, of “partnering with God.” And it’s hard to imagine anything more meaningful than that.