Every Sunday at offering time it was the same scripture, Malachi 3:10-12, declared from the pulpit, King James Version: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house”. It became one of those things you couldn’t help but memorize because it was recited every Sunday. Some people know the Apostles’ Creed for the same reason. “And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts”. My pastor always misspoke “delightsome”—“for ye shall be a delightforsome land,” he would say.
Who Cut Off the Light?
I grasped religious routine and spiritual devotion early, having grown up in church. I thank God for this because it is a drastically different tale for folk who, perhaps, never attended church until their teens or in adulthood. It builds a spiritual foundation. But it doesn’t mean I never had to grapple with some spiritual truths, and tithing was one of those.
I always gave tithes and offerings and was happy doing so. But after breaking with my childhood church, finishing college, disillusionment with church, and personal hardship, it became a struggle not only to “pay the tithe” but also to understand it, if I ever had. Did tithing apply to Christians? Will God really let the enemy destroy me? What if I honestly need my money? I would mine the scriptures and resources for answers. I made promises time and again that I’d give, but it was always placed on the back burner—and there burned.
All the while, however, I pleaded with God for understanding. I was missing something.
Recently, I sat with my pastor who passingly related something his dad, a pastor for over 60 years, told him. “My dad says that a person who stops paying tithes does so when there’s a spiritual change in their lives.” He didn’t know what he had done for me, which was shine a light to explain so much about the years when I had stopped tithing.
Rebuke the Devourer, You Said?
I returned to my hometown after college and working abroad, a region that has always lagged. With degrees and unique exposure to other paces of life, having employment there always meant underemployment for me; and I was unemployed for long periods, too, simply unable to find work. In my heart I’d scoff, What has tithing proved? Maybe God’s punishing me. My faith had never slackened; I loved God and practiced the spiritual disciplines, but why was he letting me struggle?
Social media made sure I noticed friends steadily progressing while I hardly got by. Then, surprisingly, I landed a wonderful-paying job, the best of my life. I moved away to a larger, progressive city and was able to start positioning myself for prosperity. But the devil got in the mix and the job pulled the rug from under me, ruining me financially and causing me great loss. It was at that time the Lord spoke to me words that have buttressed my walk with him ever since: “I will not let you fall.”
I went from a starting salary many folk never reach all of their lives to settling for a minimum wage grind that I quit in utter frustration a year and a half later. I had just moved in with family, too. I supported myself however I could because there still were few jobs, even in a good market. I acquired my own foodstuffs from a ministry food bank. I thank God when I go to Walmart now. I remember when once I could only sightsee and feel sorrow deep within.
“I Have Learned…”
But I remember experiencing God so near to me during those times.
When needs arose, money would come or opportunities to earn would arise, as if on cue. And slowly I began to see the Lord in a new way: as my sustainer. I may not have always had what I desired to eat or wear or own, but I did have what was necessary. Furthermore, having little did me the extra favor of putting possessions in perspective.
It was then that the tithe leaped to life for me. It wasn’t by a five-point sermon or some academic treatise on tithing; instead, it was the reality of God’s faithfulness to me. I realized that the tithe had little to do with money and everything to do with worship and honor. The tithe was a symbol of my entire life in God’s hands, for I couldn’t take the next breath without him. He was the Giver and Sustainer of all I possessed.
I discerned that all those years I had grown distrustful of God and uncertain about his care for me. I had grumbled and festered inside about my life’s situation and wondered why he did for others what he wouldn’t do for me. I perceived, as my “grand-pastor” had rightly understood, that my lack of tithing was in direct correlation to a spiritual problem.
What Paul said made good sense now:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Ph. 4:11-13).
We too often miss the context of that last line.
He Will Be Faithful
I was freed. My prayers for understanding had been answered through my own hardship.
We get it in our minds that God owes us and might assume that giving our monies obligates him to us. God owes us nothing; we owe him everything. I cannot explain why he allows suffering and great trial to the believer who seemingly and devotedly dots their every “I” and crosses every “T”. But I am convinced that he will keep his promise to honor the one who honors him, however he does it.
Tithing isn’t about rules. It’s about worship.