As a pastor’s wife, I’ve listened to my husband preach about all sorts of topics through the years. Controversial topics. Culturally sensitive topics. Song of Solomon topics. Would you believe out of all the incendiary topics out there, my least favorite subject is money? If I know Clint is going to address tithing or generosity, I feel a swell of anxiety on Sunday morning.
Why? Because I worry about how it will be received, about people’s perception of the church and of him. Because it’s an awkward subject. Because I’m proud, and I don’t want people to think we’re looking for a handout. But most of all, because I’ve had a poor theology of money for a long time. I’ve only recently begun ironing it out piece by piece, examining my attitudes and practices in light of Scripture. The more my theology grows, the more my anxiety shrinks. But it’s a long journey, and I’m a slow learner.
Two truths continually inform my budding theology of stewardship. The first is that God doesn’t need anything from me. I used to assume God would be grateful for whatever I gave Him. After all, that’s how I feel when people give me stuff. When Clint and I were broke in seminary, I’d take a stick of gum with gratitude. (And probably pawn it for quarters to do the laundry.) But God’s not impoverished. We are.
We don’t tithe because God needs us. We tithe because we need God. We need His blessing. We need the joy and peace that comes from obedience to Him. We need to loosen the grip of materialism on our hearts. And we need the soul satisfaction of being part of His story.
There was a time when the Israelites tried to pull one over on God by sacrificing their lame and blind animals. I’ve done the same thing. I’ve stretched my budget to indulge myself, then tossed God the leftovers, assuming (of course) that He would be thankful. But God’s response to the Israelites in Psalm 50:7-14 is sobering. He basically says, “Did you actually think I needed the animals? I own every animal on the planet! In fact, I own everything. If I was hungry, I wouldn’t even tell you because the earth and everything in it is Mine.”
In other words, it was never about the animals. God wasn’t after the Israelites’ sheep; He was after their hearts. It’s the same for us. God doesn’t need our pennies any more than He needed the Israelites’ livestock. It’s not about money; it’s about worship. Or as Pastor Mike likes to say, “Money isn’t about money; it’s about trust.” That’s the second truth that continually informs my theology of stewardship.
Once, when Clint and I were counseling a married couple, the husband turned to me and asked, “How did you stop idolizing money?” We’d been talking about my penchant for financial security, and he could relate. I’ve been a saver all my life. I worked for three years in high school and never bought anything more expensive than a movie ticket. To me, anxiety and money have always gone hand-in-hand.
I paused to consider his question. “By giving,” I said. I didn’t start tithing because I was free from fear; I broke free from fear because I started tithing. Generosity is the only practice that’s proven strong enough to free me from financial idolatry. By investing in God’s Kingdom—even when I didn’t want to—I began to deeply value God’s Kingdom, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).
These days I’m less afraid of financial ruin than I am of wasting my life. There’s a spine-tingling passage in the Bible where God rebukes the Israelites (yet again) for sacrificing lame animals. After refusing to take their sacrifices, He declares, “‘My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place…for I am a great King,’ says the Lord of Armies, ‘and My name will be feared among the nations’” (Malachi 1:11; 14).
Notice the assurance with which God speaks. He will accomplish His purposes. He’s not biting His nails, hoping you and I are generous this month so He can build His Kingdom. His work is as good as done. The only question is, will you and I be part of it?
When you think about it, it’s abundantly generous of God to allow us to be “generous” toward Him. Consider the way a dad gives his daughter $20 so she can buy her mom a birthday present. He allows her to experience the joy of generosity, when in reality, the resources come from him. In this sense, he demonstrates the greater generosity because not only does he provide the gift, he lets his child be part of the story when she brings nothing to the table at all.
This new year I’m excited to be part of the story. I’m humbled that God would let me give something to Him. And I’m expectant for all the ways God will use the big-hearted generosity of Grace Church to make His name great—high and lifted up—from the rising of the sun to its setting.