This article is by Fred at One Project Closer. Fred's blog is home improvement focused, but he also enjoys personal finance from a Christian perspective.
I grew up with the benefit of Christian parents who made giving to God’s work a top priority. My mom regularly reminded my siblings and I that all the money on earth was God’s anyway, and that we are called to give him His tithes and our offerings as a way for us to participate in His ministry. To do otherwise—particularly with respect to tithing—would be to steal from Him.
Throughout high school and college I had a series of internships that paid between $8-15/hour. It was good money in my world. Still supported by my parents, the money gave me the ability to buy A/V equipment and video games, and take relatively extravagant trips with friends.
While I occasionally threw some money into the offering plate at church, I did it more out of compulsion and guilt than any kind of joy. My average contributions were probably 2-3% of my paychecks. As a result, I didn’t feel like I was meaningfully participating in God’s work. Instead, I felt like I was appeasing a God who might get angry with me for ‘stealing’ from him.
Perhaps He’d show mercy to me for my minimal effort?
In the most extreme example of my sin, I remember making a deal with God. I promised Him that when I came to church on Sunday, He could have whatever remained in my wallet after Friday and Saturday night. That promise ultimately resulted in heavy spending on Saturdays and extra care when I got ready for church on Sunday morning. I left any big bills on the dresser before heading out.
Pretty pathetic, eh?
Looking To Scripture For Guidance
As Paul says in II Corinthians 9:6-7:
Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
I was sowing sparingly… and reaping sparingly. I had little joy from the work that was accomplished with the funds I was giving. Why? I wasn’t giving what I was called to give.
I was giving out of compulsion. I wasn’t necessarily cheerful about it, and I wasn’t vested in God’s work.
As the end of college approached, I accepted a job offer with a large contracting company as a software engineer. God blessed me with a salary beyond my expectations, and I knew it was time to make a change.
The words Paul writes, “each must do as already determined” really strike me. The verse implies that we should pre-determine our giving. I think of it as giving according to a plan. All of my prior, rather sparse giving decisions had been spur of the moment, under compulsion. They were not in the least bit coordinated, planned or really determined at all.
I decided it was critical to make a change and to put together a plan. Here’s what I did and I think it can work for others in my situation:
- I set up budgeting software. As paychecks came in, I consistently paid God first (by reserving tithe funds in the software, even before I wrote the check to my church).
- I added all of my credit cards and bank accounts to the software so I could see a complete picture of my non-invested financial position. I downloaded credit card information about every 3-5 days. Sometimes I logged receipts even before I could sync up the credit cards online.
- I started to live my financial life by the balance reported in the software, rather than the balance reported in my checking account. This was perhaps the biggest change… because there was often a 10-12 day delay between when I got paid and when checks cleared the bank. Also, it helped me to avoid overspending on credit cards, since I was constantly aware of how much I had swiped.
These three changes had a profound effect on my life. Not only did I get my financial ship in order, I was able to approach giving systematically.
The result of that systematic approach was a guilt-free giving experience. When the pastor gave a ‘money sermon’ on Sunday, I knew that I was giving what God had called me to give cheerfully. It was a number I had “already determined.”
Turbo Charging Our Giving
A few years later—about two years after I got married, my wife and I decided to change our giving plan again.
We had been setting God’s tithe aside out of each paycheck, but still had been giving offerings sparingly. Sometimes we’d carve out $100 for a missionary or to support a noble cause, but we weren’t regularly giving anything beyond our tithe.
So the next time I got a raise at work, we decided that the year’s raise would go entirely to a new offering/giving budget. We would set the money aside at every paycheck, but we’d give the money out only when needs arose in the church or community.
It’s been 5 years since we started this practice, and the results have been truly awesome. Each year we increase our tithe and offering budgets and are able to give more and more to God’s work! We take incredible joy in being able to say “yes” to so many requests because we’re setting the money aside early.
To keep us from being tempted to keep the money for ourselves, we make sure to give everything from our offering budget by the end of each calendar year. This has the unintentional side-effect of helping non-profit organizations get that extra boost they all want at the end of the year.
By giving our offerings systematically, we’ve had even more joy! Now, when missionaries or organizations contact us, the questions are three: Do we believe it what they’re doing? Do we have the money in our offering budget? Does God want us to support this cause?
Notably absent from this list are questions like: Can we afford it? Would we rather spend the money on ourselves?
Not needing to ask those questions makes our giving far more joyful and rewarding. I believe it’s the essence of what Paul had in mind in those verses from II Corinthians.