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Friday, April 24, 2015

From the Heart Friday: Giving from the Heart

I was asked to share a part of my faith story in regards to giving and what giving has meant in my walk with God. I will share it at church this weekend. It helped me to write it, maybe it will help some if I share it...

I was raised by givers. As a girl, I was surrounded by people who give. They give of their talents, their energy, their time, they give their hospitality and they give their lives. So from a very young age, what I learned about giving, I learned by watching. On the way to church it was common for me to be sitting next to a shut-in widow, or a college student who needed a ride to church. That is just who my parents are and a direct reflection of the God they serve.

So, when asked to tell my giving story that would be where it starts for me. There are giving “no-brainers” for me, and then places where I struggle or have struggled in the past. I grew up in a very legalistic old covenant church. Without going into too much detail, the church I attended believed that the Old Testament Jewish holy days should still be observed along with selected other points of the Law (and that is Law with a capital L!) Tithing was one of those points. So when we talk about finances, it brings up all kinds of thoughts, feelings and emotions. Our family kept the tithing law as it was interpreted by our church. 10% to the church, 10% as a second tithe in a savings account to use during the annual festivals, and every third year, another 10% for widows and orphans, or what we call benevolence. I will tell you, that even as a child in a household like this, I KNEW it wasn’t easy for my parents to give up to 30% of their income.

Growing up and marrying a man who was raised much the same way, it wasn’t easy to start a home just the two of us with that stringent of a tithing regime. The truth is though, as David and I talk about it now, we did that out of obedience. We truly thought that is what God wanted us to do. So, in 1992 we began our story together. There is no doubt in our minds that God honored our giving from day one. I saw His hand in my family growing up as my parents obediently gave and I know He honored our giving from the start too. God could see our heart and although misled in our interpretation, I know He was pleased with the heart of our gifts.

Although we lacked nothing during our first 10 years of marriage, we did make some unwise financial decisions. All the while, still paying our tithes. It was what we knew; it was what we did. Although some of our decisions were not very wise, we were able to see how God carried us along and the blessings that He poured out. This is a faith journey for me, giving as we trust Him with everything else is a part of that growing faith.

We struggled with infertility knowing that it takes money to pursue doctors and help in that area. God opened many doors on our path to parenthood, which is another story all together, but one that is full of God and His miracles. We found ourselves in an uncomfortable position with our landlord because of our faith and needed to move. We trusted as God focused us on the goal of saving a down payment for our first house and in three months we were moved out of our apartment. There are no direct correlations to how much we gave and how much we were blessed dollar by dollar but we know that God promises blessing for obedience.

Moving forward, our giving changed after we came out of the church we were raised in. We learned that God wasn’t commanding us to give a tenth of OUR money. He was commanding us to be good stewards of HIS money. That concept came to us about 2005 or so when we took the Crown Financial Study and saw our money from a whole new perspective. Once we realized the “tithe” wasn’t something God was commanding us, we really didn’t know how to re-evaluate what our giving should be. So, we just did the comfortable thing and kept giving the tenth we had been giving. Somewhere after going through the Crown study and after the first Embracing Faith campaign here at New Covenant, I realized that our tithing 10th had become just like every other bill we were paying. I was convicted that things needed to change in my heart. God didn’t want me to give just to check something off of my list. To be honest, we were deeply in debt after a year of unemployment and again, some hasty and not so wise financial decisions.

We evaluated things and God put it on our hearts to take care of our debt as priority one. We talked and prayed through that for a while because it was against what we had been doing for years. The two of us didn’t agree right away. David and I are both first-born rule followers and are happiest when we can know what’s required of us and just do it. This was a little out of our comfort zone. Ultimately, the decision was made and we stepped out of Embracing Faith giving to focus on paying off our debt. We actually lowered our 10% at that point after fifteen plus years of marriage and we now regularly adjust as we are digging out of that debt and paying medical bills. Giving looks different now with five active kids than it did when it was just the two of us and I know that it will keep changing through the years. Without that “command” mentality hanging over us, it is much easier to think of giving outside the box when we see needs around us.

To me, the most important part of giving starts with my relationship with God. The Holy Spirit has taught me through His word. Instead of my obedience being focused on a number set up as part of the Old Testament Law, my obedience is in the relationship I have with the Lawgiver who guides my giving as I walk with Him and my husband. God blesses and so I ask Him daily for trusting obedience and ultimately He sets the number. He is still leading us and as we grow and continue seeking His priorities for us, we know He is faithful to keep our hearts in the right place as we give back to Him the resources, time and talents He has given us.

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