Some time ago a sermon on stewardship brought to mind several stories from the past, reminders of how much I can be tempted to protect myself and my belongings. That instinct to insulate myself from scarcity or problems rises over and over, sometimes in small ways, and sometimes in huge challenges, but always it is a temptation to lean upon my own understanding and my own provision rather than remembering that everything I have is God’s.
The same God who delights in our trust and in our faith also delights in lavishing His love on us, providing for our needs.
As imitators of Him, are we lavishing love on others or distracted by self-absorption?
A small, but very humbling example, is when I cautioned another child NOT to share her sandwich with someone. I wasn’t a Christian then, so I might excuse myself, until I recognized that same instinct had risen again, again with a child. I advised a kind-hearted child not to give away a toy; he might regret it. Ouch. Now a Christian, I still seemed to have that protectionist instinct. Instead of modelling generosity and self-sacrifice, reflecting God’s generosity, I modelled looking after myself first. I missed the opportunity to praise the child for selflessness and to teach about God’s love of generosity.
The morning of the sermon I referenced I was reminded that tithing (giving 10% of ones income to the church for kingdom advancement) is asked of me (see Malachi 3:10) but even more importantly, God looks at my heart.
Am I trusting Him, the great Provider, aware that He loves everyone around me, that when I give to His children, I bless Him?
Rather than looking to the least I am to give, why not want to give the most I can?
Where is my treasure, where is my heart, where is my trust? Loving Him and loving others: what a beautiful calling.
How often it is drowned out by concerns about what I want to gain or to protect. I may gain some money in the bank or a new piece of furniture, but that pales compared to the joy of knowing I have given to someone in need, and in so doing, have given to Jesus, the one who has given me everything.
A more challenging situation was when my husband was first divorced. After legal fees and other losses, he was left with nothing except his pay check, and much of that was no longer his. With 2 teens to support, his expenses were more than his income and the drastic change to the family lifestyle was difficult for all, depending on charity for a roof over their heads and learning how cook for and clothe people with next to nothing….his conviction was that in this new life, God would always come first, come what may, including tithing. When the judge was determining alimony and child support payments (though my husband came to have the children full time), the judge increased the payments because he said if he could afford to tithe, he could afford to give more in support. Rather than getting bitter, my husband continued to resolve to tithe and trust God. The house he lived in had holes in the roof, peeling floors, an unsafe fireplace, a windy basement which was also prone to flooding, and threadbare sheets which didn’t cover the mattress, but there was joy, laughter, praise, and love in the household.
When he felt God ask him to buy some groceries and take them to a man he had just met, one of his teens was upset. How could they give to others when they had so little and were making so many sacrifices themselves? The teen joined him to deliver the groceries and was amazed and humbled to hear that the overwhelmed and thankful recipient had been praying and secretly eating only cat food. Resentment quickly turned to joy in sacrificial giving.
We have so much.
We put our eyes on how things in our lives could be nicer, so we are often blinded to how very much we have to give. God promises us an abundant life, pressed down and overflowing. Sometimes the joy comes later or in a different shape than expected, but He who promises is faithful. He knows where the greatest joy comes from: knowing the love of the Father and living a life of love. By no means do I think I have arrived. I still face daily temptations to hang on to what I have and to crave for more. I am tempted to protect my money, my time, my energy, or my sleep, or to spend myself on making my own life better rather than spending myself on behalf of others. The battle against the flesh will continue, but oh how I want to grow in God.
So what happened to my husband? In time our faithful God restored what was stolen. He never stopped tithing no matter how tough it got. Although tempted, he never went back to court to appeal the unfair decision, but was led through Psalm 37 to let God work it out. God is an expert in making a way where there seems to be no way. When a job was lost, it was replaced with a better job. God’s ways and timing aren’t always ours, but if we can trust through the desert times, we will find Him faithful. Our house is safe, there are no holes in the roof or basement, and there is food left over with which to bless others; best of all, the home is still a place of praise, joy, love and gratitude.
Did he ever imagine God would go so far in restoring his finances? No, but it didn’t matter; he trusted God to supply all his needs and he wanted, above all, to be found obedient.
Ouch …. I struggle with the small stuff and the big stuff.
Lord, help me live a life of sacrificial love. I can do that only with your Holy Spirit reigning in me. Make me like you, Lord.
Verses for Reflection
Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matthew 25:35-40 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you visited me. Then the righteous will answer him, Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:23 “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”
Job 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”
Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Proverbs 3:9-10 “Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.”