In 2016, my debit card was stolen. If this has happened to you, join me in a moment of silence for all the time you lost sorting that business out. As if feeling violated isn’t enough, you also have to endure the headache that is updating your brand-new, shiny card number at the countless online banking places you were using your old one.
This same year, there was a reoccurring charge that I forgot to update. For, like, four months. Okay, I’m just going to say it: it was my automatic withdrawal for my tithe. I’ve gotta be honest, that was a little hard for me to admit out loud! When I realized how long I had gone without noticing my oversight, I was upset with myself and more than a little embarrassed. How could I have been so stupid to forget that? And, more importantly, how had I gone so long without even realizing I hadn’t been giving?
I wanted to give, didn’t I? I had been giving so long, without thought behind my automatic payment, that I realized in that moment that, while I was faithfully giving to the Lord, I certainly wasn’t aware of the sacrifice I was making. So much so, that I was able to go four whole months without even realizing I wasn’t making it.
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is an obscure one found at the end of 2 Samuel, chapter 24. King David is preparing to make an offering to the Lord on another’s man threshing floor. When David tries to buy the land to make the offering, the man, Araunah, says to the king:
…“Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”…
— 2 Samuel 24:22–23
This man knows about a sacrifice! Not only does he try to give away the land, he also attempts to provide David with the animals and even the wood! Then there is David, who made a lot of mistakes in his lifetime but, in this moment, he responded with a simple, but profoundly wise, phrase:
…“I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”…
— 2 Samuel 24:24
That’s the thing about a sacrifice: it is costly. It requires effort, planning and, sometimes, it requires upkeep. When I realized that my sacrifice was not a sacrifice, I spent some time praying about my tithe. I had questions I needed to settle between the Lord and me. I left that prayer time with a challenge from the Lord to increase the percentage of my tithe. I had been giving the same percentage for my entire adult life, but it was no longer a sacrifice. I remember wincing a little when I updated my card number and my new monthly debit amount. For the first time in years I felt the sacrifice I was making to the Lord.
But man, what a simple way to give back to a God who gave us everything, who did not weigh out the value of his gift. Can you imagine if Jesus had prayed to God and said, “Are you sure this is worth it? It is going to cost me a lot. Will I ever see any return for this?” Or where would we be now if God just forgot about giving to us for around four months? I mean, he is busy and has a lot to keep up with. Who could blame him for letting us fall off his radar?
It’s so ridiculous sounding because, of course, God will not forget to give to us. And obviously Jesus did not weigh the cost of the cross. He made the ultimate sacrifice, both because it is his nature and his desire to give all of himself for us.
Discussing giving to God is a risky move around the holidays. The children in my life have already made their wish lists and let me tell you, they were not too shy to ask for basically everything they have ever even wanted a tiny little bit. But man, what a great opportunity to examine our hearts! We could be like Araunah and make a sacrifice without even thinking, or we could be like David and acknowledge that we are making a sacrifice, despite the cost. And both of these options are made available to us, because we serve a God who counted no cost as he entered the world as a helpless baby, who would one day carry his cross to Calvary, no questions asked, no hesitations given, and with no time lost, in order to give us everything he had.
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
— Mark 14:3–9
Sacrifice, when compared to the love that we have, doesn’t feel like sacrifice at all. Five years ago, my wife and I went through the adoption process to get a little girl from Ethiopia. As part of the process, we had to do a home study with a social worker, we had to fill out piles and piles of paperwork, we had to get background checks, and we had to write painfully big checks. At the end of a two-and-a-half-year period, we brought home a beautiful 6-month-old baby girl.
The funny thing about it is that, five years later, when we are asked about our adoption, we never talk about all we had to sacrifice. When asked about the adoption, never in five years, have either my wife or I talked about how much we sacrificed to get our daughter. Instead, we talk about how great our daughter has been. We talk about how much joy she has brought to our family. We talk about how we can’t even imagine life without her. The reality is whatever sacrifices we made to get her were eclipsed by the joy she has brought us.
I suspect the same thing is true in our relationship with God. While we are called to give back to God sacrificially, when compared to what we get from God, our sacrifices pale in comparison. When you really “get” the grace of God and how it’s applied to your life, whatever you give to God cannot be considered sacrifice.
Jim Elliot, an evangelical missionary, once proclaimed, “He is no fool who gives up what he can not keep to gain what he can not lose.” When you “sacrifice” for God, what you gain is far greater.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
— Matthew 6:21
Jesus is right in the middle of what is known as The Sermon on the Mount when he speaks these words about treasure. The surrounding verses are speaking about storing up treasures in heaven, and how it is impossible for someone to serve two masters. He goes on to say in verse 24 “…You cannot serve God and money.” Jesus knew that money was and always would be an issue to believers, something that could keep us from truly enjoying what it is that he has to offer for us.
“And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of Heaven?” — Luke 16:11
In this teaching, Jesus again goes to say in verse 13 “…You cannot serve God and money”. This recurring theme is not by accident. Jesus has called us to be good stewards of money, money that he has provided us with, money that we are called to be trustworthy with, money that God wants to bless us with. What we so often find ourselves doing is serving money more than we serve God.
As we give back to God what was never truly ours in the first place, we realize what a true blessing that it is to give and give freely. It can be a daunting task to look at how much money 10 percent of what we make can be, but the true blessing to others is when we are stretched to give more than we could imagine would ever be possible. The blessing comes through the act of blessing others with giving.
Jesus talked about money more than he talked about heaven and hell combined. Serving him and money both equally will never be possible, but life with him makes it possible to be true servants of the kingdom of God with all things, money included. Jesus knew that the easy part was finding salvation in him, that no works could make that possible, only a wonderful gift that God has given us through faith in him.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
— Ephesians 2:8–9
While we are all sinners in need of a savior, believing and trusting that Jesus died on the cross to cover your sins allows you to enjoy all the wonderful gifts he wants to entrust you with. The trust in giving back to God what is already his becomes a true blessing when we realize that none of this is because of our own doing. Trust in him and store up your treasures in heaven.
The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
— 2 Corinthians 9:6–8
One important reason that we ask for God to grow our capacity is that, through our giving, God brings about many good deeds for his glory. Paul says at the end of verse 8 that when you sow bountifully and cheerfully, you will have an abundance for what? For every good work. We are given an abundance to facilitate our good deeds. This should be the desire for our excess. Our good deeds shine a light that points people to the glory of God. If we lay all of our treasures here on earth, then people will have no reason to think our Father in heaven has any value. We don’t want to live a life that looks like we love what everyone else loves.
[Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
— Titus 2:14
We ask God for a greater capacity so that we can give it away and show where our true treasure lies. This brings glory to God and lays the way to extend his kingdom.
Jesus Christ himself laid the groundwork for why and how we should give:
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
— 2 Corinthians 8:9
This means that we should give in line with the amount that we love. Charles Spurgeon described this verse by saying that we know how much our Lord Jesus Christ loved by knowing how much he gave. He gave himself to us because he loved us with all of his force and nature. May we give as we love, and measure our love by our gift.
Have you ever actually read the laws surrounding tithes? They are found in Deuteronomy 14:22–29. For the most part, they are exactly what you would expect: bring a tenth of all you produce to the place God has set aside (i.e., your church). That’s what you expect, right? Everyone knows this.
But then, the Scripture goes rogue:
But if that place is too distant, and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice.
— Deuteronomy 14:24–26
That’s right, the Scripture says that if you can not get your tithe to the place he has designated, you should use the money to buy food and drinks and celebrate with your friends and family!
I think that, for most of us, we believe that giving is a discipline designed to teach us to sacrifice and to be spiritual. But it’s really not. Giving is about celebrating the goodness of God, taking time to recognize the good he has done and rejoicing with your community in his presence. Seriously, who doesn’t want more of that in their lives?
As I have spent the past few weeks meditating on this idea of more, I have recognized that I hold on too tightly to what I have.
It’s easy to lie to myself and say that I have things because I work hard for them, and that my giving is an example of a generous nature God that has produced in me. When I do that, I make tithing about me and not about God. Lord, help me repent of that!
Yes, I work hard, but without the Lord’s blessing and favor, it comes up fruitless. If I want to give more to God, I should not pray for a generous nature. I should pray for a nature of gratitude, joy and celebration.
And what is the result of all this rejoicing? The end of verse 29 tells us:
…so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
— Deuteronomy 14:29