I was discussing with my wife one morning how much to give to a new project at our church. It was a good program, and one we supported; however, we had some known expenses of unknown magnitude coming up. So, there was a tension (not between my wife and I, thankfully) between giving sacrificially while trusting God to make up the difference, and not giving away money that might be needed for something else.
It seems that either extreme has its risk: On the one hand, if we only give to God what we have left over, we never give our faith a chance to flex in that particular matter. Like a muscle that we notice only after we strain it, that particular “faith muscle” (trusting God to make decisions about our money) remains weak and flabby if we don’t exercise it. Generosity is commanded in the New Testament, even if that part of the Bible – compared to the Old Testament laws – has fewer specific percentages or amounts describing how much we should give (see Matthew 5:42).
On the other hand, we may run into problems if we arbitrarily give money away that we can’t spare, based only on emotion or appearance (how it will make us look to others). Sending our money to just any cause, TV commercial, or missionary may leave us with nothing to support our family (or other significant opportunities), if we aren’t lined up with how God wants us to use the resources that He has provided (see 1 Timothy 5:3-4).
I appreciate that God didn’t leave us without guidance, here. Note how each person’s giving is, well, personal:
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV
To me, the core elements in walking this line (between the extremes) seem to be God’s direction, combined with our attitude. God provides us with both written direction through the Bible, and personalized guidance through the Holy Spirit. I suspect that if you talk to enough mature Christians, you’ll find that they often hear God’s voice most clearly (whether an audible voice, a tug on one’s soul, or a series of circumstances that point them in the right direction) when they are reading the Bible regularly. The combination of these two is incredibly powerful, but it does require listening.
Examples of this include:
- Abraham didn’t just pick up and go to another country arbitrarily. He was told by God to do so. See Genesis 12:1-5.
- Peter may have wanted confirmation of Jesus’ identity when he saw Him walking on the water, but Peter didn’t get out of the boat until he was told to do so. See Matthew 14:22-33.
- Queen Esther risked her life, but only after insisting that others to pray for her. See Esther 4:15-17.
However, this is still a pretty big challenge. Most followers of Jesus (including me) probably need to learn to listen to God better, including the subject of how we invest what He has entrusted to us (see Matthew 25:14-30).
Here’s an idea to try, though: If you’re not sure where you might be called to start trusting God with your finances, I encourage you to pray to God – and then listen to His answer – about giving a tithe (ten percent of your income) to God’s work. Many people have taken the examples from the Old Testament as a good place to begin. There are all sorts of viewpoints on this matter, but that variety makes this a great place not only to build your faith, but also to develop your skills in studying what God’s word has to say about the matter, as well as listening to His specific direction for you. Maybe God will ask you to give more than that. Maybe He will ask you to give less. What He asks you to give will probably change over time, as well.
Please note that in this entire article, I have not told you to give to a specific congregation, organization, or cause. While I have suggested the tithe as a starting point in your discussions with God, I’m not telling you exactly what amount of giving is His for you. It is my belief that only God can compel His people to invest His money in a specific way. However, maybe by sharing some messages and examples from the Bible, we can together His specific calling for each of us, and then respond generously and willingly.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.