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Reflections: Giving

Giving: An early test
By Doug Koopman

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me now 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 enough room to store it.” – Mal. 3:10 NIV

Gayle and I were married in the summer of 1980, a year after college and just before moving to Washington, D.C., for work and graduate school. Raised in Reformed Christian homes that practiced tithing a tenth of gross income, we also committed to the practice. With one entry-level job between the two of us, that was not much per month—perhaps $80. But tithe we did, an amount roughly equal to our monthly grocery bill.

After only a few months of marriage, we had already reached a financial wall; by one Sunday in mid-autumn we did not have the $20 necessary to buy groceries for the coming week. Malachi writes that the tithe is important to provide food for God’s house, but this was a time when maybe there would not be food in our house. Perhaps this tithing thing wasn’t meant for newlyweds all on their own. But before walking to church that late October Sunday, we prayed for help—Gayle, I’m sure, with a faith greater than mine. We then started the walk to church, down D.C.’s Massachusetts Avenue. Not one hundred yards into our walk, Gayle spied a green piece of paper on the sidewalk—a crumpled twenty-dollar bill. There it was, our grocery money for the week.

Such an obvious answer to prayer—or maybe it was just a strange coincidence—has never happened again in 30 years. But that early test taught us a permanent lesson. One of our major faith commitments needs to be tithing one-tenth of our gross income. It is often hard, and I admit to sometimes keeping a mental list of material things I’ve given up. But in staying true to this early lesson, our family has received large blessings: a stable family, usually meaningful work, frequently wonderful friends and mostly healthy faith communities. I believe these come from claiming the essential promise of Malachi 3: that acknowledging God’s power over material wealth produces dividends throughout all one’s life, dividends sometimes far from the material world. And, too, we’ve never again lacked money for groceries.

Questions for reflection:

  • How often do you take your personal financial situation to God? Have you ever taken that concern to God and had it not be answered? What should your response be in this situation?
  • Is a strict tithing regimen too rigid; are there circumstances in which the rule should be set aside? What might they be?
  • Who were your role models for financial giving? What were their habits, and what did you learn from them?

—Doug Koopman, Professor of Political Science, Calvin College

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