Giving and My Wrestling Match with God

“The world, and sometimes even the church, are impressed by people with wealth, fame, beauty, popularity and high levels of education and accomplishment. Yet, these are not the criteria God uses when He chooses people to be used by Him. He isn’t looking for flashy, charismatic, powerfully gifted, highly accomplished people to do His mighty works. Instead He is looking for simple, ordinary women and men with a passionate longing to seek His face and do whatever He asks of them.” – Ruth Johnson author of “We Have a Dream.”

I’m ordinary.  I had an ordinary childhood, was an ordinary student, athlete, daughter, wife and mother.

In the years that my family has been coming to Crossroads, I’ve heard many testimonies of what God has done in people’s lives and wondered what I was doing here.  I don’t have a testimony.  I grew up in a close-knit family with two parents who celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary this year and three sisters who I look forward to growing old with; sisters that I can disagree with without fear that grudges will be held.  God brought a man into my life 26 years ago (23 years married this year) who would give the shirt off his back to help a complete stranger, the father of our four healthy children, two who make me feel young and two who make me feel old.

At our previous church, they would have what were called “Temple Talks” once a year.  It was a time when people in the congregation would talk about how God has blessed them because they tithed.  I dreaded listening to these stories and pretty much tuned them out.  If I could have made myself disappear I would have, but they never told us ahead of time they would be having these talks, plus my father-in-law was the pastor and it was pretty much noticed if we weren’t there.  I dreaded it because they were talking about money and I thought the only reason they were speaking, was to ask for money.  I felt like they were bragging about their good fortune, when in actuality what God was doing through them, was planting a seed.  At the time, however, I felt convicted.  And no one likes to be convicted, including me, the stubborn 2nd born child of German and Polish heritage.  The folks who spoke at these “Temple Talks” were mostly “mature” of age and I thought, “Well of course these people can tithe, they’re older and have money.  I’m a young person with a young family and I have no money,” or so I thought.  So I sat through these talks year after year until I heard from a couple our own age, someone Tim had grown up with in the church.  Surely they weren’t tithers?  How could they be, they were our age.  That was when I first understood about “taking a leap of faith”.   This leap for me came soon after because around this same time the church was having a roof replacement campaign and you could “buy” a nail or shingle.  Tim said he wanted us to “buy a shingle” and a shingle was $500!  He wasn’t serious was he?  He was and I wrote the check a little begrudgingly, as I didn’t fully “get it” at this point; but the seed had been planted.

Never would I have imagined in a million years that I would share my thoughts about this topic.  God has a sense of humor that way.  Pastor Pat told me that when things come too easy for people, there tends to be less conviction and passion with the teaching.  Some of us just don’t accept and we wrestle with God.  This struggle makes our passion and conviction stronger.  I never thought of myself as wrestling with God, but I certainly know I struggled and didn’t just accept.  After all, I am a melancholy-choleric, a behind-the-scenes, just let me do my job and don’t-make-a-fuss kind of person who needs an answer for everything.  And, was about as stubborn and tight-fisted as they come.

One of the many things God blessed me with is a VERY patient husband.  Tim knew from a very young age, growing up in the church, with a father who is a pastor, what it took me decades to figure out; that what I have isn’t mine.   Every year when it came time for the stewardship program and these Temple Talks, we would disagree.  “We need to be doing this Janice,” Tim would say.  “NO,” was my response.  I clearly had submission issues as well.  Tim has always been the primary financial provider in our family even though I did work outside the home at different times.  But I was the one who wrote out the bills so of course I would know what we could afford to give to the church.  He wanted to give by faith.  I wanted to give by what I thought we could afford.  We gave, but we were not tithers because of me.  I was not a cheerful giver … I was a reluctant giver.

When we moved out to Lancaster in 1998, I went from working full-time to part-time and after our third child was born two years after living in our new house, we decided it was time for me to stay home.  How on earth were we going to do that with only one income?  You know what, we did.  It can only be by God’s grace that we were able to do that.  There is no other explanation.  I would sit there dumbfounded, trying to figure it out.  If we’re able to do this with one income, what on earth happened to the money I earned all those years?  It was, very literally, non-existent.  We never needed it to begin with because God had provided.

Something I learned from this journey so far is that holding money tight did me more harm than good.  Trying to keep up with those fictional “Joneses” was really exhausting and we weren’t getting ahead.  I was forced to look in the mirror and conclude that money was my stronghold and I was robbing God.

A short while after we were at Crossroads, Tim said he wanted to give a Christmas offering to the church.  I of course thought he was crazy when he told me the amount because I could have thought of at least ten things we could have used that money for, so you can imagine how confused I was with the feelings of peace I had after writing that check.  God however, did not think Tim was crazy, and a short while after we gave that check to the church, Tim received a bonus from his employer.  I mention this only because when we looked at what the tithe would have been on that bonus had we waited until he actually received it, it ended up being exactly what we wrote the check to the church for weeks earlier…10%.  God again had not only set me in my place, but He provided.  Sometimes I feel like the Israelites in the dessert.  All of these signs and wonders occurred, yet they (and I) still doubt.

One of the things that Crossroads does that I had not experienced previously, is allowing us  the opportunity to hear from pastors from across the world like Pastor Paul, Pastor Santhosh and Bishop Frances.  These pastors not only put things into perspective for me, but they make the needs outside of my own life more real.  This is when I became passionate about using our financial blessings not only inside, but outside the four walls of the church.

Back in 2010, our daughter Emily went on the Youth Mission Trip to Mexico.  She called us from one of the airports on the way home to check in with us and I happened to ask, jokingly, if she still had her flute with her.   She got really quiet and trying not to cry, said she lost it on the bus to Puerto Vallarta.  This was an expensive instrument, the first instrument any of our kids owned, but Tim did not want her memories of this trip to be marred by this loss.  She still had one more year of high school band, so when she got home, we called the music store thinking we would rent for the last year and just happened to ask if they had any flutes for sale.  When the woman on the other end of the phone said that one was coming in on consignment, the exact same make and model of the flute Emily had lost, I about dropped the phone.  This flute that was coming in was actually only 1 year old and played by a young lady from Iroquois.  Tim had the opportunity to speak to the mother of this young lady and told her the story of what happened to Emily’s instrument.  They sold us that flute for half of what the instrument costs new.  These kinds of things continue to happen for us, and me, needing to have an explanation for everything, have none.  When these things happen, I still catch myself saying, “Isn’t that weird how that worked out?”  My good friend Karen is right there to correct me and remind that it’s not weird, “It’s God!”  There are so many stories, like these, of provision in my life simply because I believe we are obedient.

My friend Sandy told me how giving was never something she questioned throughout her life.  Her future husband John, asked her during their courtship, if she could really afford to tithe as a single mom.  She said to him matter-of-factly, “I can’t afford not to.”  She may not think so, but her life is a true inspiration for me of grace and strength.  And I’ve never been a single mom, but just hearing that was confirmation for me of how being obedient at any point in life pours out the blessings spoken of in Malachi 3:10.

One misconception I think we have is that when we tithe, we will in-turn, be blessed financially.  The blessings our family receives are far beyond anything monetary.  Our eldest son is studying Applied Physics in college.  I honestly didn’t even know what that was before he enrolled.  I’m told it’s an engineering based physics.  He has shown interest in government, something he felt called to become involved with in college.   Our eldest daughter, who although I sometimes believe is the cause for my graying hair (refer back to lost flute) is probably the most well-rounded child I know.  She just finished up her freshman year of college and the adjustment that I worried about, went extremely well for her.   She is her father’s daughter with the same fun-loving and outgoing personality I wish I had growing up.  God is providing opportunities for our children that we would have never been able to provide on our own.  There is a 7-year gap between Emily and Sarah.  When I told Tim that we were pregnant with Sarah, his first response was to go lie down because he immediately started thinking about how old he would be when this next child would graduate from high school.  Little did we know that another one would be coming 2 years later, rounding out our table of six.  When I think about that 7-year gap and how tired I am some days, I now know that was a blessing that God gave to us.   Sarah and Abby came into our family during God’s perfect timing and purpose.  Sarah was just the happiest baby …an absolute joy.  I think God knew that we would need that at that point in our lives.  She is almost a teenager now and her smile still lights up a room, but sometimes it comes with “moods”!  Abby, our baby, is a true last born … she is a free-spirit, the life of the party.  Sometimes too much “life” but thankfully she takes everything in stride.  They are growing into everything but ordinary.

We are not financially well-off by any means; not even close.  We still have our “discussions” about money, but the disagreements are far and few between these days because I learned something, I learned that the world doesn’t revolve around me.  The world is a lot bigger than me and my problems.  God doesn’t need our money.  We give because He gave.  I learned that if my hand is tight-fisted, nothing goes out and nothing gets in.  It was a big leap of faith for me when I finally discovered that my cup truly does “runneth over”.

MALACHI  3:10

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.

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