How I Learned About Thanks … giving

Nov 11, 2004 |Heather Koerner

Giving thanks with my mouth was easy. Giving thanks with my checkbook wasn’t.

Wanna see a room full of Christians squirm?

It's easy. Throw out one simple word.

Alcohol? Lottery? Homosexuality?

No.

Those might elicit some pretty strong reactions, but they're not what I'm thinking of.

My simple word is "tithe."

Try it sometime at a gathering. It can get amusing.

You'll have your vigilant head nodders — They're tithers by Sam! Ten percent or else!

Then you'll have your arm crossers — They don't tithe and back off!

Then you'll have the lookers, looking uncomfortable and anywhere but at the person who just said that five-letter word.

The division that one little word will cause is amazing; and it's all over money.

For most of my life, I vacillated between a looker and an arm crosser.

In the beginning, tithing wasn't something I worried a whole lot about. After all, for the first 16 years of my life, I simply put a couple of bucks into the plate — sometimes provided by my parents, sometimes my own — and was done with it. Tithing wasn't something that was preached or talked about much.

And money wasn't a huge issue either.

I'm sure I did my fair share of coveting other girls' designer purses. But I had parents who supported me and a part-time job to cover my Sonic slushy craving.

But when college hit, money became an issue. Suddenly, room, board and school were expenses — not rights — and they were my responsibility.

The penny pinching began.

Dining out became free chips and queso at the local Mexican restaurant along with a dollar for the Dr. Pepper. (They don't serve free queso and chips anymore. Hmmm...)

From bumming rides to stuffing washers with more than the recommended load, wherever I could save money, I did.

Of course, I didn't give up the things that really mattered to me — late night pizza, sorority dues or football tickets. But I did give up those couple of bucks in the plate.

I was thankful to God for all that He had provided. But that's where it stopped. He provided for me; I didn't provide for anyone but myself.

And I didn't feel all that bad about it. After all, I was a college student — and a poor one at that. God didn't really expect me to give. Or, at least, that's what I told myself.

Yes, I was working. But that money was for my education. God wanted me to graduate, didn't He? And surely He wouldn't mind a few late night pizzas.

Giving, I decided, was for people who had money. Who had full-time jobs. Who weren't in this crazy "in between" kind of world.

I knew the story of the widow — the one Jesus praised for giving so much of what little she had. But I tried to brush it out of my mind.

Okay, so she was poor. I thought. But ... well, it just doesn't apply to me. God knows I want to give, it's just that I can't right now. But when I get a real job, boy watch out!

Looking back, it makes me laugh a little. I couldn't tithe on the paltry amount I had. What made me think that would change once I had more? And, it turns out, it didn't.

After getting our degrees and our jobs, my husband and I figured something out.

Tithing means 10 percent — we knew that much from the few money sermons we'd heard. But, you know what? Ten percent of two pretty decent jobs is a heckuva lot of money!

We knew we should give to God. But 10 percent was an awful lot, and the "wannas" were getting in the way: We wanna table instead of eating on our wedding gift TV trays. We were tired of the Laundromat — we wanna washer and dryer! We wanna get out of our apartment into a house.

Now, don't get me wrong. We did give. But it always seemed to hover around 4 or 5 percent.

After all, I thought. That whole "tithing" thing is totally Old Testament. Isn't that Leviticus or something? So not applicable! Jesus just said to give to God what is God's. He didn't stipulate a particular sum!

And so we got our table, and our washer and dryer and even our house.

But each month, as we wrote our check, the Holy Spirit started tugging. Gently at first, then a little harder.

So my husband and I looked deeper. And we finally realized something.

It wasn't about tithing being Old Testament or not. It was about our hearts.

When it came down to it, we didn't want to tithe — in college or now — because we wanted to spend the money ourselves.

Ouch. That hurt.

God had blessed us richly, and we were holding back.

We wanted God to lead us in our family, our careers and our lives; but wanted to keep our bank accounts to ourselves. Like kids on Christmas morning, we were happy for what we got — but ready to move on to the next present.

It was time to grow up.

Thankfulness, we realized, doesn't stop at receiving. When we're thankful — truly thankful — we want to give. The secret for us to turn from reticent givers to "cheerful givers" was to realize with our whole hearts what we had been given. A few dollars, or even a lot of dollars, seemed so insignificantly small in view of eternal life.

And, suddenly, tithing didn't seem so legalistic. In fact, Leviticus calls the tithe "holy unto the Lord." Not respectable. Not reasonable. But holy.

So we took a deep breath and committed ourselves.

And then a funny thing happened. God spoke to us.

Only days after the tithing decision, my husband's boss asked my husband to join him in the conference room.

The boss went straight to the wipe board and wrote across it in large, black, bold figures — 10%!

Now, seeing as we had just spent several weeks discussing the whole 10 percent figure, this came as a shock to my husband, and to me when he related the story later.

"So what do you think?" the boss asked.

Well, I'm thinking that God is saying He's glad I finally got my act together.

But the boss wasn't talking tithing. He was talking a raise. He told my husband that though it wasn't evaluation time and it wasn't normal, he was giving my husband a ten percent raise.

Now, I must throw in a disclaimer. I am not saying that if you start to tithe, you'll get a raise. Maybe you will, maybe you won't.

But, that day, God made one thing crystal clear to us.

He was running our finances. He determined what jobs and incomes we had. He was in charge.

Not our bosses. Not our bank. Not fate. But Him.

Whether we have a little or a lot, we realized that it's all His. Our house, our table, our Kenmores. We're the stewards. He's the owner.

So there's no way I'm gonna begrudge Him 10 percent. Because that 90 percent that's left over? It's His anyway.

Now that's not to say that giving doesn't hurt every now and then. Bank balances rise and fall. But we give anyway. And God takes care of it. Partly by providing, and partly by keeping us and our "wannas" in check.

So I didn't tithe. Not in college and not when I first started to work — although, looking back I know I should have.

But, now we do. And we're ready to give more when needed. Without fail, God brings someone to our minds, or an organization or an event — and we're thankful. Thankful that He uses us, thankful that we can, and, yes, finally thankful with our checkbook.

Copyright 2004 Heather Koerner. All rights reserved.

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