The Lord All-Powerful says, “Try this test. Bring one-tenth of your things to me. Put them in the treasury. Bring food to my house. Test me! If you do these things, I will surely bless you. Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky. You will have more than enough of everything. Mal 3:10 (ERV)
The Bible has many examples of people testing God. Most of them occur when Israel was wandering in the desert for 40 years after Moses led them out of Egypt. The New Testament frequently refers to those Old Testament instances as warnings of what not to do in a relationship with God.
Yet here, near the very end of the Old Testament, God is low key inviting us to test Him.
In 2003, right after I became a Christian, my pastor preached a sermon on the verse above, emphasizing that in this instance alone, God wants us to test Him. I had never thought of tithing as “testing God” before. In my mind, tithing was like a church tax, or else something that only extra-credit Christians did.
Besides, I had little money at the time. I was living on my own and trying to pay down debts from my recently failed first marriage. What did I have to offer God that could win His favor?
Did your red-light buzzer go off just then? It should have. For one thing, God’s favor is just a part of who He is. There isn’t anything we can do to earn it.
And for another . . . does God really need MY money? He’s God. I don’t think He’s short of funds.
What I have come to learn is that it really isn’t about the money itself.
It’s about trust.
God entrusts us with His wealth according to our ability to handle it. Jesus illustrates this principle in the Parable of the Talents:
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
“The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
“After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together! ´
“The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
“Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
“But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
“Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matthew 25:14-30 NLT)
But trust goes both ways with God. He wants us to trust Him not just concerning the money, but also with our general well-being.
Like rain falling from the sky
I chose the translation of the verse at the beginning of this post specifically for the phrase “Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.” To the people hearing this prophecy from Malachi firsthand, in the middle of the fourth century B.C., this would have been a literal message. They weren’t concerned with having new Cadillacs; they were concerned with their crops, as there was a great drought going on at that time.
So, in context, what God was saying to Israel at that specific time was, “You want me to stop holding back the rain? Fine. Stop holding back your tithes. I DARE you to test me by giving back the first 10% of what you only have because I gave it to you in the first place. Do that and watch what happens.”
Today, many folks who are not proponents of tithing argue that this was a specific message for a specific people in a specific time; therefore, it does not apply to us today.
But for me, I just couldn’t get past those words, “Test me!” God is always testing me to prove my faith; now He wants me to test Him?
So testing God is exactly what I did.
Here’s how it worked out.
The first thing that I had to wrap my brain around is that tithing is not something you do when you can afford it. It’s 10% of what you have, even if that’s very little. Therefore, it isn’t about the amount you’re putting into the collection plate. It’s about trusting that God will bless the 90% you have left.
Once I got over my guilt about the tiny little checks that I was writing each Sunday and just went with it, I started to notice things happening in my budget. Like how I never ran out of money at the end of the month, regardless of how bleak things appeared at the beginning.
Over the years since then, I have noted many other instances where the math just didn’t add up at first, but things worked out better than I could ever have planned it.
The most significant example is this.
After our honeymoon, my wife told me that her dream vacation would be an Alaskan cruise. Those aren’t cheap, but I told her then that if we started saving, we could set a goal to do that for our 10-year anniversary.
We saved for nine years, at which point, I said, “Honey, we can do this, but it will wipe out our savings.” We went forward with the plans.
Long story short, we went on that cruise and land tour in Alaska. Counting the flights out and back, it was a two-week adventure. In my life, I have owned several cars that did not cost as much as this trip.
And we still had over three quarters of our savings intact.
Not only that, but we had beautiful weather the entire trip (which just does not happen in Alaska). At nearly every stop, the guides on our excursions were amazed at all the “rare” things we got to see, such as orcas, humpback whales bubble net feeding, the Hubbard Glacier calving, and the peak of Denali in clear sunshine, just to name a few.
Indeed, God poured out his blessings on my family during this trip, but really, it was just an obvious and visible manifestation of how He has blessed us, and our finances, all along.
Even during the extended periods of unemployment that I have had, I have never felt like we were “in need,” because God doesn’t respond to need.
He responds to faith.
And that is what tithing is all about. It is a tangible expression of the faith that God will meet your needs and then some. And he blesses it every single time.
Do any of you have stories of God’s faithfulness regarding your finances? I’d love to hear them! Please drop them in the comments.
More about money in Part 3, coming very soon! To make sure it doesn´t sneak past you, as we say here in the Midwest, click on the Free Newsletter link to subscribe.