When it's been a while between posts, I often feel the need to apologize and catch y'all up in some way to explain the gap. But lately, God has really been showing me the value of simplifying, and following where He leads versus trying to cover the ground I've set for myself. So I imagine the gaps will continue, and I'm OK with that, but I felt something on my heart that I wanted to share, and I truly value having this outlet to communicate such things.
About six weeks ago, M and I finally put pen to paper (well, the electronic version of that: we made a spreadsheet) to help us develop, maintain, and work through a proper budget. We were both independent for a long time, having met and married in our late-twenties, so the adjustments required when embarking on a shared life have been present, albeit welcomed. Financial adjustments are an obvious one, yet it can be surprising, all the little things that become important once you're married and/or have a home. We both felt the calling to be the best stewards of our resources as we can be, and (eventually) trusted God with the counsel and tools He placed in our lives. First and foremost, we leaned on His Word, and (not surprisingly) everything else pretty much stems from and circles back to those principals.
Yes, I'm talking about tithing, y'all. Groan, hiss, grumble, grumble, right? In the past, I've literally refused to return to churches that seem to belabor this topic, so I hear ya, but I also realized (in hindsight) that it was hitting a nerve that I wanted left the heck alone...but would eventually have to deal with to grow and receive what God had in store. Wherever you're at on this, take heart...and a deep breath. Nothing but grace and love here, because we've all probably been there (or will be there) at one time or another. (Be sure to tune when we've got children who dream of ponies and Ivy League schools. Methinks we'll be spending a lot of time in our prayer closet.)
One of the first elements locked into our budget was the formal line item of handing over 10% of anything that came to us. In times of feast, this is an easy deal. But during those relative famines, made all the more real when one or more in the equation is self-employed (i.e. perpetually unemployed unless work finds you), it can be a serious challenge. If you've been struggling to feed yourself or pay bills, even a $20 offering can bring you to tears, feeling like you can afford to give it away, but wanting so badly to feel confidence in doing so. (Been there, my friend.)
It's a heart issue. It really is. It's not about the number, the logic, the "responsible" thing to do. It's a matter of our heart. When we're anchored in the truth that nothing (and by that, I mean NOTHING) belongs to us--but rather that everything we have (our money, our home, our kids, our skills and talents) is handed down from The Lord for us to manage--it is with a different spirit that we write that check, or hand over that bill.
We're not owners; we're managers. We don't give to earn anything, or to gain favor. Hear this loud and clear: God doesn't need your money. He's God, yo. The Lord Almighty needs NOTHING. However, He desires, in his precious love and mercy, to bring you and me into the folds of HIS story, where we may play a supporting role in the grand victory that belongs to God, and God alone. He is and always will be the hero. Not us, but Him. And hallelujah for that! Our tithe is just one of many ways that we can participate, and it's OK to take some time to come around to this and to really rest in the truth of our role in the whole deal. (I'll admit: my world has been rocked more than once when someone tried to set me straight on this. While I didn't think that I was the center of the universe, I did, in fact, think that--in some belief or practice. So, yeah, catch your balance first. Get there.)
So let's get practical...
Where do you steward this 10%? If you belong to a church, that's a good place to send your money. They need it. If you're a member, then that's your outlet, or at least the primary one. If you don't belong to a church, pray for one. The church is VITAL, and living in community isn't just a lovely option in the Christianity benefits package handed down when you sign up. (Please note the sarcasm here, folks. The only "package" we need is The Word, and your commitment to Christ was not a signed document, but the signature of Christ's blood on the cross and your faith in that grace.) But if, for whatever reason, you don't have a church, find a place to pour out. Many charities these days are blasted for unsavory practices, and non-profits are revealed to have CEOs who drive vehicles that cost more than most homes. It's a bummer, absolutely, but don't let that be an excuse. One of the organizations that we pour into (in addition to the church in which we are covenant members) is International Living Streams. We are blessed to personally know the couple who started this organization, and who run the orphanage in Kenya. We can trust where are funds are going, and know that it is also being stewarded well to the glory of God, and that's a gift we don't take lightly.
Friends, I don't have it all figured out, and I know that God will continue to grow me during every moment and season I have on this Earth. But I share this insight and our journey not as the "right" way or the "winning formula," but as encouragement, to pass along the joy and abundance that we've experienced in the process. Is budgeting super fun? Nah, not really. (OK, that's half true. I'm super Type A and partially relish such regular interaction with my spreadsheet, but let's assume...safely, I think...that most folks are not such fans.) But, like many things we're called to do, it's not important that we feel like doing it, but rather that we do. That we obey. And that we TRUST.
CHIME IN: Have you found a certain tool or practice that rocked your proverbial financial world (in a good way)? Any favorite charities or organizations that you support financially?