This is a touchy subject among people of faith, but one that many of us struggle with – including me. I’ve been dealing with a series of long-term career and financial issues which have made tithing very difficult for me, and often impossible. But I still feel a need to tithe in some way. We get blessed when we tithe and it is also an exercise in faith especially when money is tight or non-existent.
Why We Should Tithe – Scriptural Reference
The Bible verse most frequently cited for the practice of the tithe is found in Malachi:
“Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” – Malachi 3:10
This isn’t just a call to tithe, but a promise from God that He will bless us if we are obedient in this regard. But blessings will mean different things to different people. Some may want and desire a financial blessing while others may need healing or a revelation about an ongoing issue they may been having within their family or at work. Some of us call these miracles.
My Own Negative Experience With Tithing
Many years ago, I worked for a local church and saw many families lose their homes due to feeling pressured to tithe, even though they did not have their rent money or enough food for their children. I remember answering the phone when these same people called the church office for financial assistance. The pastor I supported would tell me to tell them he was unavailable.
Needless to say I quit within a few months and never went back to church until nearly 15 years later. I’m not saying this happens in all churches, but it’s probably more common than we want to believe. To this day, a sadness exists on my insides when I recall these families.
Personally, I do not like to watch TV programs that promote purchasing a breakthrough. That’s way too common! And completely wrong. Malachi 3:10 specifically refers to blessings, not necessarily the financial kind.
Does Tithing Mean 10% – or What We Can Afford?
Let me start by saying that if you feel led to give 10% of your income as your tithe, I believe that God will honor that. But is 10% a requirement? The churches that have the tithe as a central doctrine will claim that it is, mostly based on translations of the word tithe.
But we have a scriptural reference that takes the definition in a very different direction:
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7
Paul is saying that we need to give, but there’s no mention of 10%, or of any percentage of any kind.
This verse suggests that it’s okay to give what we can, rather than making 10% an absolute requirement. It also opens the door to doing volunteer work at our churches when we may not be in a position to contribute with money.
What About Those Who Are Not in a Position to Tithe?
The idea that everyone should give 10% of their income as a tithe regardless of their station in life seems like an over-simplification.
For example, what about someone who has an income, but needs every dollar to support a family? The Bible gives us direction on this question:
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” – 1 Timothy 5:8
If you are tithing, rather than paying your bills, isn’t that like giving with someone else’s money? What if you need all of your income to support minor children? They are 100% dependent on you for the very basics of life, including food, a safe place to sleep, clothes and so on. I believe God entrusted our children into our care because He knew we would be responsible.
And what about someone who simply doesn’t have the means to tithe on an ongoing basis? This is a position that I have been in myself.
We have this lesson from Jesus:
“And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:41-44
Clearly it’s not about a percentage, but about the act of giving itself.
My Own Situation and Why I Have Been Researching the Tithe
Like a lot of people who are over 50, I’ve been struggling to make a living ever since the financial meltdown. Tithing has been a constant stress for me. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, but rather that most of the time I can’t.
I recently went back to church and did well with tithing 10% – for about 3 weeks – then had to choose between paying my rent and tithing. I have not been back to church since this happened as I would be totally embarrassed when the offering plate came my way.
I have prayed about this issue and have kept track of all income since the shortage existed for me. My plan and prayer is being able to tithe the lump sum I owe when I can. It took a week of no sleep, feeling guilty and feeling I had failed God before I had peace about my situation. I have dealt with homelessness for a few years and being in my 50’s when I got laid off – I’ve had a challenging time with getting back on my feet. I feel God understands my fear of being homeless again and knows my heart.
Right now, I would not be a cheerful giver! I was for that first 3 weeks because my 10% tithe was not affecting my rental payment. I am not saying the church I was visiting said I had to give, but you know it is expected when the offering plate is passed to you. I have seen people not put anything in the plate and I applaud them for being able to do that. But not everyone can do that and I am one of those.
Back when I was a child in Jamaica, there were no offering plates at the church I attended with my Grandma. I know churches have expenses like the rest of us, but I yearn for a place to go to worship with other believers even when I may not have an offering or tithe in my pocket.
The “Prosperity Gospel”
I used to attend Christian seminars hoping for more wisdom and for networking opportunities with other Christians. But I got tired and drained from the constant “prosperity gospel” being shoved down my throat. It was like – give God $100 so that He can give me $1,000. This came across to me as a way to “manipulate” God for money.
But here’s what I know: God blesses me when He is ready and when I don’t expect it!
I am finally getting this message loud and clear and now have calmed down from the frenzy I was in as I tried to think of ways to pay my tithe and my living expenses. Yes, every week created some new challenges, challenges God ALWAYS worked out for me when I LET Him.
Have you ever been swept up by the prosperity gospel? I know people who swear by it. Has it worked for you?
Final Thoughts on Tithing
I encourage everyone to always pray about tithing. God will give us a peace about tithing. As more churches get caught up into the offering or tithing requirements, more people like myself are feeling more stressed out when they have to choose between an offering or tithe and paying rent or buying groceries.
I don’t believe God wants us homeless or hungry, yet we hear of many Christians doing just that in an effort to be obedient about tithing. I get the obedience part of tithing. But is tithing a special form of obedience? And do people like myself who’d rather not be homeless or hungry disappoint God?
I feel that no one should be made to feel guilty about tithing or giving an offering. I feel God blesses us no matter what we give, and when we give from our hearts, it is truly a very special form of giving.
What do you think? Do you feel we should tithe even if it means not paying bills or a debt? Or should we tithe first and let the bills go including food if we do not have enough left over after tithing? And how do you calculate your tithe?