Ask Chuck: Should I Give or Get Out of Debt?
When should we begin tithing? We are currently in ‘the red’ each month, relying on credit cards to fill in small gaps. It will take us a couple of months to adjust and stop living paycheck to paycheck. Currently there is no extra, no savings, etc. If we tithe now, we will have to stop payment on another creditor, which seems irresponsible. What do you suggest?
Too Tied Up to Tithe
Dear Tied Up,
Thanks for a great question! It is one that causes many debates and in some cases undue pressure, guilt, and shame. However, I am sincerely glad that you have the desire to tithe.
In 1999, although I had been a church-going Christian for most of my life, I was only giving 2.6% of my total income – the national average in America. Through the conviction of Scripture, a Crown Bible study, and the encouragement of my wife, God changed my heart. Since then, we have been able to make changes and regularly tithe. It has been a tremendous blessing to experience the promise of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35)
Let’s begin by defining “the tithe” as willingly, cheerfully donating 10% or more of your total income. It is very difficult to gather accurate information but somewhere around 10-12% of all Christians actually tithe. While this number is double the general population, it remains woefully low.
Some General Thoughts
As a steward, we must first recognize that everything we have belongs to the Lord. We are simply managing it for the Father and His Kingdom. If you believe that, then you as a couple should agree to use all of it in a way that honors Him. I find that a better question to ask ourselves is, “How much of God’s money should we be living on?” vs. “How much of our money should we be giving?”
Remember that giving is not a tax or a legal requirement to please God, but a voluntary act of worship. It is a tangible way to express our love to God.
Do you remember the story of the widow and her offering? Mark 12:41-44 reads,
And He (Jesus) 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.
The widow gave all she had because she believed God would meet her needs. Her gift of two small coins – small to the world but large to her – demonstrated her complete dependence on the One who loved her.
Many today give what’s left over after their needs have been met rather than setting a portion aside to God first. You may not be able to give 10% immediately but you can give something.
Paul said, Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)
God does not promise to reward your giving with lots of money or other earthly blessing (as the Prosperity Gospel proclaims) but you will experience blessing, perhaps not visible until you enter heaven and discover the treasures God has stored for you there. Just know that He promises to supply bountifully if you give generously.
How to Begin
Start giving now. Pray with your spouse and agree on a dollar amount to give each week. This should be an amount that does not cause you to default on your current bills or harm your marriage.
Then, give, even if you can only afford $1. As you give, ask God to multiply it for His Kingdom.
At the same time, I recommend that you begin to save so you can establish an emergency savings account. It is important to give first, then save next, even if it is a very small amount in each category! By working on these goals simultaneously, you will begin to make important changes in the way you manage your income.
Some Practical Changes Are Needed
Redo your budget. Decrease spending in one category of your budget (or several) so that you can be very intentional, making sure to add giving and saving to your revised budget. Crown has a number of free resources that can help you create, maintain, and improve your budget. You can start with an easy to use guide here.
Here are some ideas on how to immediately decrease your spending. Remember a little can go a long way!
- Stop eating out
- Skip going to the movie theater
- Only make coffee at home (better yet, only drink water!)
- Make affordable, scaled down meals at home
- Use less heating or cooling
- Sell a car and carpool, walk, or bike to work
When the offering plate comes your way, thank God for all He’s given you and that your heart’s desire is to give more to Him. Don’t worry that your gift is small. It’s between you and God!
1 Samuel 16:7 says, The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Keep your heart focused on the things of eternity. Giving, saving, and getting out of debt will require you to have diligent hands and a faithful heart. Here are a few practical steps to take to pay off your debt quickly:
- Get in touch with Christian Credit Counselors. If you have overwhelming credit card debt, they can help you lower your interest rates, consolidate your payments, and create a payoff plan.
- Build an emergency fund. It may sound counterintuitive, but you have to save your way out of debt. Start with a goal to save $1,000 and work your way up from there. Your giving should also increase as you make progress towards your financial goals.
- Learn more about what truly causes debt, how to prevent it, and how to create a quick and easy payoff plan that saves you time and money (no math required!)
- Watch out for these common budget busters. You’ll have to guard your budget during this time, so watch out for all kinds of spending traps!
In my many years of teaching God’s financial principles, I have seen God bless those, like you, who follow through with the desire to make giving their top financial priority. That is why I am so grateful you have the desire. Now, let’s make it happen. Trust Him fully and give cheerfully. Be patient and don’t give up when things get tough. Ask the Lord to help you trust Him every step of the way!
Originally published on the Christian Post, April 20, 2018