By Jacqueline J. Holness
“God Vs. Your Bank Account: Can You Afford to Tithe?” was the title of an article published earlier this year by Forbes. The contributor Zina Kumok interviewed financial planners about how they advised their clients when they wanted to tithe but couldn’t afford to do so. The article reminds me of my own tithing and overall financial journey.
Could I Do Better?
Thanks to the prudent advice of my pastor father, I have tithed since I started working when I was 13 years old. When I worked over the summers in high school or even in college, I never considered the biblical promises associated with tithing; I just did what I was told to do: give back 10 percent of what the Lord has given to you. It seemed to be a fair enough proposition since I kept 90 percent.
I really didn’t think about what I was giving to the Lord until after I graduated from college. In those early years of my career after graduation, I began to think about money a lot since I didn’t have as much, particularly in comparison to my friends. My friends were renting fabulous apartments, forming investment clubs, and taking vacations while I was living with my parents, investing in my faith, and simply reading Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine. I did read Christian financial planning books, but I just couldn’t seem to apply the advice in them. I chalked it up to my journalist sensibilities: the average journalist is adept at wordplay but lacking in numeric literacy.
So I paid my tithe and hoped for the best. God always took care of me, but I sensed I could do better on my end of the equation. But how? I had no solutions.
Could I Afford It?
Over time, my financial situation improved. I secured a higher paying job, enabling me to buy a home and go on vacations with my friends. But I still didn’t think I had money to invest, although I was more curious than ever about money management. I prayed for direction in financial planning, and through my friends I met a Christian financial coach in 2009. Although I was nervous about becoming her client, as I was a numbers nincompoop, she assured me that if I could add, subtract, multiply, and divide, she could help me.
She scrutinized my spending and advised me on how to reduce it. Among her suggestions was to pay my bills online, which would cut postage costs, and buy a printer so that I could cut out costly trips to FedEx Office for printing. She assured me that I made enough, and it was what I did with what I made that counted.
She taught me how to budget, but when I explained to her that I tithed, she first advised against it. She told me that until I was more financially stable, I should tithe in other ways such as tithe 10 percent of my time to the church. I thought about her suggestion, but I remembered how God always took care of me when I didn’t know what to do with the remaining 90 percent. Surely now that I was becoming more financially literate, I couldn’t shortchange God.
Within a month or so of that conversation, I discovered that my employer owed me a large amount of money that for some reason hadn’t been included in my regular paychecks. I felt that was God’s way of rewarding me for my faithfulness, a real life example of Malachi 3:10! And my financial coach was also delighted by the results.
Christian financial planner Jeff Rose also had a stubborn client like me who refused to back off on tithing although she was in debt, according to the previously mentioned Forbes article. Also like me, God rewarded her tithing despite the planner’s advice that she give less until she got out of debt. “Fast forward four years later and she is completely out of debt (more than $20,000) and got her retirement back on track,” he said.
My financial coach helped me to stop comparing myself to my friends. I remember when we met at her home for our last meeting. She lived in a lovely, large house, but she explained that she had a friend who lived in a home that could swallow hers; yet her home was bigger than another friend’s apartment. She further explained that the key to financial peace was not comparing yourself to others but doing the very best with what God has given to you—a lesson that still resonates with me today.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service. Read more on her website (afterthealtarcall.com).