I settled towards the back of the room, not wanting anyone to be distracted by my tardiness. The pastor was mid-sentence when he looked my direction, nodded, and continued on with what he was saying. Without missing a beat, he walked over to his podium, picked up a pen, and wrote something. He continued. “Tithing is more for our benefit than it is for God’s. As we do, we remind ourselves that it is Him who gives us the opportunity, the strength, and the creativity to gain wealth.”
My heart burned. What does he mean, wealth? I could barely keep my car running faithfully, my job didn’t provide enough to fill the gas tank each week, let alone to fix the problems it has. I raised my hand. While I don’t like people looking at me, this statement bothers me. Everyone should tithe? Not everyone has the income that allows it. Does God decide, then, that we have no place in His majestic kingdom?
The pastor looked my way, “Yes? Question?”
“Y-yes.” I don’t even know where to begin. “I wonder what you mean. Does God require everyone to tithe?”
Smiling. “In Malachi 3, God offers a challenge to everyone. ‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’1” He went on to say, “God weighs our hearts. He knows if we’re giving out of duty or devotion. Be sure it is out of devotion.”
“But what if you haven’t any money to give? What if you’re homeless, jobless, or . . .” I couldn’t think. Feelings of condemnation began to seep into my pores, letting me know I didn’t belong here, either. I’ve never belonged anywhere. Not in school. Not at home. And now, not even at church.
“You’re new to the faith, right?” He was walking closer to me. “If you’d like, we can sit and discuss this in depth, but first, have you ever heard the story of the Widow’s Mite?”
I’d heard the phrase. “Not really.” People were turning to look at me, now. Apparently, I was taking too much time. “It’s okay. I’ll ask my grandma when I get home.” It was, after all, her idea for me to take this membership class.
A man from the other side of the room spoke up, “Please tell us. I am confused by this tithing thing, too.” He didn’t look like he needed any lessons in poverty, but we’re not to judge, right?
The pastor strode back to his podium, picked up his Bible and flipped a few pages. He began to read, “As Jesus looked up, He saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘Truly I tell you,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others.’”2 The pastor glanced between the man across the room and me. “Why, if the widow only gave two copper coins, did Jesus say she gave more when the rich obviously put in so much more?”
A woman stood at the back of the room. She looked familiar to me, though I couldn’t place her. She began to speak. “I am that woman. Have lived that woman’s life since my husband passed more than 15 years ago. As a single mom, raising three boys, it’s difficult to put food on the table, keep up with growth spurts, and maintain a mechanically operational home when you know nothing about plumbing, electricity, or heating/cooling. I spent most of my years picking up odd jobs, working two and three jobs at a time to pay the rent . . . and still coming up short.” She looked in my direction. “I remember sitting where you are right now, asking the same questions. It was most difficult to swallow, given I had nothing. I couldn’t provide. Not on my own. I needed help. I didn’t even own a car at the time because they took my husband’s company vehicle after he’d passed, and also our lease vehicle.” She smiled. “He was an attorney for a large firm here in the city, but not very wise in his investments, you see. So, we lost everything.”
A lump formed in my throat. I remember my grandma talking about the woman who’d lost everything, yet would tell you God is the best resource—financially, physically, and emotionally—known to creation.
The woman continued. “I took the challenge in Malachi 3 and did as the LORD said. I put Him to the test. Although I didn’t have the money to pay my bills, I gave to Him first. I told Him, I was going to rely on Him for all my needs. I had nowhere else to turn. Collectors were pounding on my door almost daily.” She looked toward the pastor, and “I can tell you, when I saw those rich people throwing in their money, then bragging about how much they gave to the church as if it bought them special favors, my heart ached. I told God, ‘I can’t give you what they can. But you have my heart.’ And I heard the LORD say to me, ‘Your gift is far more valuable to me than all the riches.’ From that day on, I decided that my small contributions, borne out of love and devotion, would have to be enough.
From that point, also, I noticed things happen I’d never expected.” She reached down and picked up her purse. After digging around for a few seconds, she handed a card to the pastor and asked him to give it to me. “Take this, it’s my phone and address. I want you to come over one day for coffee—or tea, if you prefer—and I will show you all of the things my God has provided, just because he can. And also some things because I had need. I will never tell you it's easy, but it is worth it.”
I agreed to take her up on her offer. She took her seat and the pastor continued. “Excellent. Thank you, Mrs. Chapin.” He returned to the Scripture. “I don’t know if I can improve on what was just said, other than to say, the rich gave without sacrifice. They gave out of abundance. The widow, likely not knowing where her next meal would come from, chose to trust her God with the details. Her heart, your heart, my own heart, is what He longs for. He has no need of our wealth. He’s the one who provides the wealth we do have. To think we’ve gained it without His input is arrogance and pride, which we’ll discuss next week.” He closed his Bible. “Let’s pray before we head home.”