THERE IS a curious passage in the biblical Book of Malachi: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, That there may be food in my house, and try me in this, says the LORD of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure?” (3:10). It sounds as if God is issuing a dare to the reader.
I might have read this passage before, but it did not come alive for me until 1982 when I heard a priest quote it and witness about what tithing had done to transform his finances. That priests had financial problems was a revelation, but frequent bank overdrafts proved that my family surely did. My husband, Steve, and I had five kids in parochial schools, mortgage payments, dental and medical bills and a car dying of rust disease. I ordered the kids not to grow, but they stubbornly disobeyed, inhaling food and bursting out of their clothes. You can perhaps understand why “blessings without measure” might have appealed to me.
The bubble burst, however, when the priest spoke of tithing 10 percent of one’s gross income. “Isn’t that a typical priest idea?” I said to my husband. “What does he know about a family’s cost of living?” I spent much time muttering about the stupidity of giving away money when you needed money.
What finally turned the tide was the dare: “... try me in this, says the LORD ...” I know God keeps his word, but I also knew from past experiences that his blessings didn’t always match my wants. Nevertheless, in a leap of faith, we (with a wrong motivation) desperately and fearfully wrote those first tithing checks, off the top. “We are signing up for a life of rags and oatmeal!” I complained.
But this complaint was countered by a blessing. Steve found a shiny stone on the sidewalk. He took it to a jeweler who said it was a diamond. We were unable to find the owner, so Steve had it set into a ring for me. (We had no money before we married, so I didn’t have an engagement ring.) The new ring on my finger was a constant and sparkling reminder that tithing isn’t a doorway to deprivation and misery.
As for the oatmeal, I (almost effortlessly, it seemed) became an expert shopper and a skilled cook, finding bargains everywhere, not only on food, but on clothing and other needs also. People gave us odd gifts — the most extraordinary being a good, undented station wagon, just before our old car expired.
One day we realized, to our surprise, that we didn’t even miss the tithe. The overdrafts also stopped. God is trustworthy! In the beginning, until your trust is strengthened, God seems to go out of his way to overwhelm you with very tangible blessings. Bit by bit, negative motivations are transformed.