We changed our money habits!

In the current economic climate, it’s a natural response to want to batten down the hatches, tighten our fists and hoard our earnings and possessions. But God asks more of us than that. He want us to give - to test him and see that he is good, whatever the economic climate. Lisa Phillips meets two couples who have responded to the challenge

To give really is a blessing to yourself as well as others

Tim and Vicky* were a classic DINKY couple of the 1980’s (Dual Income – No Kids Yet. They had at least one foreign holiday each year, often two and each was in a well paid job. They also regularly had a four figure overdraft.

Tim says: “I became challenged by the words of Malachi 3: 8-10 with regard to tithing. We reorganised our finances over a period of time until we were tithing our income to the church. Within a few months of that, we had cleared our overdraft and have not used it since. This was not a matter of God miraculously dumping cash into our bank account, but of being more thoughtful with what we had and wasting less, with the result that the overdraft was cleared, which was actually quite a weight off our minds.”

This first step of obedience was to take Tim and Vicky down a road of extravagant giving that was beyond anything they had imagined – a road, they say, that has been full of both spiritual and material blessing.

When their home church committed to a major rebuilding project, Tim and Vicky were ready. “When our church took the decision to build a new building, the words of Haggai 1: 5-10 became relevant,” says Tim. “We recognised that our income levels meant that our willingness, or otherwise, to give to this new building would have a significant effect upon when, and possibly whether, the building of the new church actually took place.

“We saw this as quite a responsibility, but our previous experience of tithing and finding that God did indeed honour the commitment of our finances to him became the stepping stone that helped us to give in a way that was meaningful to the overall project.”

“At the time of the building project, the words that started to renew my mind were from Malachi 3:8-10,” adds Vicky. ‘. . . Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse . . . and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’

“God actually said, ‘Test me in this,’ which to me meant, ‘You give and I’ll provide!’ This turned out to be true.” Before making their final commitment to give, the couple spent significant time in prayer and thought, making sure that would be able to honour any commitment they made.

“Once I had settled on a figure, I offered this to God in prayer over a period of time,” says Tim. “While I was doing so, standing in the kitchen as it happens, I was offering up that figure to God once more when I heard a voice say to me ‘Double it!’ After the initial sense of shock, and no little degree of denial, I prayed again about the original figure and again heard the voice saying ‘Double it!’. So I prayed about the new figure and received a sense of peace in my heart about it.

“Unfortunately my head was still doing the number crunching and not yet at the place of peaceful acceptance, and I still had to share the experience with Vicky. However, when I told her about the belief that I had that we should double what I already saw as a challenging monthly giving pattern, her response was ‘Cool.’”

There began a pattern of giving that over a ten-year period would be more than double what they had just paid for their house, and what they were to pay for cars and holidays. Spending patterns were adjusted then, and again years later when Vicky left her job. The couple say they have spent significantly less on holidays, cars, entertainment and pension provision than they might otherwise have spent.

But God has continually met all their needs, thought not always, adds Tim, their wants. “But our wants have come much more in line with our needs, to the extent that we are content without many of the things that we used to spend money on,” he says. “I can also see how he is providing for our future needs in ways outside of our control or influence.

“I still need to get to a place where I am trusting God for financial provision in retirement, but that is a work in progress! For me, the key issue is to maintain an attitude of stewardship rather than ownership of the money that I receive. The greater the extent to which I can do that, the less I worry about money issues. This has also helped us move well beyond the concept of tithing in our giving to the regular work of the church, to a place where we are giving what we are able to give and managing to live on what we retain.”

The belt tightening that has been a necessary part of the process has actually been greatly outweighed by the blessings that have accompanied Tim and Vicky’s extravagant trust in Jehovah Jireh – the Lord who provides. Quite apart from being able to worship in a building which they have had a hand in building, and to see God’s work continue in that place, God has changed their hearts.

“I’ve been blessed by the feeling of release personally, and that the money is fulfilling its purpose by being given to an organisation or an individual who’ll accomplish something of God’s will, or to someone who is in need,” says Vicky. “The more we give, the more released I feel. I feel now that I can’t give it away quickly enough and I am increasingly looking for opportunities to give.”

“We have also become detached from much of the materialism that we live in,” adds Tim. “Spending to maintain an image or lifestyle has, in the main, fallen off our radar. In the context of the current economic climate, this has meant that we have not borrowed to maintain a lifestyle that we cannot afford.”

“What God says is true – he’s not kidding!” says Vicky. “To give really is a blessing to yourself as much as to another. I have come on a bit of a journey with money. Now I see that we have been given the financial blessing not to keep it all to ourselves, but to act as a distributor of the stuff so others can be relieved in some way. It’s a responsibility and a privilege. It scares me and excites me all at once. This is still a journey and, as we trust God more, we’ll be able to release more.”

Giving is rewarding and we trust God for the future

Dave and Charlotte felt called to train for Christian ministry after the birth of their daughter. As the couple left their professional jobs and a healthy double income behind, they had to manage on just a quarter of their previous joint earnings. Doing without became a way of life, and the prospect of giving away any of their hard-earned cash seemed as impossible as it did unwise.

“Not long after Dave began training, I lost a cheque for £40 that we desperately needed,” says Charlotte. “As I was searching for it, I felt God say to me that he wanted us to give the £40 away. This seemed like utter foolishness to me, as we had bills to pay, so I replied rather crossly that he’d have to help me find it first!”

Unsurprisingly, the cheque came to light later that day, and Dave and Charlotte sat down to discuss what to do. “The message to give it away had been so strong, but my head kept telling me that we needed it for ourselves,” says Charlotte.

But God was patient with the reluctant givers. In seeking him, they were led to 1 Kings 17: 7-16, the story of the widow of Zarephath. In it, Elijah asks the poor widow for a drink and a piece of bread. But the widow is unsure, having barely enough flour and oil to provide for her and her son. Elijah encourages her to give, saying, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’”

“This story simply jumped out at us,” says Charlotte, and over the course of the coming week, they were reassured on four separate occasions that they were to trust God with what they had. “We believed God was telling us that if we trusted him, and gave this, and other money away, he would not let us go overdrawn or be in need.”

The couple sat down and worked out the pattern of their giving. Although they barely had enough to survive, they felt that God was nevertheless asking them to trust him with ten per cent of their small income. They committed some of that to their local church, and some to the people in need around them.

“After that first £40, it became a joy to set the ten per cent aside and to decide where it should go,” says Charlotte. “Sometimes we would send it to a charity or current appeal. Other times we would post it anonymously through the letterboxes of people we knew were in need. It was fantastic.”

True to his promise, God did indeed meet the family’s financial needs, and over the next four years they had what they needed and did not go overdrawn. Ironically, they had been regularly overdrawn in their “years of plenty” when giving had not cost them so much.

“Even in Dave’s last month of training, when our budget simply wouldn’t match our income, God met us. We were £170 short, and I brought our need to God during a morning service late in August. I didn’t tell anyone about the amount or the prayer. The very next morning, a cheque arrived in the post for £175. It was as if God was saying to us ‘Did you really think that was too hard for Me?’”

In the years since then, Dave and Charlotte have been challenged again and again to give their money to God, in increasingly generous and sometimes seemingly foolhardy ways. “You’d think after his early faithfulness, that we’d trust God completely and all the time with our money,” says Charlotte, “but actually, giving has sometimes been harder over time.

“We’re continually having to step out of our comfort zone, ignore all the messages bombarding us about we have a right to earn and to have, and we have to go on trusting God and giving beyond what is comfortable. It can be a tough lesson, but it has been so rewarding, and now we have no choice but to trust God with our future. That’s not a bad place to be.”

*Names have been changed