by Chris Ritter
Whenever I see a pumpkin patch I think about giving.
As a kid I was allowed a section of the family garden to plant pumpkins. I remember poking the seeds down into mounds of soil enriched by generous amounts of chicken manure. It was my job to water the sprawling pumpkin vines and pull the weeds. Saffron-colored blossoms soon appeared. I don’t know whether it was the fertilizer or the favorable Southern Illinois climate, but I was blessed with a bumper crop. Some of the pumpkins weighed more than fifty pounds! I seized the blue ribbon at the Pulaski County Fair that year. The fruits of my labor were placed in the front yard and sold to passersby. Pumpkin sales brought in $200. I was rich.
My eyes raced through the J.C. Penny Christmas catalog that fall to identify uses for my newfound wealth. When sharing my ideas with my mom, she introduced me to a new concept: “Ten percent of that money belongs to God. We give the first portion of everything with which we are blessed back to the Lord. You need to give $20 of what you made to the church.” News to me! It was challenging to think about giving back to God based on what God had given me.
Lightning had struck our church earlier that year and had damaged the clock on the sanctuary wall. It had started running backwards. Dead clocks are right twice a day, but this one never was. No one wants the clock the pastor watches during the sermon to run backward, right? My mom and I went to town, bought a clock for $20, and drove to the church to hang it on the wall. As we stood back to admire my purchase, I felt like something important had just happened. God had given. I had given proportionately in response. I was a tither. I have long since forgotten what I did with the remaining $180, but the instruction on tithing has stuck with me.
This lesson from my pumpkin patch windfall was the first thing that taught me to tithe. Here are some others:
The only secular job I ever had (outside of farm work) was as a salesman. I sold water treatment equipment in people’s homes. I will always remember my first solo sales call. My hopes were high because it was a nice home with a large boat parked in the driveway. I smelled money. After a stellar presentation on the merits of soft water, I was lovingly declined. The couple explained that they did not have a lot of extra money. In fact, it was a miracle that they were making it at all.
They shared that the husband had lost his health and his income in one fell swoop. They immediately sat down and tried to work out a budget based on their new reality, but the numbers just didn’t add up. Somewhere during this time they had heard an encouraging teaching about tithing. They talked it over and felt they had nothing to lose. That week they started giving ten percent of everything God gave them to their church.
“We really didn’t have any miraculous windfall,” they explained. “It just seemed like everything went further. We don’t have a lot of extra money, but we always have enough. God has been faithful as we have put him first.” That conversation and others like it taught me to tithe.
As stated above, I was raised by a tither. I sat by my mom as she made out her check during worship each week. I grew up in a small United Methodist church on a gravel road. The average attendance was about thirty. The offering amount was also posted on a wooden board near the entrance to the sanctuary. I saw what my family gave and knew we were part of keeping the ministry of the church going forward. Even when there were financial pressures at home, the giving continued. I learned the part of the Christian life is taking responsibility for keeping ministry moving forward.
November 1 of this year will mark 30 years since I first began serving as a pastor. My first foray into ministry was just after my 18th birthday. I was the supply pastor for three small congregations. Since that time, I have served eight other congregations and have had the opportunity to work alongside some wonderful, faithful folks. My pastoral experience has taught me that tithers are very often the most hard-working, low-drama, prayerful, supportive, and conscientious members of the church. These are often people deeply invested in making their communities a better place. Most are not wealthy by earthly standards, but they seem to have a better working definition of “rich” than the culture at large. Watching their lives has taught me to tithe.
5) Trial and Error
I don’t have a perfect tithing record. There were seasons of struggle when we were having babies, getting through seminary, etc. I have noticed that my decisions not to tithe have been, without exception, motivated by baseless fears. In moments of clarity I later recognized my lapses as symptomatic of a distracted heart. Like the Prodigal Son, I have always come back to my senses and given the Kingdom of God its rightful priority in my life. I notice that life works better this way. My heart is in a better place when I tithe.
Of course, I could certainly add Bible study to the list of things that taught me to tithe. Abraham commenced it. Jacob continued it. Moses commanded it. Malachi confirmed it. Jesus commended it. The New Testament more often teaches generosity rather than giving a specific percentage. It is hard to make the case that I am fulfilling the call to generosity when I am spending over 90% of everything God gives me on myself. Tithing serves as a helpful baseline that keeps the love of money at check in my heart. It is not the summit of generosity, but it is the base camp. Tithing has taught me to be more generous in all facets of life.
Tithing is the one subject in the Bible where God says, “Test me.” (Malachi 3:10) If you are not in the habit of tithing, I encourage you to give it a try. I believe you will like the results. Let me know how it goes.