Money is deeply ingrained in the very manner in which we live; there is simply no way around it. We use money, we spend money, we save money. Yet too often we fail to see our relation to money in any sort of spiritual context. It is simply that which is used as we go through the functions of our every day lives. Yet peel back the layers and we find that too often the money we have, or long to have, exerts a dominating force upon us. It controls us. It drives our action, establishes our focus, and calls our attention. We dream of 'striking it rich', 'hitting it big', or moving from 'rags-to-riches.' These lies communicate to us that accumulation of money is that which solves all our problems. We dream about what we will do when we win the lottery thinking that a massive influx of cash will set our life in order. Yet too often those who win the lottery find quickly find themselves in financial, moral, emotional, and spiritual bankruptcy.
Money promises freedom and happiness yet delivers slavery and depression. It keeps us in anxiety and fear. It tells us to be fearful of never having enough, despite the fact that too often that which it calls us to is far from necessary. It keeps us always focused on the riches we do not have, rather than highlighting the riches we do. Jesus knew that money too easily becomes a rival God demanding servitude. "You cannot serve both God and money (mammon)." Jesus knew that the money is able to exert an intoxicating pull over us. Like a rival deity it demands an emotional attachment. We become identified with how much we have and find ourselves unable to part with the smallest of units. Is it any wonder that our modern world, so full of abundance, has produced such a soul-crippling problem as hoarding?
This is why the discipline of tithing can be so powerful. Tithing dethrones the rival power. It frees from the emotional enslavement that money too often holds over our lives. In tithing we reclaim our proper place. This is because tithing, ultimately, is not just actually about money. Tithing is about worship. It is about divine allegiance. In tithing we strip money of the sacredness that this world wrongly gives to it, and again submit ourselves in humble faith to the Lord of heaven and earth. In this we enter into the joy and freedom found in a posture of dependance. Ours is not to strive and fret - ours is to humbly receive and give thanks. Consider the lilies and the birds, Jesus says.
Through tithing we truly uncover the beauty and goodness of all that surrounds us. The goodness seen in that which we own occurs truly as we see these things as expressions of God's care and providence for us. This frees us from the burden of having to protect or hoard that which we own. For if the goodness of money is found, not in the ownership of it, but in its kingdom use, then we are able to uncover the blessedness of giving. "We would be hard pressed," writes Richard Foster, "to find a teaching on money [in the Bible] that does not somehow mention giving." (From 'The Challenge of the Disciplined Life').
There are many ways that we can enter into the discipline of tithing. While it does not have to be the typical 10%, we must resist the attempt to minimize its force. To do this is to value our ownership of money over our life with God. If tithing is seen only as an obligation, or worse yet - a bill, then we will never see it as an act of thanksgiving. The tithe should be significant enough that we notice the gift for it is in noticing that we express our thanks to God for all of God's blessings in life. It is an act of praise and thanksgiving. We do not retain a sense of deserve or ownership of our money - we release it all into the hands of God and in doing so render our confidence and trust.
It should also be mentioned that we are also able tithe our time and/or service. Tithing does not have to be a gift of money. It can also be a gift of our time and our effort. Too often our life with God is relegated to 90 minutes on Sunday mornings while the rest of our lives are spent living unto ourselves. When we tithe our time or effort, we recognize the possible incongruity between our that which we say we believe, and how we actually live it out. What would it be like to increase my time with God each day? Can we spend more time in prayer, in worship, in study? Are my faithful expressions done out of duty or out of an internal desire to be with our Lord in intimate relationship?
The mathematics of tithing, whether it is in time/service or money, is not about 10% here and 10% there. Tithing is about our life with God; about our focus, our worship. And to that end it should always equal 100%.