When a slowdown in business brought a decrease in spending money Amanda and I were faced with a decision about charitable giving. At the time we financially supported missionaries, a para church organization, and a Compassion student in a foreign country. Each month this represented a few hundred dollars of our shrinking budget.
Since I am the one that executes on the budget each month I saw this money going out. I started to feel that this giving needed to be stopped since we were having trouble paying other bills. Amanda didn’t want to stop giving, because she believed that we had made a commitment and should stick to that commitment. I saw the numbers and she saw the people.
We eventually went through several rounds of budget reduction and we did cut our charitable giving down to only our tithe. But was that the right decision?
Here are the steps we took to reaching our decision to stop our charitable giving while working our Debt Snowball to get out of debt.
Tithe vs Offerings
To be clear, we make a distinction between the tithe to our church and charitable giving. Our tithe, which is 10% of our income, was never on the table for negotiation. We don’t believe this to be a salvation issue, but we do believe it is to our detriment if we do not tithe. There was a period of time where we did not tithe regularly because of fear and that had a profound affect on us.
Offerings or charitable giving is any giving over and beyond the tithe. This could be to missionaries, social programs, or non-profit agencies.
Get Rid Of The “And also…”
When we asked ourselves “What are we doing?” we would enthusiastically say “We are getting out of debt!” But when we asked our budget the same question it would answer “You are paying a little on debt, and also supporting missionaries in Spain, and also supporting outreach to the urban poor in California, and also helping a student in Guatemala have food and an education, and also…”
The reality of our checkbook was that we were splitting our focus dollar by dollar. We weren’t applying our full attention to the one thing we feel like we are called to do: Get out of debt. We believe in each of the ministries we supported or else we wouldn’t have started giving to them in the first place. But, something didn’t settle with me about the situation and it took me some time to figure it out.
Giving From A Place Of Weakness
I finally figured out that although we had willing hearts we were giving out a place of weakness. We had no emergency fund, were behind on several bills and were in the shadow of a mountain of debt. Giving just $30 was a painful event in our world at that time, not to mention $100.
I had two scriptures dueling in my mind: Mark 12:42 where a widow gives sacrificially to the point of having nothing left, and 1 Timothy 5:8 that states “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Which one of these was the right path to take? Around this time the Lord had impressed on me that I needed to ‘take care of my household’ in several areas including cleaning and home maintenance. Together we made the decision that we should take care of our household by temporarily stopping the charitable giving and work toward cleaning up the debt mess we had created.
Giving From A Place Of Strength
We made a decision to focus all our effort to get to a position of strength where we could give at an even higher level than before.
Amanda and I are always moved by the story at the beginning of a lesson in Financial Peace University. A man tells his family’s story of how they met a couple in their church and through a series of God orchestrated events that couple gave $10,000 for this man and his wife to adopt a baby girl. “Who does that?” asks the man. It turns out that the couple had a calling toward adoption. Having already adopted as many kids as they could fit in their home they set out to support adoption by helping others financially be able to adopt. They planned on giving and were financially able to do so.
Instead of scrimping to be able to give $100, what would it look like to effortlessly give $10,000? What if in your monthly budget you had a $500 line item that represented five $100 bills that you would be ready to eagerly give to people that God brought to your attention? That sounds very exciting to me!
It is our desire to give, being led by God, and we feel like this decision was a step toward that goal. When we are out of debt and are being better managers of the money God provides for us, we will be able to give more effectively than before.