Hey Mom, where is all the food in this house?"
Those words frequently rolled out of my teenaged mouth, probably on a daily basis. At this moment, we were down to an alarmingly low supply of snacks—toaster pasteries, cake, and bananas.
My mom had long since grown immune to this kind of whining from her boys. Her face showed none of the emotion that musthave been going on inside her heart. She had the look of steeled con dence, which was odd. I needed food! So instead of answering withwords, she began to teach. In that moment, she personally modeled the most memorable lesson that I have ever learned aboutgenerosity, faith, and worship—at the kitchen table. That day, God caught me by surprise.
Growing up in a Nazarene parsonage in the late 1970s, I experienced many bene ts, but nancial security was not one of them. Wefrequently ran on the cutting edge between supply and lack.
My father and mother always lived sacrificially so that we could have at least onenew pair of pants for the school year and newSunday shoes for Easter. My mom did go allin one year at Easter when she bought me a canary yellow leisure suit (and I have the embarrassing photo to prove it), but that was about as extravagant as life ever got.
Since they both lived through thedepression, they had a knack for stretching a dollar and for saving even when money wasscarce. What I didn’t know at this time was that all the money was gone, and we didn’t have food. Also, we wouldn’t get paid again for a couple of days.
So, Mom didn’t answer me with words that day. She just sat down at the kitchentable and pulled out her purse. I sat down next to her. She pulled out her checkbook and began to write a check with her beautiful, left-handed cursive scripting. She started with “Pay to the Order,” and then she wrote these words: Champion Church of the Nazarene.
I had seen her do this before. When it came time to write the usual 10 percent number that I had memorized, I noticed that she took that number, and doubled it! She wrote a double-tithe check to the church, and wrote “tithe” in the memo line. This was strange and troubling to my hungry teenaged brain.
Immediately I said, “Mom, what are you doing? We need food in this house! I have needs, you know.”
She calmly said to me, “I know. We are out of money. We don’t have any food. But we serve the Lord, and when finances get tight, I have learned to increase our giving. When I do this, God always comes through, and He will get the glory again for meeting all of our needs. I trust God to be as generous in return to us. Now it’s up to Him to back up His word when He said to ‘give and it will be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, and running over.’”
She then said the words I have learned to live by and have preached over the years to others: “Brett, you can never out-give the Lord.”
This was crazy talk, but she was not crazy. In fact, this was not just talk; this was what worship looked like from the kitchen table.
Before the ink was even dry on the check, someone knocked on our front door, and we heard tires racing out of our gravel driveway. When I opened the door, there were two full sacks of groceries, a frozen turkey, and a bag of fresh-picked green beans. I tried to figure out who had done this, but only saw brake lights in the distance.
I was totally amazed! I had just witnessed the first of many reminders that God’s Word is always true, and that He can always be trusted in every matter of life. I had never been more thankful to have food and for the mom who had that kind of faith. That sacrificially generous church would later pay to put braces on my 14-year-old teeth!
That lesson was 40 years ago, but it is an indelible reminder that God is pleased to bless those who exhibit calmly measured, radical acts of worship through giving.
Mom was right: You can’t out-give the Lord, but when Mindy and I were first married, I forgot this important element of worship in my own life. We were both fresh out of college, and we were trying to put together a life as a young married couple. We didn’t have much furniture, or money, or anything for that matter. Our cars never knew what it felt like to have a full tank of gas, and usually, by Wednesday of each week, our money was completely gone, with payday not coming until Friday. We literally never made it to the next check without hardship. Ramen noodles were our manna. This was normal during our first three years of married life.
Finally, I said to Mindy, “We really need to give to God first. We need to tithe. I’m tired of living like this.” She is an accountant, and she knew the numbers. She knew that we were already struggling, but like me, she knew something needed to change. We decided to begin to give to God first and then live on the rest.
You can probably guess what happened next. Mindy got a $300 bonus at work. I got a raise. By the end of 60 days, we were tithing and had money left over. We weren’t pastors at the time. We weren’t giving to get. We were giving as an act of faith, and when we gave, God showed up. We found out what mom showed me at the kitchen table: We can never give more than the Lord.
Giving as Worship
Over the years in church life I have come to learn that many people don’t see giving as a part of their worship. They see it like I did early on: as something they would like to do but can’t a ord to do. I have also observed those who give faithfully and sacrificially. They always seem to have more than enough to cover every bill and even money left over to bless others.
So, when it comes to asking our congregation to give on Sundays, and every other day, I never hesitate. Why would I rob these good people of a blessing that can only come by faith demonstrated by sacri cial giving? I truly believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and I refuse to hide this important truth.
I know there is debate in the church about whether or not we should even talk about tithing—that we aren’t under that old covenant, etc. For me, tithing isn’t law, it is life! It’s a starting point when I have every reason to pare down that number to a more comfortable one. It is the beginning of worship in the financial realm, just like singing “Jesus Loves Me” as a child. It’s a declaration of war on the kingdom of selfishness that wants to own me and my family.
Learning to Give as Worship
Now, each year, we ask God how much more we should give. The tithe is just the start. For the last 34 years of tithing, giving to missions, and other opportunities, we have never missed a bill. We have always been able to save something.
Sometimes worship starts at the kitchen table, where checks are written and lessons are silently spoken. When things get tight, we do what my mother lived: We give more. You can never give more than the Lord.