The summer of 1972 was pivotal for me. Cathy and I were married that August, but it was what happened earlier in the summer that taught me some life lessons that still affect me most every day.
I was 20 (almost 21) years old. I had left college without graduating (which came later) and took a job for a Christian organization in Ohio. Cathy and I had gotten engaged that spring, then spent most of the summer across the country from one another. She was in Oregon as a summer missionary. Even though my pay was low, it was the closest thing to a real, steady job that I had known. The people I worked for provided me with a car and I enjoyed a level of great freedom.
I got involved in a tiny church in the college town where I lived. I had been involved in small churches before, but this one was about the smallest, with only about 20-30 people in attendance each week. I recall a certain twinge of guilt when the offering plate was passed during worship, but that uneasy feeling was minor compared to the temptation I felt in other areas.
The building where I worked was on the main street of town, and a nice men’s store was just a couple doors down from us. I got to know the owner, which made it easy to stop in there and admire the latest in men’s fashions. When I saw a pair of slacks I liked, I got them. Ditto with belts and shirts and ties (yes, I used to wear them!). When I didn’t have enough money in my checking account, they made it easy to charge my purchases.
The freedom of a vehicle added the possibility of regularly going to movies and I ate most meals in restaurants or fast food places. There was always something to do in my off hours and most of it cost money, which ran through my pockets like water through a tea strainer.
No amount of angst over my lack of money to give to the church offering seemed to lessen my drive to spend on all the things that called out to me from every direction.
I almost didn’t tell this story because of the sadness it still brings me. I wanted to tell it, though, because God has radically changed this part of my life over the years. I’m so glad He did. Jesus said, "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be." Matthew 6:21 (New Living Translation) I remember what life felt like when my treasure and my heart were both firmly planted in the world’s lie that life consists in my possessions. I tell my story because I am convinced that many of you, like me, are still fending off the guilty feelings of not giving while you are yielding to the temptation to keep spending more and more, with the hope of finding happiness.
By God’s grace, I changed. Here’s how:
- I married Cathy. I smile as I say this, since she’s taken and not available for anyone else! But I emphasize this point because Cathy had something I didn’t have enough of at that age: discipline. Cathy had been taught (so had I) that the tithe (10% of income) comes first. It was her discipline that helped me do what I had known, but failed to do, before.
- I discovered that God genuinely cares about our needs. Over and over, we have seen Him provide when problems seemed insurmountable.
- I discovered that it really IS more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:35) Life’s deepest joys have come to us from giving.
- I discovered that you can’t out-give God. (Luke 6:38) God is so generous and He loves it when His people start living by His divine design! He created us in His own image, which means He created us to give.
- I discovered that my heart fills with deep joy when it’s located near God’s heart. God’s heart is in the needs of the people He created. This is the treasure-heart principle being lived out.
42 years later, I write this with a longing that everyone…EVERYONE…would learn to live this way. I don’t have it down perfectly yet. There are still hiccups and messes, but the joy that comes from living this way surpasses anything I ever imagined back when I tried to fill my life with this world’s stuff. If this can help encourage you on that journey, it would bring me great joy.
This weekend, we will dig into Jesus words on this subject. It’s part of our “From here to where?’ series. I hope you can be there! Can’t make it? Catch the podcast!