I've been reading The Purpose Driven Life for a few weeks. I started it in the summer and didn't finish it, so I decided to start it again last month.
One of the reasons the book is divided into 40 readings is that people often read a book so quickly that they don't stop to take it in. I read books quickly, but that's generally because I have far too much time on my hands (since I'm unemployed and have no family obligations). I tend to have the opposite problem when I do daily readings. I do the daily reading and then go on to something else. I don't really think this is any more helpful than reading the entire book too quickly.
As a remedy for this problem, I sometimes go back and revisit portions of the book. This morning I had planned to write about fellowship since that's where the study is focusing right now in the daily readings. But I am feeling a pull to write about something entirely different. I'm revisiting a prior topic in the book, and I think it's something significant for me.
Someone on an email list asked about tithing recently. Should you tithe ten percent if you can't pay your bills? Or should you tithe your time?
Tithing is a rather loaded topic for many people. Some people can't pay their bills because they have mismanaged their money and driven themselves into debt. Mismanaging our money (or time or resources) doesn't glorify God; and this is something I want to remedy in my own life. But there is more to the topic of tithing than this, and that "more" speaks to the question of what to do when the reason I can't pay my bills is that my income comes from public assistance and what is provided by this country's government is insufficient to meet basic needs.
When I think about tithing, I often think of Cain and Abel. Abel gave a tenth of his gain to the Lord, and so did Cain. So what made Cain's offering unacceptable to God? I notice a couple of things about the passage. Abel was a hunter. Whatever he had was what God gave him. He didn't produce it, and he couldn't get more of it simply by working harder. Cain, on the other hand, was a tiller of the ground. How easy it would be for him to say, "Here, God. Here's mytenth. See how good I did? I made this myself!"
Cain's response shows the condition of his heart. He was competing with Abel from the start. Otherwise he would have no need to kill Abel because he would be focused truly on pleasing God. His offering wasn't about pleasing God. It was about trying to earn favor and keep up with his brother.
Tithing is really about attitude. It is about remembering that all we have comes from God and honoring Him by giving back to Him with an attitude of trust. How does that work for people who can't pay the bills? I don't know. But I do know that if we are good stewards of what we do have, God honors that andif we can't afford to give that ten percent every month we do need to remain sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and give when we are led to give. And most important, we need to focus completely on God.
This ties directly in with the first portion of the book. The first few days' readings talk about God being our source, our creation and the circumstances of our lives being intentional, and our highest purpose being to please God. That's a rather crude summary, but it works. All that I am and all that I have comes from God, and the reason that I exist and have what I have is to please Him.
I "got saved" when I was 12 years old. It wasn't a dramatic experience. In fact, it was so deeply personal that it was made dramatic just by its departure from the normal experience people talk about. There was no preacher. In fact, there was no altar to kneel before. I was sitting in the back seat of my mother's car.
I had gone out to the garage with my sister to get settled in the car while Mom gathered her purse, keys, etc. We would be leaving, and Mom would drop my sister off at day care and then take me across town to a summer program for blind children. As usual, my sister and I began fighting about who would sit in the front seat. Insistent that it was my turn, I decided that since she wouldn't get out of the front seat, I would simply sit on top of her.
Of course, she became angry and began pounding on me with her fists. She achieved the desired response--I got up and moved to the back seat. But she had no intention of letting anything be forgotten. "I'm going to tell Mom!" she shrieked.
For a moment, I considered taking advantage of the situation. She was inside the house. All I would have to do was move her backpack to the back seat, and then I could sit in the front. Sitting in the front was important to me because the seat was more comfortable--and I should be the one to get the comfortable seat anyway since I had the longer ride.
But as I thought about this, a strange thing happened. I suddenly saw the image of a face with tears glistening on the cheeks. I could not make out facial features, and I don't know why I could see the tears. Tears aren't normally something I would be able to see. But I saw them then, and I heard a voice. "You know it doesn't please me when you do that."
I have thought about this experience several times since that day in July, 1984. Wouldn't it be condemning for God to say something like that to me? Was the experience really borne out of an exercise my mother had assigned previiously when my sister and I were fighting? We had both been ordered to read 1 Corinthians 13. In fact, the fact that our fighting was not representative of Christian values was not lost on either of us. But normally, this fact did not faze me. It was simply a fact that my mother used to discipline us.
But this morning, it was different. I was deeply moved by the tears, and I did not feel condemned or punished. I felt called. I wanted to please God; and I knew that my belief in Christ and deliberate commitment to living a Christian lifestyle would please Him.
Sadly, some things take a very long time to sink in. I have reverted often to trying to please God by my own strength, trying to earn His pleasure just as Cain did. In fact, I have not only tried to please Him in my own strength; but I have done it with hidden selfish motives. I have done it because Iwanted His blessing, not because I cared about His pleasure. That certainly doesn't please Him! In fact, He has already blessed me with so many good things! It isn't wrong for me to ask for anything from Him, but when I ask out of this kind of selfishness and have no regard for His desires or pleasure, why should I expect anything from Him?
Some more things to ponder from The Purpose Driven Life (pp. 47-50):
This is what God wants most from you: a relationship! It’s the most astounding truth in the universe — that our Creator wants to fellowship with us. God made you to love you, and he longs for you to love him back. He says,“I don’t want your sacrifices--I want your love; I don’t want your offerings--I want you to know me.”
... Trusting God completely means having faith that he knows what is best for your life. You expect him to keep his promises, help you with problems, and do the impossible when necessary. The Bible says,“He takes pleasure in those that honor Him; in those who trust in His constant love.”
... In what areas of your life do you need to trust God completely? Trusting is an act of worship. Just as parents are pleased when children trust their love and wisdom, your faith makes God happy. The Bible says,“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
God smiles when we obey him wholeheartedly. Saving the animal population from a worldwide flood required great attention to logistics and details. Everything had to be done just as God prescribed it. God didn’t say, “Build any old boat you’d like, Noah.” He gave very detailed instructions as to the size, shape, and materials of the ark as well as the different numbers of animals to be brought on board. The Bible tells us Noah’s response:“So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.”
Sometimes I think trusting God would be a lot easier if I had a clearer picture of what I'm supposed to be doing. I don't know if I'm missing something, if I'm following His will, or if what's going on in my life just falls under doing "whatever I do" for His glory. Sometimes I get very tired trying to think about it. That's probably a clue that I'm going about this all wrong--after all, it's God's place to search my heart and mold me, not mine. Maybe He's searching my heart using these circumstances. I just wish it didn't hurt so much, and I wish I could get on with the plans and finish up with this testing already! I don't want to have these hidden motives anymore. But maybe the only way for God to remove them is to deny me what I ask for. Then perhaps I would stop wanting things if I stopped asking for them... But then perhaps I will have nothing because I fail to ask. It's very confusing.
A few weeks ago, I decided that I would pursue adopting a child through the foster care system. I have thought about this twice before but both times came to the conclusion that it was not the right time for me to adopt. Practically speaking, I don't know that it's time now either. Lack of employment has been a thorn in my side since I graduated from college with a Bachelor's degree in psychology. I am unable to do the jobs I am qualified for; and I neither want nor qualify for an office job. Practically, this means that I am stuck receiving public assistance benefits for people with disabilities while I try to find paying markets for my writing. I don't have much money for caring for a child.
I do, however, have time; and one thing that is different now from what was two years ago (when I first thought seriously about adopting) is the fact that I have a much clearer sense of my abilities and gifts as a potential parent and a much stronger desire to adopt because of the benefit of adoption to the child--and less because of the benefit to me. I cannot shake the thought that somewhere out there is a child who needs something I can give. My deep desire has always been to work in a group home for people with developmental and/or psychiatric disabilities. I can't get these jobs, though, because I can't drive a van load of residents to a social outing. Is God trying to redirect me? Is it possible that instead of being an occasional light for six or seven people, I am to give my own home for two or three?
But there are potential barriers. The income problem is a huge one. Blindness is another. This week, when I registered for my training class, the instructor became very hostile and harsh when I mentioned my blindness. She said abruptly that whoever did my home study "would have to ask a lot of questions because it's our responsibility to keep these children safe."
I felt lower than a criminal! I have 19 years of experience caring for children in the church nursery, as a baby sitter, as an aunt, and as a day care worker. I'm more cautious and involved than most other people I know. In fact, people have told me they feel better leaving their children with me because I'm not leaving the children alone while I wander off to talk on the phone. But I am considered unsafe simply because my eyes don't work. It hurts.
But God knows my qualifications, and somehow I still believe that He is bigger than all of this. Father, I want to do what's right. If it isn't time to adopt, I won't if only You will tell me. Please don't let these barriers stand in the way if this is Your will for me to continue with this process.