House-huntingI loved the neighborhood I lived in so in the evenings after work or on weekends, I’d drive around or stroll through the place looking at places I’d like to live. There was one particular place not far from the apartment I was renting that I always liked. I managed to get the real estate broker’s number from the management and amazingly when we met, the only place she could show me, the only listing she had, was a in a word: perfect. It was newly re-modeled, barely lived in, and simply and elegantly furnished. And though the price was fair, I could not afford it. That was the first place I looked at. I went to see 10 more but none were like that first one– the look of the place and the way it felt just was so positive.
To give or not to giveI could not stop thinking about that first place (let’s call it Apartment 1005) and I re-worked my spreadsheets over and over to see if I could find money by cutting back spending here and there but the numbers just would not work out UNLESS, I stopped tithing and use the money to add to the mortgage payments. I was desperate– I knew if someone with just a bit more money than I would see this place, it would sell in a second. I had a long prayer time telling God how much I wanted the place and how it would be a home for the small family I wanted to have. In the end, I relented telling God, “If this is the cost of obedience and if this is my way of showing you I love you more than my ambition, so be it. I know you have a plan for me and you have your timetable for it.” That prayer ended in peace but I can’t say it wasn’t painful. There were times when I’d give my tithe, I’d be reminded of that apartment and it made the giving hurt.
Second chances?Eight months, a pay increase, and the previous year’s bonus later I resumed the search for my own place. The first person I called was that same broker to check on Apartment 1005 to see if with some degree of luck it would still be available. To my shock she said, “Yes it is. And I believe it was you who last looked at the place. If you think the price is too high maybe we can ask the owners for a discount.” She went and asked and they were willing to let it go for 10 percent less. I got back to my spreadsheet and again I wouldn’t have enough to pay the monthly mortgage payments but not my much this time. Was God playing games with me? The place was still available, I got a 10 percent discount, and I’m short by so little! And yet again, i was tempted to cut into my tithe. I don’t know how I did it but I had just enough faith to resist. That week I was telling my colleague at work how I’m so close but so far away from buying this house. Then a few days later when I got my salary, I saw an increase in my pay. This was the most overwhelming feeling because that pay increase, after income tax and my tithe on it, was EXACTLY the amount I needed. It was an increase to reward me for my good work that year– totally unexpected.
I got the house a little before my 31st birthday.My budget then was so tight and for the next 15 years, which was the term of the loan, I’d be living on the equivalent of Dave Ramsey’s “rice and beans”.
Then and nowA lot has happened since that day. Most notable of which is that on October 15, 2010, I paid off that house early, 11 years ahead of schedule without ever missing a month of my tithing for the last 4 years. Since the day I signed the papers on Apartment 1005, financial and career blessings (promotions, successful investments, bonuses) poured in year after year that I’ve been able to increase the amount of my monthly payments as well as put payments against the principal. Somewhere along the way, I’ve moved tithing off my gross income instead of my net income, the financial blessings that have made it possible for me to pay off the loan quickly I’ve used to help others put siblings through school, start businesses, and pay for hospital bills. The small place I have I’ve shared by using it as a venue for prayer groups and temporary living for mission workers. It has been an awesome journey of faith. I came across this reading in Scripture today and I think it sums up what it feels like to be writing this:
“May you understand with what extraordinary power he acts in favor of us who believe.” – Ephesians 1:19
Lessons I’ve Learned
- God doesn’t want my money, He wants my heart and He is faithful.
- Tithing is about not what we can give to God. It is about what God can give us when we let go and open ourselves up to Him to fill us.
- The practice of tithing frees us from the grip of materialism and greed. It teaches us that we are not what we own and its is possible to be happy and contented with less, letting us on the important things: faith, others / service, and relationships.
- We are merely stewards of blessings and they are meant to be used to bless others. And sharing feels much better than hoarding.