Note: I wrote this article about four months ago, but I’ve been afraid to publish it. I didn’t want it to seem like I’m boasting. However, I think that through transparency we can all encourage each other towards spiritual growth in our giving.
Earlier in the year, I read Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions by Craig L. Blomberg. At the end of the book, he talked about how he and his family practice some of the things discussed in the book. I found it helpful so that I could pinpoint how he actually applied some of his teachings. As such, I’m going to attempt to do the same.
Four years ago when I started this blog, my wife and I were giving 10% of our income and investing 15%. At that time, we had no debt other than our home. That New Year, my wife and I agreed that we would follow the principles of something called the graduated tithe. Essentially, we agreed that as we made more money, we wouldn’t just increase our cost of living, but we would use some of the excess (in increasing amounts) for the kingdom.
The next year, we decided that we needed to increase our giving, so we gave 12% of our income. We also invested 15% in retirement. I saved 100% of my blog income as a business emergency fund.
The following year, we again wanted to increase our giving, but we found it difficult to know where to get those funds from. As missionaries, we found that we didn’t have a lot of discretionary income. After some study and prayer, I concluded that I couldn’t in good conscience contribute more to my needs for tomorrow than I could to the needs of the church today. As a result, we dropped our retirement contribution for the first time – from 15% – 12.5% and increased our giving to match our retirement savings. You can read more about that here.
I was keeping my blog income completely separate from our other income, so I used about 75% of my blog earnings for different ministry things I was doing in PNG. The bulk of that went to a small business program I attempted to start in Papua New Guinea.
In 2012, my income increased as I transitioned from a missionary to a self-employed missional entrepreneur.
This year, we included all forms of income into one and were able to give around 30% of our income.
If our income level remained where it was in 2011, we would’ve struggled to give 30%. One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes our generosity doesn’t change, but our income does. Those who give more are not necessarily more generous, but have simply been blessed to be able to have stewardship over a larger income.
I know many of you probably wish you earned more so you could enjoy a greater share in the grace of giving. However, we must recognize that God only asks us to be responsible with what he has given us. Depending on your income, giving 10% could be very generous under your circumstances. However, 10% could also be a stingy amount to be using for the Kingdom of God.
Yes, we do have luxuries in our home.
I bought a 21″ iMac. We bought an Xbox 360 family gift for Christmas. I own an iPhone. In 2012, we spent about $5,500 on travel. We go out to eat a couple times a month.
I believe that God is pleased when we can experience the joy of his blessings. We have a nice home, two cars, and more gadgets than we need. We spend money on things we don’t need. This includes different types of entertainment, activities, and games. We pay for gas to visit friends and family. We are richly blessed and live a full life.
However, the fullness does not come from what we own or buy. We find our satisfaction in Christ. He is our hope. If God decided to take away the things we have, we can only pray that he’d help our faith to continue to grow.
Still, there is a limit to what we spend on ourselves. We have determined how much is enough, and when we earn more than that amount, we use it for Kingdom work. It’s an amount that allows us to experience the blessing of God’s kindness to us, while also accepting our responsibility to minister to others. There are things we do to ensure we’re not wasting what we’ve been entrusted with.
There is more – much more – we could be doing.
We don’t eat rice and beans. We don’t refuse to do anything that costs money. At this point, we feel like we’re being faithful with what we have, but we also recognize there are many ways God may help us to grow in the grace of giving.
Here are some proactive steps we take to be sure we have something for others:
- We buy 95% of our clothing second hand.
- We’re in the process of closing on a home in a nice neighborhood, but we did make an intentional decision to buy far below what we could afford. (We actually backed out of that deal and won’t be buying the home).
- We take advantage of special deals that lead to savings. We use coupons whenever possible. We buy items when they are on sale.
- We always try to live without something before we rush out to buy it. We embrace a certain amount of minimalism since we recognize that some of the things we could buy simply are a waste. My wife doesn’t have every kitchen gadget imaginable, but she uses items that do the job.
- We keep a close eye on entertainment expenses to ensure we’re not entertaining ourselves and neglecting others. My wife and I each have a $10 per month entertainment budget. That doesn’t leave much room for going out to movies, but we struggle to pay more simply to entertain ourselves. We’re often just as happy going for a walk as we are going to the movies.
- We buy only what we can afford and don’t borrow money.
- We do our best to keep a tight dining out budget ($65 per month), but willingly go over budget when we have an opportunity to socialize with others we’d otherwise neglect to visit.
There is much, much more we could be doing. We feel like we are able to bless people by making these few simple ‘sacrifices‘.
We try to focus our giving in equal parts to the following three categories:
- Churches, specifically the local church.
- Ministry to the poor. We like what Healing Hands International is doing.
- Missionary work (mostly international).
I still wrestle with what God calls our family to do with our finances. This is a chapter in our lives, not a conclusive description of what God calls us to be. I can only pray that in the years to come, God will teach us more and increase our faith even more.