No one cared that I slept through church. The older ladies gathered around me and called me “cute.” My skin was still splotchy, and my eyes were clenched tight, squeezing out the light. I was just five days old. My mother sat with her new baby in the second row, proud of her expanding family.
I can’t be sure, but there’s a good chance that first sermon was on tithing. We got a lot of that in our little mountain church full of lower-class working congregants. There were bills to pay, and the pastor did all he could to keep the lights on.
Now, five decades later, I’m pretty certain I’ve heard just about every kind of sermon on tithing. I can recite the Scripture verses, retell the illustrations, and rehearse the main points. I know that it’s a Christian imperative, something necessary for the growth of the church. It’s good for my soul. And yes, I need to be a cheerful giver.
But I’ve only recently discovered something new about giving. Only it’s not just about my money, it concerns my time.
It’s More Than Just a Check
For years, maybe decades, I found a comfortable rhythm with tithing. I’ve set up a regular process, just like most things in my life. I get my paycheck every other Friday, and on Saturday morning I write out the checks, dutifully completing the tithe check along with my water bill, my mortgage, and my VISA. I drop the check in the offering on Sunday. Duty done.
But after years of doing things like this, I have to admit that I found myself treating the tithe as just another bill that I need to budget, plan, and pay. To be honest, there’s little celebration. Devoid of emotion or divine unction, I give because I’m supposed to, out of a holy habit.
My attitude toward giving changed when I decided to take seriously the challenges laid out the book, The Hole in Our Gospel. In those pages, Richard Stearns juxtaposes the relative wealth of those of us in the West with our neighbors in the rest of the world. He encourages us to not simply give “guilt money” but says that “loving our neighbors” is a call to action, requiring our willingness to offer up our entire lives to the cause.
The Full Ledger of All We Have to Offer
Stearns encourages not just a tithe from our paycheck but a full reckoning and measured return on every aspect of who we are—our treasure, talent, and time – for the sake of the gospel. When I look at all I’ve been given, “tithing” encompasses far more than my money.
While I have been comfortable giving my treasures through the check in the offering plate, I was a little less comfortable with giving up my time. While I’ve often offered my meager talents for the sake of the Kingdom, I’ve been less than generous with my time.
A Bible passage that has always been on the tip of my tongue—no doubt because it was preached on day five of my life—is, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Some have a tight grip on money. Others guard their talent and their gifts. But for me, my heart definitely belongs to the clock. I guard it. I protect it. I fuss over it. I treasure it. I may even worship it.
Take My Riches, Take My Clock
What’s the biblical solution to such idolatry? Give it up.
It’s been a long process, but I’m learning to give my time as freely as I give my money. As I’ve freed up my schedule to serve, I’ve found the same richness of spirit as when I give financially. And amazingly, I’ve actually found that when I give my time, my hours seem to stretch. And when I open my schedule to God’s prompting and use, I find that my life is richer.
I’m busy—as are you. I work full time with pressure of family, social obligations, commitments to groups, and a part-time writing career. But not all of that time is always well spent.
Some of the tithing of time means that I have to say no to certain things, like work gatherings, out-of-town travel, and leisure activities. It means saying yes to things like driving some men and women just out of prison to church. It means showing up early at church to set up chairs. It means spending time with an elderly neighbor fresh out of surgery.
Missing out on the richness of all that God gives? Take a look at your clock, and start giving out of the twenty-four-hour, daily allotment. This is not likely a sermon you’ll hear from the pulpit, but it’s a message from the heart of our God, who wants all of you.