Proverbs 3:9-10 (NLT)
“Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.”
I don’t know about all of you but Bruce and I have probably heard 100+ sermons on wealth, giving and tithing in our 37 years of marriage, never mind all the books…oh the books! Some have been honest teachings, others manipulative or downright condemning. In a few of the churches we’ve attended, the pastor was a reluctant or absent teacher about giving. It can be such a misused message, promoting guilt and obligation. Our current pastor has a healthy attitude toward giving. He doesn’t see members’ giving records and he always says,
“God’s not broke, he doesn’t need your money”
Or here’s another,
“Little is much when God is in it”
Giving is something we’ve wrestled with all our lives. It usually has superstition attached to it. That fear of not having enough if we don’t tithe or the idea that we’re inviting doom if we aren’t giving exactly 10%.
Recently, pastor has been teaching from Proverbs, the If + Then series. You can find it online at chicagotabernacle.org. It’s good. We’re usually a little hesitant, about these contractual type sermons. We brace ourselves, waiting to hear what we’re not doing to gain whatever promise is at the end of the contract. Proverbs is one of those books that can confound, it offers a lot of advice with promises. I’ve seen many a Christian family cling to the “raise up a child” verse only to be brokenhearted when their child dies and hasn’t made peace with God.
You can understand my hesitation about this series…
When it came to the above verses, there were many years of wrong teaching to refute. We’re at peace with the whole tithing, giving above and beyond practice, and we do give — even with joy, but the idea that our vats are full of new wine and our barns being loaded with grain eludes us.
We’re not rich
As Bruce and I digested this message, the truth about all our provision coming from God penetrated in a new way. Our ability to make it, steward it, share it and live by it all comes from above. We’ve heard it before but for some reason this time it stuck.
Bruce lives in a constant state of inadequacy, feeling like he’s failed in some regard because we aren’t wealthy by American Consumerism standards. He can measure his self worth by his retirement account and come up short every time. He’ll ask, why is that person, who lives a less consecrated life, enjoying so much wealth? It can seem unfair at times. And while we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others — we do.
What does it really mean to have a full barn and an overflowing vat of wine? If you evaluate yourself by the teachings in church you get the impression that it means your bank account is always flowing with funds (which assumes all your bills are paid on time) and your life is easy.
As I pondered this principle over the week I began to understand that my mind was conditioned to the American Consumerism definition of full barns and overflowing vats. A new idea rose up in me that made more sense of this verse. The idea that a full barn and overflowing vat simply means that I have,
More than I need
Puts an entirely different spin on things for me. I know that I definitely have more than I need of ANYTHING! Food, clothes, housing, cars, luxuries, medical, furniture, warmth, cool, retirement, and so on…
My barn is full and my vat is overflowing!
Even in our worst financial times we’ve had more than we need. God has always been faithful and provided for our needs — richly.
So how do I look at the disparities of those around me with grace and wisdom? Well, to begin with I acknowledge that there will always BE disparities! It doesn’t matter what kind of economic system or government we live under, wealth disparities will always exist among believers and non believers. NO system of government will eliminate them or even make them more equal. If history teaches anything it tells that mankind is born greedy.
Governing greed is an ageless endeavor
For believers who have much it’s good to remember who gave it to you! You didn’t get it because you tithed, gave, stewarded or earned it. You got it because God gave it to you. Period. Nothing wrong with enjoying it but there’s a humbling when you acknowledge where it came from. Protects us from thinking “more highly of ourselves than we ought”, (Romans 12:3).
Another way to address disparity is to realize that those who appear to have a lot aren’t always wealthy. In fact many are living at the edge of bankruptcy and hide it well, sadly, even believers. It’s never wise to assume that people who appear wealthy actually are wealthy. The reverse is also true. Humble and simple people often have deep pockets. They have no need to look wealthy and are often more willing to share.
Simple living can be a sign of a healthy steward
Lastly, the American Consumerism mentality is something that most of us need to be delivered from. It’s a powerful, sneaky, all consuming mindset that roots itself in us from childhood. It robs us of contentment, something Paul said he learned to be in any circumstance (Phil 4:11). With that first toy commercial during cartoon hour to the retirement ads during the news hour, we are bombarded with messages to consume or hoard. The irony should be obvious, you can’t do both…
As I shared some of this with Bruce we felt the guilt and inadequacy dissipate about our current financial status. We realized that because of God’s provision we’re subsidizing a couple of homes, we’re able to give to our church, we share with those in need, we’re able to eat and live comfortably, and we’re still enjoying some luxuries in life. There are some wants that we have but knowing God always provides — on time, we can wait…
With contentment and joy!