FIRST-PERSON: The proof is in the giving
DORA, Ala. (BP) -- It's easy to tell how committed a person is when it comes to just about anything. A wife who's committed to her husband is going to love him, respect him and be faithful to him. Likewise a husband who loves his wife. A person who's committed to building a relationship will happily put in all the necessary time and effort.
Hezekiah, king of Judah, exemplified a deep commitment to the Lord, and the people responded by returning to faithful worship of Jehovah. The people's sincere devotion opened up what Malachi called many years later "the floodgates of heaven" (Malachi 3:10b); word spread in Hezekiah’s day about the joy, peace and abundance that the Lord was bestowing upon His faithful followers.
The giving of their material wealth and finances proved the sincerity of their commitment. "The people of Israel ... brought in the tithes" (2 Chronicles 31:5a, 6b). And the result? Azariah the high priest told Hezekiah, "Since the people began bringing their gifts to the Lord's temple, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare. The Lord has blessed His people, and all this is left over" (2 Chronicles 31:10b). The heaps of goods Azariah showed Hezekiah were merely the leftovers of what hadn't already been distributed.
Sadly, today's average professing Christian's giving is little or nothing. If churches were filled with committed, tithing believers, I can only begin to imagine the great things churches could accomplish for the glory of God.
Let's say a church has 100 adult members, each of whom has an average annual income of only $30,000. The tithes coming into that church would be $300,000 each year, not to mention any other gifts the members wished to contribute.
Reality, though, paints a much gloomier picture. Only about 5 percent of adult church members tithe, according to a study by The Barna Group, while, according to another study, more than one out of four Protestant Christians gives nothing whatsoever. And that means, in all likelihood, the church mentioned above would be operating on more like $15,000 to $60,000 in annual contributions.
The church Jesus Christ gave His life for is operating at 5 to 10 percent of its potential. No, everything isn't about dollar figures, but as Jesus summed it up, "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be" (Luke 12:34). And the fact is most churchgoers aren't so concerned with the survival of -- let alone the expansion of -- the Kingdom of God. If they cared, their pocketbooks would show it.
Hezekiah's people were dead serious about honoring the Lord -- so much so that "Hezekiah ordered that storerooms be prepared in the temple of the Lord. When this was done, the people faithfully brought all the tithes and gifts to the temple" (2 Chronicles 31:11-12a).
The temple had run out of places to put the people's tithes and offerings and had to have storerooms added on. Apparently even with all that generosity, the people were holding back until the priests and Levites could figure out where to put everything because as soon as the storerooms were built, the people were at it again -- giving, giving, giving.
Azariah told Hezekiah, "The Lord has blessed His people, and all this is left over." Because "the people faithfully brought all the tithes and gifts to the temple," God blessed them with abundance.
Like the widow at Zerephath whose flour and oil miraculously were replenished by the Lord, the faithful tither is provided for in ways he or she has never even imagined.
Think about a farmer who's down to his last cup of corn kernels. He can hold onto it or take it out and plant it. Hoarding it may give him enough to grind into a little bit of meal, but sowing it into the field will give him enough to eat and much left over to share with others. Not immediately, but in due time.
Give generously, then trust God to multiply not only what you've held onto but also that which you've sown, "that He may lift you up in due time" (1 Peter 5:6b).
Judy Woodward Bates, an author, speaker and media personality, is on the Web at www.Bargainomics.com. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).