Today I’m pleased to introduce you to my friend Caryn Rivadeneira. Caryn is a writer, speaker and author of five books, including her newest, Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed About God’s Abundance (InterVarsity Press, 2014). Caryn is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics, a columnist for ThinkChristian, and has written for OnFaith, Relevant, Christianity Today, among others. Caryn lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband, three kids and one rescued pit bull. Visit Caryn at carynrivadeneira.com
I always appreciate Caryn’s thoughtful take on things, and today in no different. Enjoy!
Not long ago, I’d’ve flipped. I’d’ve gone nuts upon reading that Ed Young, fancy pastor extraordinaire of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, joined the ranks of pastors who issue a “Tithe Challenge,” offering a “money-back guarantee” if God doesn’t bless your tithe in 90 days by opening the floodgates of heaven on your rear and leaving you maniacally laughing in a ball pit of money tossing cash into the air (or something like that).
In fact, had I heard the challenge issued, I’d have been one of those standing in line asking for my money back. After all, it was while we were above-and-beyond-the-tithe faithful givers and just after we’d filled a pledge to donate sacrificial chunks of change to our church’s building campaign that we began our descent (slow at first, then picking up nice steam) from cushy, comfy well-off to broke. The kind of broke when businesses and economies slump, dragging incomes down with them, when babies are born without insurance and ginormous hospital bills go unpaid for far too long and interest heaps on, when businesses die and new jobs can’t be found, when mortgages can only be covered by the good grace of family members, and when food is bought on credit or gift cards from kind friends.
This kind of broke makes you cancel the pledge you made to church and to God because God, in fact, did not seem to open the floodgates of heaven. This kind of broke makes you read the words of Malachi 3:10, the verse Ed Young bases his challenge on, and doubt God—his goodness, his faithfulness, his existence.
But this time I did not flip out. I did not go nuts upon reading that Ed Young offered this money-back guarantee from God. Because Ed Young is right. Dead right. God is true to his promise in Malachi. God blesses our socks off when we give faithfully, sacrificially, when we bring the tithe.
But the blessing is always (usually) what we expect.
So here’s the deal. People who are rich (whether globally rich—meaning those who make enough to pay basic bills, keep a roof over their heads, a car in the driveway, food on the table and clothes on backs—or American rich—meaning they have all that and all the extras too) and who don’t falter from wealth, who don’t teeter into the land of the financially desperate, will of course read God’s promises different from those who are broke.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse,” God says in Malachi 3:10,“that there may be food in my house. Test me in this…and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”
It’s no wonder rich pastors like Ed Young cling to this. I’m sure Pastor Young gives faithfully and therefore Malachi 3:10 handily helps him hang his wealth on God. No guilt about his million dollar homes, planes, salary or even that other extra pair of Spanx. Because God blesses!
And, naturally I get why this verse appeals to broke folks: being broke stinks. Not having enough to cover the bills, fretting month after month about how to pay rent or mortgages or keep utilities on and kids fed and supplied stinks. So when this lovely promise in Malachi offers the fresh scent of financial abundance, we’re all over it.
Of course, the problem is that while God may very well have been talking about material blessings as a “proof” of his faithfulness and his longing for his people to “return to me” (doesn’t that break your heart?) and though God certainly could’ve used stuff to woo back the wandering Israelites back from their jagged journey as God’s people, it’s tough to look at Scripture as a whole and believe that money, money, money is God’s blessing of choice.
Certainly it isn’t by the time of Jesus. With Jesus, wealth isn’t so much a blessing as something that gets in the way of being blessed. At least, that’s what Jesus says—in the Beatitudes, to the rich young ruler. And I’m going to go out on a limb that Jesus brought his first fruits faithfully (and paid his taxes dutifully) but Jesus seemed a bit strapped for cash, praying for his bread every single day and all.
So it goes to figure that if God really wants to bless us, if he really wants to prove his faithfulness and if God is interested in blessing us so that we experience his goodness and bring about his kingdom, maybe—sometimes—he’s going to allow us to have less money rather than more. He’s going to let our gaze fall from the stuff we want and maybe move it toward the hurts of this world, toward our individual callings or turn our eyes upon Jesus, as the song says. So sometimes those floodgates will pour out blessings that look much more like brokenness, suffering, challenges so that we can know God’s goodness, his presence, in ways that have nothing to do with dollar signs.
But, of course, not always. Sometimes those blessings are financial. To deny that right-on-time check or the loan of a cabin for a summer vacation you could never afford is from God would be ungracious. Rude.
Even still: most of the blessings we receive don’t come within 90 days of an act of obedience. Instead, they come straight from God’s love on his timetable. And they don’t come with a money-back-guarantee because there’s no money required. They’re free. Gratis. Grace.
Giving is good. Giving is wise. And God blesses our giving and uses it to bless. But when we hold God to our standard of what blessings should be and if we stand ready to ask for our money back from God, we’re neither being blessings nor being blessed. And we certainly ain’t getting richer.
For more, be sure to check out Broke: What Financial Desperation Revealed About God’s Abundance.
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