When it comes to tithing, I am one of those “average Americans” you have noted who give only 1% of their income to charity. I would like to start tithing the full 10%, but my finances aren't in good shape. I never seem to have enough money to get through the month and am dealing with credit-card debt. How does someone in my situation get to the point of giving 10%?
The fact that you now want to tithe will be a key in finding a way to do so. The tithing journey is one that requires both stepping out in faith and personal responsibility.
Normally, our Lord tells us not to test him. But, when it comes to tithing, he specifically directs us to do so. In Malachi 3:7-10, we read, “Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. … Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house, and try me in this, says the Lord of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure?”
While some families decide to increase giving immediately to a full tithe, in most cases, I encourage them to take an incremental approach, especially when there are other financial problems as you described. If a family is currently spending 110% of its income, then starts tithing without making any adjustments, they'll find themselves spending 120% of their income — and falling deeper into debt. While we need to trust in our Lord's providence as our Heavenly Father, he expects us to use tools at our disposal to properly manage our finances. Here are some suggestions:
Complete an overall review of your finances to get a better understanding of where you stand. Catholic Answers' Guide to Your Family Finances (available at www. catholic.com) may prove helpful in this process. Your next step will be to create an initial budget, which factors in an increase in your giving from, let's say 1% to 3%, and includes appropriate amounts for debt repayment. Does your new budget balance?
If not, you'll need to come up with cost-saving ideas to implement until it does. Once your initial budget is completed, you'll want to track your expenses to verify that your actual spending is in line with your budget.
Once you have completed these steps, I would encourage you to “test” our Lord by increasing your giving by a percentage point every few months. At the same time, be “working” your budget to keep it balanced. Keep your desire to tithe in prayer and, while it may take a couple of years to reach a full tithe, you'll find that keeping God first in your finances has positive ramifications on many other areas of your life as well. God love you!
Phil Lenahan is director of media and finance at Catholic Answers in El Cajon, California.