Occasionally, I preach on a certain Biblical principle that is extremely important but is also one that a lot of people don’t want to hear: tithing. God instituted it and addressed it on multiple occasions. I’ve seen the lives of many individuals and families transformed when this practice is faithfully followed. I’ve also noticed some dirty looks from those who don’t appreciate it when I speak of what the Bible says about how to spend “their” money.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of interesting reasons from church members as to why they let the offering plate pass them by. However, one individual’s justification for not tithing stands out among the rest. He chose not to give because of an old country song by Hank Williams.
I remember sitting on the tailgate of a truck on a sunny afternoon with this man who lived near me and had been a casual acquaintance for a couple of years. As we visited, he began to tell me about his money troubles. He had retired about 10 years earlier when his finances had been in great shape. However, the financial crisis of 2008 hit him, and more specifically his retirement fund, much harder than most. In less than six months, he went from living in luxury to barely covering his house payment.
I listened as he recalled that when things had been good, he had been a faithful giver to his church, often giving over and above his ten percent. I assumed that we was about to say that even though his situation had changed, he was still giving and God was faithfully providing. That’s not what he said.
“One day, shortly after losing all our money,” he said, “I drove up to the top of a hill to take some time to sit alone and pray. I didn’t have enough in the checking account to get through the next week, and even though I wanted to, I had no idea how I would be able to tithe on Sunday. As I sat there thinking and praying about what to do, an old song by Hank Williams came on the radio and I knew in that moment that God was telling me it was okay not to tithe.”
He had my full attention! I don’t remember the specific details, but the words of the song said something like, “Don’t worry about today. God knows your heart and everything will be better tomorrow.” (Apologies to Hank Williams for what I’m sure is a terrible misquote.)
This man was convinced that God had used this song to tell him that it was perfectly okay to stop his giving until such a time as his finances were fully restored. What I wanted to tell this gentleman was that God was not using Hank Williams to speak to him. Hank Williams just gave him an excuse to hear what he wanted to hear.
Let me stop for second and clarify that I do believe God speaks to His children through a vast variety of ways and that we, His followers, should learn to listen for His voice. However, we must also learn to discern God’s voice from all others, even our own. Take a look at what Jesus said about this:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27–28, ESV)
His sheep KNOW His voice. I’ll admit that sometimes the noise of this world and the cries of my old sinful flesh can get pretty loud. If I’m not careful, I can confuse these things so that I hear what I want to hear and justify my choices by saying, “God said to me…”
If you’re struggling to discern the manner and/or message of God’s guidance for you, then let me help by providing a few quick reminders.
- God’s voice will not contradict His Word. Our Father has already provided an abundance of wisdom and guidance through Scripture, and since God is the Author of the Bible, He is not going to tell you to do something that stands in opposition to what He has already instructed. I’ve heard people say, “God said it was okay for me to walk out on my family” or “I felt God telling me that I don’t need to be a part of a church.” I’m sorry to tell you, but no – God did not say those things. When I believe God is speaking to me about something, I turn His Word to find confirmation and to be certain that what I think He is telling me doesn’t contradict what He has already said.
- God’s voice isn’t always pleasant. What I mean is that more often than not, what God is trying to tell me isn’t the thing I want to hear. I want the easy answer and the justification for my choices, but God calls His children to live for a higher calling. Don’t be surprised or dejected when what God seems to be saying to you isn’t what you had hoped to hear.
- God speaks so that He might increase your faith. This goes along with my last point in that God does not just tell you whatever you want to hear, but He will tell you things that will test, stretch, and grow your faith. Jesus said that He leads His sheep to good pasture (John 10:9), but what isn’t mentioned are the trials and challenges that are faced on the way to that good pasture. Those who listen to Him and follow Him will find that blessed destination.
I can’t help but think of that man and his belief that God told him it was okay not to tithe. If he had examined the issue further, he would have seen that God had already been perfectly clear on His instructions about giving. If he had been willing to truly listen to God, this man would have been many times more blessed as he watched God miraculously provide through difficult times. The result would have been an increased faith and glory given to God. Instead, Hank Williams won the day.
Today, who are you listening to? Are you taking the time to make sure you’re hearing God’s voice, that you’re welcoming His voice even when it’s saying something you many not want to hear? Are you seeking the faith to follow wherever He leads? Or, are you just hoping the right song will come on the radio?