Back to “joy”

It’s been nearly a month since I last posted about my study of joy. I wish that I could say that I simply got behind in my blogging, but I am rather ashamed to admit that the truth is that I got behind in my devotions. To go for a month with virtually no devotions is unacceptable, and so today, I have sat down to spend some much-needed time in Scripture, resuming my study of Biblical joy. And I’ve landed, once again, in the book of Deuteronomy.In Deuteronomy 14:22-26, Moses is giving instructions about the tithe that the Israelites were supposed to devote to God. Now, you need to understand that a tithe is not just the couple of bucks that many people will drop in the plate on Sunday morning. Indeed, in verse 22, when Moses said, “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow,” the Israelites who listened to him understood that they were supposed to give the first (i.e., best) 10% of the gross of their income. This would be like us giving to God 10% of our pre-tax income, including health insurance premiums and other benefits, bonuses, etc. To me, that seems steep, and so when I come to verse 26, where Moses adds that, however they give their tithe (i.e., whether they bring the actual produce or convert it to money then buy supplies when they get to the temple), they are to “eat in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”

In other words, they were supposed to rejoice when they gave their tithe! What a thought! Imagine people jumping up and down in celebration when they dropped 10% of their gross paycheck – not just a couple of bucks – in the plate! It’s absurd!

Or is it?

The reality is that I seldom feel better than when I have the opportunity to give significant chunks of time, energy, and/or money to something that I know is worthwhile. And numerous studies have demonstrated that generosity actually benefits one’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

Indeed, as at least a few have realized, there is a tremendous paradox when you deal with generosity. As M. J. Ryan pointed out in The Giving Heart, “If we are afraid of not having enough, we think we need to hold on tightly to what we have and work hard to get more…. That perspective only makes us more afraid, because we get caught in a cycle of clinging and hoarding. When is enough enough?”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that, no matter how much we make, as long as we’re focused on keeping what we have, we will never have enough. And when we look around ourselves, it is those who are most generous that experience the most joy.

Could it be that being generous is essential to having joy? I’m convinced that it is.

Moreover, could it be that Biblical tithing actually compounds the joy of an otherwise-generous person? I suppose it would probably take some time to acclimate to the change. There would almost certainly be a period where you railed against the idea of giving 10% of your gross to God. But once you got over that hump…?

If I’m going to be honest, then I must admit that tithing is a struggle for me. I sometimes struggle to release the 10% and trust that God will continue to provide. And I sometimes struggle trying to decide exactly what constitutes part of the tithe.

For instance, if I spend $100 on supplies for the church, does that go toward my tithe? I generally think that it does, but then there are days that I’m not so sure. I mean, I don’t want to be a Pharisee, counting every flake of even the spices in my cupboard to determine how much I should give, but I must also be responsible with the money that God has entrusted to me to pay my bills with.

What I am sure of, though, is that tithing to God is critical to experiencing the full measure of joy that I’m supposed to have as a believer. And so, once again, I must redouble my commitment to tithe.

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