Around this time last year, I took a challenge and made a personal commitment to God in the area of my finances. After a frustrating period of financial drought, I decided to run with God and follow his prescription for biblical abundance. I am referring here to a 3000 year old practice of the ancient Jewish people – tithing. When I first wrote about it last March (you can read it here) I have in mind to do a review a year later, if it’s just to see if this principal really does work in ways that are measurable. So here I am, trying to be as honest and fair as I can be.

A brief recap of the story – By Jan ’08, my savings account was completely depleted. I had no personal debt, except for my share of our housing loan which was payable through my CPF, so that wasn’t a problem. There was no emergency fund. My cash flow was almost always a negative. I had some form of investments but the amount wasn’t substantial enough to make a big difference. They were invested for long-term returns anyway, so I couldn’t liquidate them. For as long as I can remember, I have lived on my savings and working income alone. I was completely clueless about personal finance, much less investments, and have a certain fear of money and numbers. At that point in time, I had already stopped giving tithes regularly. Yes, there was a time when I did and we got along well and good. Not living in luxury but comfortable enough. Then my husband’s financial woes started coming to light and I started fretting over having to shoulder more of the family’s expenses. I didn’t feel I could still keep up with the tithes. For a period of over a year leading up to Jan ’08, I gave almost nothing. Occasionally there would be an offering made to the church or to other charitable organizations but they were different from tithes given consistently every month. I simply could not figure out how I could give when my monthly cash flow kept recording a deficit. So I stopped and that was the beginning of my undoing. I was frustrated and angry with myself for not seeing it coming and it certainly wasn’t difficult for me to push most of the blame to my husband. He was the one who was greedy and irresponsible and got himself into debt time and again and kept us in the dark. He was the one who couldn’t hold down a job. He was the one content to sleep his time away for months on end instead of actively looking for alternatives. I had felt completely justified in blaming him for all our troubles.

BUT God did not say to tithe only when your cash flow is healthy. He did not say to tithe only when your investments are making money. Tithe to show that you honor Me. Tithe to show that you trust Me. Tithe to show that you believe I am alive and a rewarder of faith. Tithe because that opens the way to true prosperity. Tithe in spite of your lack because you cannot afford not to. And so I did. It wasn’t an easy choice to make because it was so counterintuitive. I had to silence that rational part of my brain every time I send in my tithes.

Although my problems could hardly be called a crisis compared to the thousands who are in a much worse fate in the current financial famine, it nevertheless scare me enough to force me to reevaluate my priorities and the way I had handled money. I moved from denial to anger and blame, reflection and repentance, acceptance of my own guilt and stupidity in this situation and finally to faith in God that He will see me through if I will just hang on, trust Him and be obedient. During this time God led me to several people and resources that helped get me back on my feet. I was introduced to an independent financial advisor who happened to be a lay pastor. He made an assessment of my financial health and offered some advice. At around this time, I stumbled onto Suze Orman’s show on personal finance while channel surfing one afternoon and began my journey towards financial literacy. Feeling that I needed to learn more at a slower pace, I brought home several of her books and a few others from the local library and began pouring over the pages, learning as much as I could absorb. Compound interest and mutual funds, balance sheet and budgeting and deciphering the many unfamiliar financial jargon was very helpful but the greater wealth came from discovering the Laws of Money (Suze Orman) and the spiritual nature of money (Daniel Lapin). A very unusual book was Rabbi Lapin’s Thou Shall Prosper, where he demonstrates how the unique genius of the Jewish way of life, based on 3000 year old tried and tested wisdom of the ancient Scriptures could directly affect the bottom line in today’s world. They were all excellent materials but would be meaningless if our heart is in the wrong place. This brought me to yet another necessary read – Money, Possessions and Eternity by Randy Alcorn. I am only half way through the book but I could already feel its vital role in bringing everything I have learned about money into perspective. Alas, if my goal is to lay up treasure for myself here, then all is meaningless and chasing after the wind.

I have only started keeping records of my cash flow from Feb last year, so I am unable to make any comparisons with the year/s before. I couldn’t tell you how much of my income and expenses increased or decreased in proportion to the tithes. All I can tell after tabulating the figures from last year’s records is that my savings grew from nothing to 12% of my total income. I had thought I could not tithe without going into debt but God had shown me not only was it possible to give away 10% of my gross wage every month but it was also possible to have 12% surplus to set up an emergency (savings) fund. The sum may still be small but this little victory has greatly increased my confidence in the wisdom and faithfulness of God. May I be so blessed as to have the Lord’s favor and blessing super abound in my life this year and the years to come, so that I may have the privilege to sow even deeper into His kingdom and His purposes in the years to come.

As I shared in my earlier post, everything happened in a very natural way. I didn’t have anyone come knocking at my door and telling me that God wanted them to give me a love offering of a sum of money. I have heard of such stories many times but it wasn’t like that for me (and I suspect for most of us as well). I did not win the state lottery or lucky draws of any kind. Instead, God directed me to people who inspired me to make some changes to my lifestyle; people like Seth Barnes and Eugene Cho who wrote with such conviction and passion about simplicity and our call as believers to resist the pull of materialism so that we may serve God’s purposes more effectively. By allowing me to reach the point of desperation, God woke me up to the realization that continuing in my ignorance (about financial matters) is not only irresponsible, lazy and stupid but also robbed me of my ability to be a better steward of the seeds God puts into my hand. It was a lame excuse considering the times in which we live, where there is no lack of learning materials.

It was no coincidence that as this post was still in draft, pastor preached an excellent sermon on the same subject today, drawing insights from the story of Joseph and the famine of Egypt in the time of Pharaoh. The entire message can be summed up in this – in times of famine, the way out is to sow. The law of seed time and harvest is as certain than the law of physics. Throughout the entire two hour of the service, I felt like God was confirming His word in my heart. There was no feeling of hesitation about it, just a sense of peace and jubilation.

Sow, for we cannot afford not to.

2008 Chart: Tithes, Savings, Expenses