However, it wasn't until we heard a message by Ed Young (at Fellowship Church in Dallas) about being a steward rather than an owner, that we became faithful tithers. His message was that we don't truly own anything, but that everything has been given by God, and we are merely stewards (some synonyms: custodian, manager, administrator, representative). That word really sunk in with both of us at the same time, which is so providential of our awesome God, that we as a newly married couple were unified in this decision! It was a big chunk of money to begin sowing, but the knowledge that we were privileged to bring this 10% back to God to support His local church, was enough to keep us going.
We continued as regular tithers for a few years and picked up monthly support of a few additional ministries along the way, as well as participating in occasional church-sponsored community outreaches. Most in the religious community would call these our additional offerings, above and beyond the tithe. We stayed at this level in our giving until my sister gave me a book by Robert Morris called, The Blessed Life.
In this book, Pastor Morris talks about the three levels of giving: tithe, offerings, and extravagant offerings. He said that most people who get to the first level of tithing will proceed to the next level of offering, but that very few would cross over into extravagant offerings. He joked that a friend of his actually called them tithes, offerings, and painful offerings! Why is this important you may ask? "If I'm giving my tithe, or even making an effort at giving my tithe, then I have done my duty and don't need to do anymore." The problem with this is then you aren't quite following the gist of God's purposes for us as believers in this world. We are not to be reservoirs of His Goodness, financially or otherwise; but rather, conduits or funnels, getting our resources to the places He directs. What's more...reaching the level of extravagant offerings is where things get a little risky, and dare I say it, fun!
After coming across this book, we were highly motivated to give anywhere and everywhere God directed. We have crossed over into the extravagant level a few times (cars, furniture, etc.), and it can be a bit nauseating but always exhilarating, as you trust that God will provide for your needs instead of your well laid-out Dave Ramsey plan. Now I'm not advocating that we abandon Dave Ramsey's principles; they are extremely helpful and appropriate for people who are out of control to get back into a balanced financial state. But beyond that, I believe, they limit the church. We need to become believers who listen to the Holy Spirit and give as He directs, not as our plans direct us.
Austen and I have ratcheted up our giving in many areas, to the point where Turbotax regularly tells us we have audit risk because our charitable giving is so high in proportion to our income; but we have never seen our needs gone unmet. We have continued to see increase, sometimes extravagantly and sometimes just in the nick of time. This is not meant to be a brag-session on us, merely a tale of the journey it has taken for us formerly marginal givers to become all-out givers. The purpose for the journey is that we show ourselves trustworthy to God, that money not have a hold on us, that He might put more resources into our hands to be funneled into the Kingdom. Can you imagine what the church, and by extension, the world would look like if more believers operated this way??
Luke 6:38 - Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.