A friend asked me if the sounds inside my brain ever settle down to quiet. I was surprised at his question since I assumed everyone’s head was constantly vibrating with voices and songs. I said, “No; does yours get quiet?”
“Yes. Sometimes when my wife asks what I’m thinking about, I’m really not thinking about anything at all.”
That’s never true for me. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have a play-by-play commentary running in my head. And there always seems to be a song playing in there, too.
One morning last week I woke up about 4:00 AM, and my head was singing, of all things, “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off that old lone Ranger and you always give ten percent.” It was like Jim Croce singing at a church stewardship rally. I stayed in bed trying to go back to sleep, but instead, oddly enough, could do nothing but think of giving money away.
I remembered when I was a kid I’d spend several weeks every summer visiting my grandparents. My grandfather, Roy Haynes, was a Baptist pastor in some of the tiniest West Texas towns, like Gail, Ira, and Ackerly. He was careful to tithe from his meager pastor’s salary; I thought that was strange since his salary was made up entirely from the other people’s tithes. I asked, “That money has already been given to God, and He gave it to you. Isn’t one tithing iteration enough?” (However, I’m sure I didn’t use the word iteration when I was a ten-year-old.)
He said, “We give back to the one who gave us life. Always give back to God.” Brother Haynes was never much for philosophizing; he was more about simple obedience.
As a follower of Jesus Christ I believe it’s important to give my money and time back to God. That means our family gives a portion to our local church and we give other portions to a variety of ministries we know and believe in. There is some picking-and-choosing on our part, but even more, a deliberate relinquishing of control.
A friend once asked me how I could give money to our church if I didn’t believe the church was headed in the right direction. He said, “That feels to me like I’m wasting my money. It feels like I’m endorsing what I don’t believe in. I cannot do that.”
I couldn’t argue with his line of reasoning, but I couldn’t agree, either. I said, “I give to our church because it is my church. It is my family.” It’s more than an organization with goals and direction, it’s a group of people who helped me raise my kids and who traveled this spiritual journey with me for years.
I think we should be careful who we give to, we shouldn’t waste our gifts, but I also think there is an even bigger call from God than being choosy. There is a call to surrender. God doesn’t need our money so much as He wants our hearts, and we can only give our hearts by surrendering to Him. And to give money to my church and let other people decide how to spend it, that is surrender.
It is easy to justify giving money only to ministries I am personally involved with, or even giving money to my own family and make that my gift to God, but that can’t be the whole story. Giving has to be about surrender, and if I’m ultimately making all the decisions about how each dollar is spent, I’ve surrendered nothing.
Another friend, Brent, used to ask, “Are you tithing?” whenever I was fretting over money issues. He wondered why God would bless us with more if we weren’t willing to give away what we already had. The first time Brent asked me that question was years ago and we were both quite broke, living month to month, and the decision to give away was as difficult as any decision could be. I think of his question often, whenever I am trying to decide what I have to give.
Rich Mullins wrote, “Surrender don’t come natural to me. I’d rather fight you for something I don’t really want than take what you give that I need.” Giving is about the unnatural action of surrender.
And then, strangely, still unable to sleep, I wondered this: What if I took my tithe every month and bought lottery tickets and gave those tickets to the church? Then God could keep as much as he wanted. I might never know whether the tickets were all losers and my tithe disappeared, or whether they were all winners and my meager tithe funded the entire church building program.
So here’s my story (and a possible explanation why this essay is more random than usual). I woke up about 4:00 AM with all the above thoughts running through my head. Even the goofy lottery idea. I could not go back to sleep. I prayed, “God help me remember all this tomorrow morning during my regular writing time.”
What I heard back was this: “I’m giving it to you now.”
So I got up, went to the small desk in my closet, and started scribbling on yellow sticky notes (since my official journal was out in my pickup). I wrote it all out and then crawled back into bed, praying, “OK God, what was that all about? Why did you wake me up to rehash old thoughts about tithing?”
I heard, “It isn’t about tithing; it is about trusting me.”
So I got back out of bed a second time knowing I had more to write. I’ve come to realize something painful in the past few months: It is hard for me to trust God completely.
When I look back over my story I see so many occasions when I felt like I did the right thing, abstained from the bad things, kept my pants zipped up, kept my magazine shelf clean, abstained from dangerous chemical additives, followed all the rules, and lived like good boys are supposed to live, yet it seemed God didn’t come through for me. Even after I did my part of the equation it seemed God backed off on his part. I gave 100%, he returned with 75%. At least, that’s what it felt like. It’s been hard for me to totally trust God, and deep in my heart I felt He never really came through for me.
OK, that was easier to write than it was to know, and easier to know than it was to learn. I only understood it after I spent lots of journal-writing time looking back over some of my most painful memories, wondering why they still haunted me after 30 years. The message I heard was, “You don’t really trust Me.” I was surprised to hear it, but recognized the truth immediately. I was, in fact, stunned by the revelation.
So my prayer has been, “Teach me to trust You. I don’t know how to do it on my own.”
I realized at 4:40 AM, while sitting in my closet scribbling on yellow sticky notes, that giving money is really about surrender, and surrender is really about trusting God. And I recalled something written by Erwin McManus: “The more you trust Him, the more you’ll risk on His behalf.” (The Barbarian Way) Giving and surrendering and trusting often feels risky.
I’ve been wrong thinking God cannot be trusted, that He might come through in the end for the really cool people but not for me. Even though I never expressed those thoughts out loud, they have been part of my basic make-up, and they put a damper on my relationship with God for over half my life. I don’t want to live that way any longer.
So how do I become a man who trusts God totally? That has been my constant prayer, “Teach me how to trust you.”
I don’t know how I expected God to teach me. Tonight the lesson came at 4:00 AM, on yellow sticky notes. I think there may be more lessons on the way. I hope so – I have much more to learn.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
To learn more about Berry’s newest book, “Running With God:” www.runningwithgodonline.com. Follow Berry on Twitter at @berrysimpson … Contact Berry directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. To post a comment or subscribe to this free journal: www.journalentries.org