By Sean E. Brotherson
One of the first and foremost obligations of being a parent is to provide for members of your family. Simply put, this means finding a way to give children and other family members a roof over their heads, food on the table, and clothing to wear. Wherever you exist on the economic spectrum, the daily challenge of providing for family members is often a central family concern.
I remember when I first got married. My wife and I were just beginning our lives together and our possessions were modest. We had received a small, square card table with fold-out legs among our wedding gifts, and this became our first dinner table. We managed to obtain a folding metal chair and a used computer chair to sit on at dinner time. We were young students and enjoyed having occasional friends over to share our humble meals, and so this left us in a somewhat desperate situation. Luckily, it was not long before we obtained a five-gallon plastic bucket from someone who gave us some apples, and we cleaned it out and put it to good use.
We still sometimes think about and remember the quiet evenings when we would have a family friend over, usually an unmarried student, for dinner with us. My wife or the student would take the folding chair, one of them the computer chair, and I’d get the plastic bucket to sit on during our meal. While our food and surroundings were modest, those times are rich in memories. We were somewhat poor as to the things of the world, but we were rich in things of the spirit and in our associations with family and friends.
One of the first discussions my wife and I had as we entered married life together was how we would approach our family finances. How could we stretch our meager income to make ends meet as a young couple? Could we save enough money to pay rent on our apartment? Were there ways to find cheap sources of food to eat? Did we need health insurance? These and other questions were all important to discuss and plan for as we approached the issue of providing for ourselves, and later, for our children. But, among all the financial and spiritual questions we faced, perhaps none was so important as the decision related to payment of tithing and offerings to the Church. Could we afford it? Could we afford to deprive ourselves of the Lord’s promised blessings?
I would like to share a few small testimonies of tithing, fast offerings, and the family blessings that I have experienced and witnessed over the years of my life. Any member of the LDS Church anywhere in the world has the opportunity to participate in contributing to the Lord’s people and the growth of His kingdom through payment of tithes and offerings. Sometimes we struggle to pay because of our own financial struggles or our lack of faith or perspective. Sometimes our vision must be greater than our understanding.
We Pay Tithing with Faith
If you were to take the scriptures and search through them, you would find a number of passages that invite us to put the Lord first in our lives. This includes centering our hearts upon God, heeding His messages, and seeking to implement His will in our actions and activities. Among the invitations to put God first, we have been given the invitation and commandment to pay tithing.
Tithing, simply defined, is one-tenth of our increase. There have been times when tithing has been paid “in kind,” or through contributing one-tenth of the increase in flocks or fields. For example, if you had chickens and they were regularly providing eggs, then one of out ten eggs could be contributed “in kind” as part of tithing. Today, it is common to use one-tenth of an individual’s or family’s “income” as the basis for payment of tithing.
My wife and I both grew up in Latter-day Saint homes and we both had marvelous examples of faith and commitment from our parents. Tithing was paid faithfully in our homes as we grew up. When we married, the decision to pay tithing no longer rested with our parents. It now was our decision and opportunity. Of course, each of us had paid tithing during our childhood and adolescent years when we made money from odd jobs or working, but this represented a new opportunity. We now had financial and spiritual responsibilities to help support and provide for our family, and we wanted to fulfill that responsibility and also live by the Lord’s commandments.
In our first months of marriage, how well I remember the bills that began to come to our home and the small amount of savings and income that we also collected. I remember the first time that I created a budget for rent, transportation, food, and other costs, including the payment of tithing, and the income that we expected did not meet the expenses that we expected to incur for the month. It was a forlorn and frustrating feeling. I struggled with the numbers. I calculated them over and over again. And this was the first time I really remember struggling with the question of tithing, for it seemed that if perhaps we skipped a month, then we might just have enough money to make it through the month.
We talked about the issue and I remember my wife’s testimony to me that we needed faith to pay our tithing, whether we had the money to pay tithing or not. This is perhaps when I really began to understand the message that a beloved prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, has repeated so many times in his messages across the world.
We do not pay tithing with money. We pay tithing with faith.
Of course, we make a payment of money when we give the Lord’s representative, the bishop or branch president, our tithing donation. But that money represents our faith to put God first in our lives, and to believe that He will bless us spiritually and temporally even when we struggle to believe that we can make ends meet.
Putting the Lord First
One night a few years ago, I sat poring over a family budget in the late hours of the night. My wife and I have occasionally traded responsibility for the monthly family budget over the years, so that both of us might have experience and perspective in our discussions about providing for our family. Over the years, we had gone to school and incurred debts to complete our education, and our family now had several children with needs.
The Lord’s counsel to us on financial matters in supporting a family includes a number of admonitions:
- Get out of debt and avoid further debt.
- Live within your means.
- Avoid extravagant purchases or lifestyle choices.
- Put away savings for emergency purposes.
- Plan carefully and use a budget.
- Be faithful in payment of tithes and offerings.
It is wonderful when it seems easy to fulfill all of these admonitions. However, in my limited experience, that has rarely seemed to be the case for me, or for many other faithful Latter-day Saints that I know. In other words, sometimes we must work to balance efforts to save, pay down debt, live within our means, pay tithes and offerings, and so on.
I understood, I think, the principle that payment of tithing was intended to advance the Lord’s purposes and showed faith in being a member of His Church and building up His people on the earth. But on that particular night at the dinner table, I will admit frankly that I was frustrated. Four or five times I had punched in the numbers on a calculator to add up my available income for the month, deducted the existing and expected expenses from my budget, and always I came up with the same result. There was just not enough money. Perhaps I had forgotten something. Perhaps I had done the numbers wrong. I’m not the best financial mind, but after repeating the numbers several times I simply became more frustrated, because the result always seemed to be the same. There was just not enough money.
Finally, frustrated and feeling doubt about my futile attempt to find a way out of the financial difficulties that we seemed to face, I retired to the living room in prayer. I pored my heart out to my Father in Heaven and asked for wisdom and the faith to pay my tithing, because I did not see an answer to my financial obligations. During that prayer, and as I prayed for greater faith to keep the Lord’s commandments and pay my tithing that month, the Spirit touched my heart and mind. The Lord reminded me of the scriptures that ask us to put Him first, above all other things in our lives, and then He taught me a simple and profound principle: Put your tithing first.
Put your tithing first. Put the Lord first.
I realized that as I had done our family budget that night, and indeed, as I had worked through the budget each month for a couple of years, that I would create a list of income and expenses or deductions from the budget. I would always tally up the available amount of money (income) to a particular number, and then create a long list of expenses – bills for the home, car, debt, food, clothing, education, or other family needs and obligations. On that list was tithing. I would begin to subtract each expense from the money available for the month, and inevitably, I would have tithing as the last or one of the last expenses to fit in with whatever money was left or available after the other expenses had been covered. And then, as I have recounted, too often I would sit in frustration at my inability to see the financial answers and make ends meet.
That evening, I went back to the budget I had been working on and made one simple change. This time, the first expense that I listed and allocated money for was tithing to the Lord. In other words, in a practical way I tried to truly put the Lord first. Then, to me, a miracle happened. The numbers were the same. The available income and expenses were the same. But it was as if light flooded my mind and I began to see, for the first time, answers to some of my needs. The Lord’s Spirit began to whisper and I gradually, over the course of an hour, was able to make adjustments to expenses and sources of income that I had not been able to see before. When I was finished, there was enough money to pay my tithing, to meet my monthly obligations and expenses, and to avoid further debt. I returned to my knees and thanked my Heavenly Father for that inspiration. It was, perhaps, a simple thing, but to me it was a miracle.
Since that time, I have learned to always put the Lord first as I plan my financial situation, and I have found that it brings me peace of mind, aids me in putting the Lord first in my life, and brings me greater inspiration in providing for my family. These blessings are promised spiritual blessings that come from putting the Lord first, and have increased my testimony and blessed my family.
The Lord’s Law of Generosity
As I share some of these thoughts, I am trying to share “experiential admonitions” rather than scriptural admonitions. In other words, I am trying to share experiences that have strengthened my testimony of tithing and fast offerings as a result of following scriptural counsel. Another profound experience in my testimony of tithing, and fast offerings, came about a year following my experience with tithing and putting the Lord first.
At the time, I was serving on the stake high council and had received instruction from our stake presidency to teach more clearly and carefully the blessings of fasting and contributing fast offerings to meet the needs of those in poverty or challenging circumstances. I had been assigned to visit a particular unit in our stake and speak on this topic, and so made the journey to the assigned location on a Sunday morning. Other speakers who were to be there had not been able to come to the meeting, and so I found myself with an unusual amount of time to speak that day.
I spoke for some time about faithful payment of tithing, and then turned my attention to the topic of fast offerings. I had studied President Spencer W. Kimball’s invitation to be more faithful and generous in payment of fast offerings, in which he states that according to our abilities, we should be generous, contributing two, three, or even up to ten times more than we previously have done. President Kimball’s invitation was a burden to my spirit at the time. I paid a fast offering each month, but it was based on “what I could afford to pay.” In other words, I contributed a fast offering that seemed possible based on my limited family budget.
During the sacrament meeting as I spoke, I was prompted to recount a story that had been shared by Elder David Sorenson at a stake conference assignment in our stake.
He had recounted experiences related to visiting the region of Vladivostok, Russia, and seeking opportunities to bless the people there. During the visits to that region, he had come into contact with a representative from Catholic Relief Services, a man who had previously had some interaction with the Church – many years previously in Ethiopia.
At the time this man was working with a Catholic humanitarian organization in Africa, he had become responsible for assisting relief efforts in Ethiopia in the early 1980’s. Ethiopia was suffering from a terrible drought and famine, and literally tens of thousands of people were on the verge of death by starvation. Many of them died. In those desperate circumstances, the leadership of the LDS Church issued an invitation to members to conduct a special fast, and to donate so that the Church might be able to assist and provide relief to those suffering in Africa.
I was a student in high school at the time of the Church’s invitation to fast, and remember the remarkable response that initiated the opportunity to send millions of dollars to Africa for relief of victims of the Ethiopian famine. Elder M. Russell Ballard was sent as a representative of the Church to the region, and he met this man – the man who years later would be working in Vladivostok, Russia.
Elder Sorenson related that this man was friendly and helpful to him and the Church as they sought information about how to be of assistance there in eastern Russia. A door was opened. And in that sacrament meeting, the Spirit spoke to my heart and taught me that, in the logic of men, there would seem to be little or no connection between the fast offerings of Latter-day Saints that went to assist those in Ethiopia and the first steps of the gospel into eastern Russia so many years later. Yet, in the Lord’s divine calculations, there was not only a linkage but a spiritual blessing that unfolded, such that the generosity of the Lord’s Saints in one time returned many years later, at another place and time, to be a blessing to the Church in a different and profound way.
That experience taught me a spiritual principle that changed my understanding and, in a sense, changed my life. It is, again, a simple principle, but profound to me because I learned it by the Spirit and it has shaped my life since that time.
When we are generous with the Lord, the Lord will be generous with us. I call it the Lord’s Law of Generosity.
How does the Lord’s Law of Generosity work? Well, it’s His principle and He ordains how He will bless us and others when we are generous with our time, our means, and our abilities. But it is my testimony that He does bless us in ways that can be profound.
After learning this principle by the Spirit, I felt prompted to return home and put it into practice in the way that I responded to the invitation to fast and make offerings to the Lord. My testimony of President Kimball’s invitation had changed. It no longer seemed a potential burden. I no longer felt that I should pay just “what I could afford” in making a fast offering, or an offering to other worthy efforts in support of missionary work, the Perpetual Education Fund, or other opportunities to be generous. I returned home and discussed this with my wife, and we began to approach the payment of fast offerings in the same way we had learned to approach tithing – with greater faith.
As we began to try being more generous in our fast offerings and truly giving in faith, an interesting thing began to happen in our lives both spiritually and temporally. Spiritually, we have found ourselves more attentive to the need for generosity and more attuned to how we might use our resources, whether our time or means or abilities, to be generous and giving to others. In our financial circumstances, we had found ourselves meeting our obligations for some years but we didn’t seem to make a lot of progress in saving, increasing our income, or other such financial opportunities. As we began to be more generous with others, we found that the Lord has been more generous with us in helping us to move ahead financially and provide for our family, not in dramatic ways but in a manner that has been apparent to us.
Again, we have been blessed.
Family Blessings through Faith in Tithes and Offerings
I have heard the Lord’s prophet testify many times that individuals and families will be blessed with the basic needs of life as they are faithful in payment of tithes and offerings. For those who struggle with economic burdens or poverty, such promises can seem both wonderful and distant. The lesson that we must learn to trust the Lord and keep such commandments with faith, not with money, can take time to believe in. And yet, the Lord’s promises are sure.
I suspect that most individuals and families who follow the Lord’s commandments in this fashion will not be blessed with great wealth. Some will perhaps, but more important is that we have the capacity to provide for ourselves and our families, and to contribute to our communities and the Lord’s kingdom. And the blessings of heaven are a different kind of wealth, which cannot be measured by a calculator or a computer. The blessings of faith, testimony, and spiritual conviction are timeless blessings that are beyond price.
I recently interacted with a member of the Church who was struggling with financial burdens. This parent wished to support family members and meet financial obligations, and could not see how it would also be possible to pay tithing. I could understand the concerns and doubts. I had been there myself. I also had a testimony of tithing that I was able to share. It has been a quiet inspiration to see this individual respond to the Lord’s invitation, become more faithful in payment of tithing, and begin to receive unexpected and marvelous blessings as the Lord has blessed the family, both temporally and spiritually.
In Malachi, the Lord promises that He will “open the windows of heaven” if we are faithful in payment of tithes and offerings. Does this mean temporal blessings? Yes, perhaps.
But I share a simple witness that God’s promises are true, and that for me, the heavens have opened and I have received simple truths from the Holy Ghost that have blessed my family and strengthened my testimony. To me, the windows of heaven have been opened, and the Lord’s promise is that they might also open to each of us.
I hope that others can receive and share the same testimony, for such is the blessing of faithful membership in the Lord’s church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.