Stewardship: Loving God with Our Time, Talent, and Treasure
“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
It has been said that at the end of our lives there will be two books, which will reveal who we have been. One is the great Book of Life (cf. Rev. 20). The other is our checkbook. What we do with our money says a lot about our values. However, we sometimes think of our spiritual life and our personal finances as two separate entities. In reality, we are whole persons, made up of many interrelated parts. The analogy can be made that our life is like a house: one structure with many rooms. Jesus wants to be able to have entrance into all the rooms of our house. Is there a dark closet we do not want him to see? Sometimes in the dark closet there is a hidden sin. Or, sometimes, we shove our checkbooks or our credit card bills into that hidden corner. Jesus wants us to bring it all into the light. After all, He sees it anyway. If Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.
49% of Americans don’t pay their bills on time
65% of Americans don’t do a good job of staying out of debt
82% of Americans don’t save adequately for the future
Charitable giving averages less than 2% for all Americans and about 1% for Catholics in America
A majority of those getting divorces point to finances as one of the primary causes of their breakup.1
Needless to say, in a debt-driven, consumer culture, most Americans have financial difficulties. As much as we would like to keep that “dark corner” of our finances tucked away, many of us desperately need help managing our money for the good of our families and ourselves. Why not give God a chance at having control over our spending?
Jesus manifests His love for us tangibly. He “reaches out and touches us” through the Sacraments: through the laying on of hands, through His Body and Blood which we consume, through holy oils, through the words of absolution. We, in turn manifest our love for Him tangibly. We give our entire lives to Him, trusting Him to lead us and guide us. We come to Mass; we say “Amen;” we assume a posture of prayer and reverence when we pray. We should also offer Him the fruits of our labor. Cultivating a life of stewardship, offering God our time, our talent, and our treasure, helps us to truly put Him first, as Lord of our lives.
Giving is a Habit
My parents started me tithing when I was a little girl and started receiving an allowance. I got my own set of envelopes, and sometimes only a quarter or fifty cents went into it. But I knew tithing, or giving 10% back to God via the Church, was important. My parents set the example. I watched them sit and work over the family budget, and I always knew that their first check every month went to the Church, and their second went to my Catholic school tuition. Money was tight in our family, and when my parents spent money, it was for something important. When I saw where their first two checks went each month, I knew where my parents’ priorities lay: God and our family.
The habit they ingrained in me continued into college. When I made babysitting money, I tithed on it. It was meager, still, but as I was growing in my adult faith, the little tithing check I wrote helped me remember that Jesus is Lord. When I joined FOCUS and started receiving a salary, it was a delight to have MORE money to be able to give to God. I started to see that my money could have an impact! But it was only due to the small habit started when I was little that I did not miss the (now significant) amount off the top of my paycheck each month. It is difficult to give up 10%, when finances are tight and bills come. But, it reminds us that Jesus is Lord, and that it is all His anyway. (And besides, when you only have a little, 10% of a little is even smaller!)
What is a Tithe?
“According to Scripture, a tithe is a gift offered in support of the priests and priestly people—the Levites (cf. Num. 18:21). Not all Levites were priests... but the whole tribe of Levi was a priestly people. Today an equivalent might be all priests and those who serve the Church: religious sisters and brothers, missionaries and groups that serve the Kingdom of God.”2
The word tithe means literally “ten,” and 10% constituted a full offering in the Bible. A tithe is also referred to as the “first fruits”: sacrificing to God the best we have to offer. In Old Testament times, this meant the best lambs or the best part of the harvest. Most of us work for money now, so the tangible fruits of our labor end up being figures in a checking account or stock holdings. The concept is the same.
A tithe serves two purposes. It supports the Church, and, more importantly, a tithe is a symbolic gesture that all we have really belongs to God. By offering back the first 10% of our income to God through the Church, we literally show that we trust Him. “God’s true desire is to be generous with us, but even more, as a loving Father, He wants us to imitate Him in generous love.” 3 God the Father offered his “first fruit”—His Son—to us on the Cross, replacing the Old Testament sacrifices with His Son on the Cross and at Mass. We imitate the Father’s love by offering the best we have to offer.
We know that Jesus told Satan in the beginning of Marks’ Gospel that we should not put the Lord to the test. Scripture shows one exception.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, That there may be food in my house, And try me in this, says the Lord of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, To pour down blessing upon you without measure?” -Malachi 3:10 (emphasis added)
The Lord wants us to trust Him in all things, and He knows that trusting him with our finances is difficult. God specifically asks us in this passage to do exactly that! He also promises that when you do, He will “pour down blessing upon you without measure.” If we can trust God with our finances, it becomes easier to trust Him in other things as well.
A few years ago, I had just started working for FOCUS, and was busy raising my support. I had a few weeks to meet my goal before I had to be on campus. I followed what FOCUS asked me to do: I wrote letters, made phone calls, and, finally, made appointments with people. During the several weeks I had to raise my support, because the task before me seemed so impossible, I went to daily Mass at 7:30am and prayed afterwards. Sure enough, this strategy bore great fruit. I literally spent more time in prayer those few weeks than I did talking to people. But the conversations I did have bore greater fruit! I raised all the money I needed, and God seemed to reassure me that when I keep my priorities straight, He would indeed take care of me.
My second year on staff, I found myself raising support again at the beginning of a school year. Another missionary and I set up appointments with priests, which yielded little. One priest we spoke with, even though he was very interested and supportive of FOCUS, simply put a $100 bill into each of our hands as we left, and did not open his parish for us to speak. I was grateful, but dejected. We went to noon Mass that day at the Cathedral, and they passed around a collection basket. I felt the $100 burning in my pocket, and I thought, “What do I have to lose?” I threw it into the collection basket. That next week, I received pledges totaling $1000!
It gets better. A few Sundays later, I gave a tithing talk at our local parish, not asking for money for myself, but encouraging the parishioners to tithe. I told the story of the $100 bill, and after the Mass a woman handed me a check for another $1000!
While we should not tithe expecting material blessings, sometimes they occur. The greater lessons I learned, however, were detachment and trust. NONE of the money we receive as missionaries is our own, so it should be easy to offer up the first 10% of it. Even if it is not easy, making that offering builds in our hearts a detachment from money, and a trust in God to provide.
A Spirituality of Stewardship
Tithing is a spiritual action. In a materialistic age, it reminds us that Jesus is Lord of our lives. But it also is a spiritual offering to God. There is a reason that the collection is carried up to the altar as part of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and offered up with the bread and wine. Spiritually we should offer ourselves up—our time, talent and treasure—during the offertory of each Mass.
When stewardship is discussed in parishes, the three T’s mentioned are Time, Talent, and Treasure. But often people hear “just another talk about money.” Stewardship is the offering of our entire selves to God. We have a choice: to live self-willed lives or Christ-centered lives. God gives us all our time, talents and treasure; we should give back to him the first fruits of these gifts. Fr. Andrew Kemberling, a priest in the Archdiocese of Denver once said, “Giving God our skill and our wealth without giving of our self is meaningless. If a man showers his wife with gifts but does not love her, his gestures are empty. If the wife loves the gifts more than him, her actions are equally as empty. Stewardship is truly Spirituality.”
What would it look like to give God 10% of our time? In a 24-hour day, that adds up to almost two and a half hours (2 hours, 24 minutes) of time given directly to God. The time could mental prayer plus Mass, spiritual reading, the rosary, etc. God does not just want our money – he wants our hearts. He wants us to show Him that we are in love with Him, and that He is in first place. Tithing of our treasure, apart from giving God our talent, and perhaps more valuable, our time, is empty, like the husband who gives his wife lavish gifts but never spends time with her.
1 Philip Lenahan, Finances for Today’s Catholic Family (Temecula, CA: Financial Foundations for the Family, 1996.), 7.
2 Curtis and Michaelann Martin, Family Matters (Steubenville, OH: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2002), 65.
Did you grow up in a tithing family or tithing parish? How do you think your upbringing might affect your attitude towards tithing?
Read Malachi 2: 6-10 and Proverbs 3:9-10. How can you as a faithful Christian respond to these passages?
What is your current monthly income? What would 10% “off the top” of your paycheck be?
Reflect: Are you ready to start tithing next month if you are not already doing so? If not, what are your fears, doubts or concerns?
“The borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Prov. 22:7) Do you have debt? What kind? How much? Do you have a plan for debt payment?
Take a couple of hours and draw up a monthly budget for yourself or with your spouse if you are married. Plan to save for: an emergency fund, short term needs and long term needs. Allow Jesus Christ to be Lord of your checkbook!
What amount of the day do you currently give to God in prayer? How do you show Him that you love Him above all things?
What are some ways in which you might be able to share more of your gifts (talents) with the Church?
Ron Blue, Master your Money (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).
Larry Burkett, Debt-Free Living (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989)
Philip Lenahan, Finances for Today’s Catholic Family (Temecula, CA: Financial Foundations for the Family, 1996)
Robert T. Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad (Warner Books, 2000.)