This post is in response to the Acts 8 BLOGFORCE question: "What impact has financial giving had on your spiritual life?"
Much as I remember exactly where I was when I made the decision (or was called, whatever) to become a Christian, I can also name the precise moment I decided to become serious about giving to the church. In a nondescript ballroom in the basement of the Sheraton in downtown Indianapolis, Walter Brueggeman was giving the keynote address at the conference for The Episcopal Network for Stewardship.
I don't remember what he said exactly - it was something about Micah and locusts. But what I felt was a clear sense that my priorities were not in order. A few months prior, the death of my car coincided with receiving a promotion at work. For the first time in my life I bought a new car. It was, frankly, a status purchase, something I might even have admitted at the time. And sitting in that ballroom I started thinking about how my pledge to the church was less than the monthly payment on that new car - like a lot less - and I didn't like what that said about my priorities in life.
In the intervening years I have been working towards giving 10% of my income to the church (I started at about 1%). I'm about 6 years in, and am at roughly 8% today. Here are some things I've learned along the way:
1. Giving really is a spiritual discipline. The church is literally the only thing I write a check for these days (I still like the offering plate), and while it lacks the meditative ethos of prayer or study of scripture, it ranks with them. I have learned that giving money means not just giving dollars away, but also a bit of yourself. That's because money represents the options you have; when you give money away, you give those choices and the dignity that comes with them to someone else as well.
2. 10% may not be that much, but it's still kind of a lot. Going on this path has been a challenge. It has meant delaying much-needed bathroom renovations, making compromises about paying down debt, and sometimes making things uncomfortably tight in December when I try to catch up from missed payments earlier in the year. It requires creativity and sacrifice.
3. Generosity begets generosity. I have noticed in myself that giving to the church has not cannibalized my other charitable giving, but has increased it. Successfully making my pledge for several years in a row without destroying my finances has increased my confidence to give more to other causes I care about, because I have a stronger sense of how to figure it out.
4. "He who is faithful in a little, is faithful in much." There are multiple pillars to spiritual maturity - giving, reading scripture, prayer, participating in worship, serving others - and none should be neglected. However at this moment in my life, prayer and scripture study are really hard for me. Managing the financial end of things helps me know that though I'm not giving myself to God as fully as I might right now, these comparatively inexpensive disciplines are not beyond my grasp.
5. Giving feels good. I never expected a reward of giving to be a sense of peace in the soul. But God created us to love God, and love one another, and generosity is part of that. Why shouldn't a bit of warm fuzziness be a part of giving's reward?