I love tender mercy tithing stories: people paying their week’s grocery money only to find it returned to them somehow, or perhaps paying tithing with Christmas money and then receiving anonymous gifts. I am always moved by those stories, but this is not one of them.
When I met my husband, his parents were on the brink of financial ruin. His mother’s fragile health (complications from severe diabetes, including a kidney transplant and an uninsured pancreas transplant) led to deep indebtedness, and in spite of generous help from family and the Church, things did not look good. My father-in-law’s health had also plummeted, and he was no longer able to work. Eventually they lost their home, and after much prayer and tears declared bankruptcy. This was a terrible, humiliating time for them–they had been blessed in the past to pay all their bills eventually, sometimes in miraculous ways, but although they continued to pay a faithful tithe, no windows opened.
I have heard many windows of heaven tithing stories, and they are real and true, but I have often missed the rest of Malachi. Here’s what it says right after the Lord gives the open-the-windows-of-heaven promise.
13 Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee?
14 Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?
15 And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.
16 Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.
17 And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
18 Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
I’m going to parse this a little. “It is vain to serve God,” is something that is easy to say when the correspondence of God’s blessings to my obedience does not match what I think it should.
“We call the proud happy, yea, they that work wickedness are set up, yea they that tempt God are even delivered.” There are a lot of dishonest people out there who seem to be doing pretty well for themselves in spite of their behavior. They might be happy, delivered from the bad economy, set up in a mansion, and they have not paid tithing or kept the commandments.
But the next verses say it all to me: “A book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them… Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.”
The ultimate blessings of tithing are not of this life or this world, but are eternal. Those who pay shall be the Lord’s in the day when he makes up his jewels.
What happens to us back here on earth, though? It’s hard to be living in difficult economic times and hear the miraculous tithing stories and want one, without getting it.
My in-laws’ financial situation forced them to move in with us within a couple of years of our marriage. Having them in my home has been a gift for my family. I didn’t know them well, but we became dear friends. When my mother-in-law died two years after they moved in I was so grateful for the time we had shared together. I would never have gotten to know her and love her as well if their financial circumstances had not forced them to live with me. I am still blessed by my father-in-law’s presence in our home. For my husband’s parents, paying tithing was not an insulation from calamity. What I believe it did, though, is help all things, even bankruptcy, work together for good.
I love the basket-of-food tithing stories; they make me misty-eyed every time. Even more inspiring, though, are the stories of the noble people who continue to pay it in spite of job loss and health expenses and the economy. I believe that they will be among the Lord’s jewels even if times are hard right now. Sometimes the only immediate blessing of paying tithing is to stand at peace in the presence of God. It is not easy, but it is enough.