A Different Tithing Story

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.

About Emily M.

(Poetry Board) graduated from BYU in Comparative Literature, but it was long enough ago that most of what she learned has leaked out. She would like to mention other hobbies or interests, but to be honest she spends most of her free time reading (although she does enjoy attempting yoga). She used to blog at hearingvoices.wordpress.com. For now, though, Segullah is her only blogging home, and it's a good one.

37 thoughts on “A Different Tithing Story

  1. Great (all be it sad) story! A great reminder that we don’t pay our tithing so that we will hopefully be blessed. We do so to show gratitude to our Father in Heaven, and to show that we are willing to give Him back all that we have to know the Lord.
    I hope that makes sense. It does to me anyway ;D
    I love the tithing stories too.

  2. What a great post. We’ve been trying lately to explain to our children that not everything that happens in life is the direct result of God’s interference. We want them to understand that while there are certainly obvious blessings that we should be grateful for, that not everything good that happens to us is a direct result of obedience or even righteousness, and that the opposite of that applies as well; that not everything bad that happens is a punishment. All that really matters is how we react to our circumstances.

    We are trying to focus more on gratitude for having the experiences (good and bad), and for just being alive to be able to make choices and find joy, regardless of how well things turn out in any given situation. It’s hard to explain to kids, especially in the context of prayer, but I think it is helping them to see the world differently – more accurately I hope.

  3. I love this post! I always feel squirmy when people speak of tithing as a way to ensure financial security, so I enjoyed reading your testimony of it as an eternal principle, not a financial one.

  4. Thank you for this story which reminds me that so very often (for me) the greatest miracles are not the ones that are easiest to see. Your kindness in being the “open windows” for your in-laws (and the blessings that brought to all of you) is also a tender mercy for me because you shared it.

  5. Wonderful story. And you are a great example. Having a relative live in your home means another relationship to work on and develop. You are a great example that putting forth effort is worth it.

  6. Thank you! I’m having some financial difficulties myself, and though I am still paying my tithing, to be completely honest I’m paying them with the hopes that I will be able to continue receiving financial blessings and not as a commandment of obedience. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. I really love this post. Even though I love a good miracle tithing story, sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes it’s the Lord testing our faith, and sometimes it’s just life. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that if we live righteously nothing bad will ever happen to us. It’s really hard when you’ve been crossing all your t’s and dotting all your i’s as a member of the church and a crisis comes for no apparent reason.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. It’s a beautiful thing to acknowledge the Lord’s hand in our lives even when things don’t work out at all the way we would hope or expect. What a blessing for your in-laws that you were able to open your home to them. So sad that your mother-in-law has passed away. I think that life is much more complicated than we can ever imagine…if we do x, we hope that y will happen, but those equations really just don’t work in real life.

  9. This hits home to me. I have spent 3 of my 8 married years living in my parents home. Although spending my 30, 31st and 32nd birthdays in their home has been hard, I have often felt the whisperings of the spirit these past years reminding me how blessed I have been. I have come to believe that it has been blessings from tithing that has sheltered us from the financial struggles so many people around us seem to have. Our life is not ideal, but we can live within our means due to rent and food being offered freely by my parents. I have also been prompted to realize that the relationships I have been able to better develop through my time living here were also blessings of this time. I would never have wanted to be in the financial circumstance that prevented me from being able to have my own home, but in a strange way, it really has been a blessing to me.

  10. Reading Emily’s post reminded me that sometimes financial disasters turn out to be purposeful, although sometimes hard to see in the moment. Joseph Smith’s family experienced financial ruin not once but several times, requiring them to move from place to place and to rely on God more than neighbors and friends. As a result of their financial struggles, they did not develop strong ties in any one religious community, and they eventually moved close to where Joseph Smith received the plates.

    The reminder that developing strong family relationships may be more important than developing a strong financial portfolio is a good one for me. Good post.

  11. Thanks for sharing your story and your thoughts on the rest of Malachi–I too have been guilty of stopping right at the “windows of heaven” part. When I’ve taught lessons on tithing, I try to always insert a statement about expecting too much financial return from tithing: “You all need to know that there were times in my life when I was living a perfect Gospel-centered life and had crushing financial blows with no hope in sight. And there were times when I wasn’t living as I should, but the bank account was overflowing. That’s not the point.”

    #9 We’re moving in with my mother-in-law next week. All kinds of strange blessings are already being seen. Among others–our new ward is tiny, and they were thrilled that we’re moving in. We will have many opportunities to serve, both in our family and our ward, that we don’t have now.

  12. I’m so with you on this. For us, paying tithing usually means that I have been “blessed” with a part time job that exactly covers our tithing payment. And for 7 years it meant that besides the part-time job, we only had one car so that we could pay tithing each month. Paying tithing meant that I stayed home quite literally, nearly every single day. When I hear people say that tithing “isn’t a sacrifice” I think how nice that might be for them, but my own experience has been just the opposite.

    And then I can’t help but think . . . wait! Isn’t it supposed to be a sacrifice? Isn’t that the whole point?

  13. Great post.

    I get annoyed when I hear people say “they’re blessed because they’ve been living right.”

    So does that mean that those who struggle aren’t living right?

    But of course that isn’t true.

  14. The rain falls on the just and on the unjust–Matt 5. It’s a good reminder about how faith works–if we got blessed every time we made the ‘right’ choice, no faith would be involved. Great post, Emily.

  15. So true!

    Rather like those who pray to be healed and are worthy of that blessing, yet continue to suffer with chronic health problems, those tithe payers who perpetually struggle financially are valiant in their faith. They remain true, trusting that God’s plan is the best one for them and that all will be turned to their good.

    I am convinced these good people are blessed on earth in less obvious ways and will receive a multitude of blessings in heaven for their willingness to undergo (and humble acceptance of) tribulation.

    =)

  16. This story is a keeper! So often blessings that come into my life don’t look like blessings. Sometimes those very blessings come in the disguise of challenges and pain and hard times. And then later, these blessings start looking like blessings.

  17. My favorite part…”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.” So very, very true. Thank you for posting this today!

  18. This post really hit home to me. I love it, especially this:

    “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.”

    which could be:

    “Sometimes the only immediate blessing of [obedience to God's commandments] is to stand at peace in the presence of God. It is not easy, but it is enough.”

    A family member has cancer. About a year ago after a clear scan, many comments were left on the family’s blog saying things like, “With all of those prayers and fasts for such a faithful family, surely the Lord had to intervene and clear up the cancer.”

    I was so uncomfortable with such comments! The family *is* so faithful. And I know the Lord is mindful of them regardless of whether or not the father can beat this cancer. Their faithfulness cannot be proven by clear scans. Though I wish they didn’t have to go through this, the hand of the Lord has been very evident in their lives and in the lives of those they have inspired to live with great faith, hope, charity, and gratitude.

    The cancer is now back with a vengeance. It has spread. I hope and pray he beats it, but know that the Lord’s ways are not our ways and we can’t judge ourselves and others by which prayers are answered the way we want the way we want them to be.

    Thanks again for sharing this.

  19. I paid tithing, my first born was not passed over and died anyway. I pay tithing because it is what God wants, I don’t have any other expectations these days, though having buried three children I’d rather not lose another one.

  20. Thank you so much, everyone, for your kind words. Heidi, I feel squirmy too. I want to wave my hand and say “You may be blessed materially. Or you may have enough to get by but have to rely on others for help. Either way, it’s still a commandment.”

    Science teacher mommy, wow. You have made sacrifices, and the Lord knows your heart and what you have done so that you could pay tithing.

    Bro. Jones and JLS, I have a whole nother post in my head about living with inlaws. The short version: it surprised me very much how well it worked for our family–I was so nervous about it. I don’t think it would have worked without clearly established and communicated boundaries.

    Barbara, it’s interesting how Joseph Smith’s family experienced financial challenges that brought them to the perfect place. The hand of God guided them, but it might have been hard to recognize till after the fact.

    Sue, that’s such a good comparison (and given how expensive health care is, likely the same people who pray to be healed and have chronic health issues are also the ones who pay their tithing and struggle financially).

    Kristin, I am sorry about your family member’s cancer. And yes, that is exactly what I mean. The Lord is mindful of those who have cancer even if they are not cured.

    Stephen M., oh I’m sorry. You have learned to let go of expectations in ways most of us never have to.

    To everyone, thank you again.

  21. I had a stake president once who talked about how tithing is a sacrifice, and if you pay tithing and everything miraculously works out, then that’s great. But the greater sacrifice is to pay tithing and have things NOT work out. It takes greater faith and patience to deal with calamity than to accept miracles.

  22. Emily! What a beautiful post! So stirring, so thought-provoking. I was touched so deeply by it. I am so impressed by your abundant perspective of God’s love for us. And how there are great blessings even in great trial. And the scriptures! Right on!

  23. Thank you so much for this post. I too get squirmy when I hear those miraculous “food just appeared on the doorstep”, “the landlord reduced the rent for no reason” tithing stories. And it seems that every time we talk about tithing, theses stories take over. When they do, I worry so much about the people in the room who’ve always paid tithing but have lived without such miracles.

    Courtney: I love that stake president; we need to hear those truths more often!

  24. This story is a keeper! So often blessings that come into my life don’t look like blessings. Sometimes those very blessings come in the disguise of challenges and pain and hard times. And then later, these blessings start looking like blessings.

  25. I agree with many. I am very uncomfortable with stories where prosperity comes, in whatever form, because “i did the right thing”. Especially when we all know ones that have done the right thing for years, and prosperity does not come. I am uncomfortable, with “Heavenly Father found the perfect (house, car, job, insert here) for me. So he doesn’t like the others who have not found the perfect? He doesn’t like, love, homeless, carless, jobless people?

    To me this is all a form of prosperity teaching, an error in judgement. “The sun shines on the just and unjust.” – Job – we forget this often. We cannot judge by this world alone. This is not our home.

    When we get things, be grateful, yes! When we don’t, be grateful, yes! “You have to say Yes to the good and the bad life gives you, it’s all apart of living.” – maybe not exact wording from Oklahoma musical.

    Everything is fleeting except the Lord.

  26. “But the greater sacrifice is to pay tithing and have things NOT work out.” – get what is being said here, but there is another side to that coin.

    I think that’s an interesting question. I’ve always looked at sacrifice as giving up something good now for something better (sometimes that “better” is now, sometimes in the long run, often both).

    Why would the Lord live a perfect blameless life and lay it down in sacrafice for us if in those words I quoted above if “it did not work out.”

    Obviously it all hinges on the definition of work out. When you pay your tithing you will be blessed, I think often immediately. Just don’t expect it to come in a big fat check, although certainly there are many instances of temporal financial blessings. Naturally, there are 100x more examples of non-immediate financial blessings.

    But if a person is not seeing any blessings from paying tithing, look a little bit closer with an eye of faith and I think you can find a great deal.

  27. Just continuing… things “not working out” seems antithesis with so much of everything Pres. Hinkley said in the final years of his life. Trust in the Lord, have faith, -things will work out-, was a pretty constant theme.

    I think we can all agree on wealth and riches usually is not what is implied by things working out.

  28. Kelly, I need to clarify about what makes me squirmy–it’s not so much the stories of miracles. I actually love those, and I believe in them. I think we should keep telling those stories, too.

    But I completely agree that I don’t think that focusing on those stories exclusively is a good way to understand the principle of tithing. It’s a manifestation of our covenants, paying tithing, and so the blessings may or may not be temporal, but are definitely eternal.

    traci-I love Job. To me he is the perfect example of this principle.

    Chris–I think it’s all about how you define “things will work out,” isn’t it? For the Lord, things working out is always an eternal perspective. It’s often hard for us to see the big picture when the immediate needs are not met as we had hoped.

  29. Thank you for this. My parents paid their tithing faithfully for years, yet struggled financially, and still are. I have always struggled with people who say that if you pay your tithing, you won’t have money problems. It’s not true, and it ticked me off sometimes. I appreciate this story. Thank you!

  30. I love this. Too often we think of God as a vending machine—-put a quarter in, get something out. Thanks for the reminder that tithing is more than just financial security.

  31. I’ve so often wondered why it is there are so many disparate circumstances in my family – and yet, we are all somehow perfectly suited to help each other in ways that we each lack. Sometimes it feels really rotten that some in my family continue to struggle so mightily to make ends meet when I know they are righteously striving to do what’s right.

    And yet there are so many blessings that have come to our family as we have taken care of each other in more ways than one.

  32. Such a thoughtful and well written post. This is a principle I have pondered on much over the years. Often times when I think selfishly for a moment that I’m not receiving the expected or hoped for blessing I remind myself about how frequently the devourer is rebuked. I remind myself my car is not breaking down, all of us are currently healthy, my freezer, range, washer, dryer, all keep going year after year. Many blessings that are not as easy to count but continue to fill my life each day. I try not to be an ungrateful servant.

    Kristin

  33. I loved this post, Emily. I found this through a link on a friend’s blog who is struggling right now. We’ve had our share of food-on-the-doorstep miracles and also times when we just had to keep our covenants by sacrifice and keep moving. Both kinds of experiences were fundamental in our discipleship and spiritual growth.

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