My Closet, My Purse, My Heart7:30 AM
It was swishy, black-and-white and fifteen dollars. Smooshed between a thigh-high baby-doll dress and an eighties prom gown hung every girl’s dream outfit. I didn’t even think before handing over the bills to the Goodwill clerk. It was an adorable little dress that I would never again find for fifteen dollars. Doesn’t that have duh! written all over it?
I walked out happy.
Flashback a few weeks before when we unloaded a red van of Bergmann kids and let them loose in Dollar Tree to buy a few trinkets for Operation Christmas Child. I had around, say, ten dollars, but I wasn’t actually going to get out my wallet and count. I was saving it for—well, I didn’t know—a happy dress, if it came along, or a book I’d forgotten to buy, or ice cream with my girlfriends on Main St.
“I don’t have any money,” I cheerfully lied while my siblings grabbed balls and Lip Smackers and candy, excited to give from their paltry five dollar savings. I didn’t mean, of course, that I didn’t have any money. I simply meant I didn’t have any money saved up for this purpose. It wasn’t my giving project, after all. I ran vacation Bible school—I didn’t contribute to its weeklong shoebox project.
But walking around the store, being shown up by happy sibling faces, I started feeling sick. No money for kids with nothing? Money for pretty things but no money for orphans? Money for the spoiled and none for the needy?
“Oh, look!” I rummaged through my purse. “I have fifteen dollars! I guess I’ll get five things,” I told my sister. The five things, in the joy of blessing, quickly turned to seven, to ten. I stumbled over pretty thing after the pretty thing—all for those who would value it much more than gluttonous me.
A little after that embarrassing incident I picked up Randy Alcorn’s Money, Possessions and Eternity, a thick book on Christian stewardship. Budget plans, get-out-of-debt tricks, the mandatory tithe, saving, retirement in Hawaii, blah blah blah—good stuff. I’d always wanted to learn how to make pennies squeal and figure out the grocery bill.
I was flat out wrong. Alcorn sent me on a total volte face—most of the book focused on giving away resources rather than managing their spending. He argued that more money meant a rise in the giving standard, not a rise in the living standard. (My black dress became distasteful.) And shockingly, his book was more on discipleship, not lists, figures and grocery lists. Giving was a spiritual exercise, a form of worship, a tangible trust that God was in control—both of our needs and our assets. Again and again Alcorn pressed that under no circumstances should we decrease our giving to the Lord out of fear or need:
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.
– Malachi 3:10
Dare you believe that? Alcorn challenged. Dare you take God at His word or dare you hide your money in the ground, like the foolish servant? We don’t like God’s standards on giving, you know. We think it fundamentally absurd for a man to sell all he has and live on a pittance when he could choose otherwise. Counterintuitively, Alcorn argued that it’s stupid not to give all that we can: we’re going to leave it all, anyway, so why not give? Furthermore, God’s greatest blessing falls on those who spend His money for His kingdom, instead of pretty dresses, fancy cars and big houses. And who in their right mind who want cold cash instead of the living blessing of God?
Cut to the quick, my heart sunk at the thought of my wallet, empty through mindless splurging and full only of the change from such splurges. All that babysitting money—gone on clothes, treats and presents for the spoiled girl.
And I could live with myself, wrapped in luxury, while children starved, the gospel remained unpreached, hurt lives never healed?
I resolved, right then and there, that I would give as I had been given—generously. Every gift card, scholarship, contest winning, income—a tenth went straight to my church, with love, and I would give away the rest as much as possible. Even with the financial crisis of college funding, I would give, I would test God’s promise, and I would find it true, no matter how many hair-width close calls happened.
“Well done, good and faithful servant”—that is more precious than any material thing this side of heaven.