The checkbook sat unopened. The reality was hitting home: There was not enough money. The stack of bills on the table required ten times the amount of money in my account. With two children in college, and my daughter's wedding nearing, the monthly budget was just the tip of my financial iceberg. My employer's agency cutbacks reduced my work week to three days, and my paycheck shrunk proportionately. I managed to tread water, but six months later I was about to go under.
I wasn't a rookie at stretching a budget. My husband, Jon, and I agreed that I would quit my job when our first daughter, Aimee, was born. By the time Molly was born two years later, I had penny pinching down to an art form. I planned menus from the weekly supermarket sales. I clipped manufacturer's coupons, and saved even more money on our grocery bill. My daughters dressed in brand-name clothes I purchased at garage sales for a fraction of the original cost. Jon marveled more than once, "You sure know how to stretch a dollar."
In spite of my budget-stretching expertise, it was still difficult. At times we delayed purchasing necessities. Unexpected car repairs or medical expenses wreaked havoc on our cash flow. Frequently we received shut-off notices on our utilities; I negotiated monthly with Juanita from the gas company to prevent a disconnection. When the books were closed on our family's finances each month, the bottom line was always this: God was faithful.
Trusting God with My Tithe
When Jon and I first became believers, we made a decision to tithe our income based on God's promise in Malachi 3:10: "'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,' says the LORD of Heaven's Armies, 'I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won't have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!'" Since those early years in our marriage, God held true to his promise.
Once we started a family and began living on one income, we discovered it was harder to keep our tithe commitment. Many times I saw Jon at the kitchen table, the bills piled before him. He would write the check for our tithe first, and then say, "There, I've done my part. I'll pay what bills I can, and the rest is up to God. It's his reputation at stake."
After my husband's death in 1991, I took over the family finances. I followed Jon's example and paid the tithe first. Until February 1999, there had always been enough.
Beyond the bills, I needed a new winter coat, boots, and a dress for Aimee's wedding. The sale catalog sat next to the phone; if I placed the order, that bill would come due in the next 30 days. As I stared at the checkbook, I tried to rationalize that God would understand if I didn't pay my tithe just this once. Finally, I prayed, "Lord, help me trust you. Grant me the faith to believe that you will supply my needs." I picked up the pen, drew a deep breath, and wrote out my tithe.
I spent the next three hours juggling numbers; I stretched the budget till it was about to snap. Exasperated, I put the bills away and went to bed feeling exhausted and alone. My eyes popped open at 4 a.m. and immediately my mind replayed the worries of the previous day. After 45 minutes of trying to reason with my fears, I admitted defeat. I threw back the covers, and made my way downstairs to talk to God.
Opening my Bible, I turned toMatthew 6, and read, "I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear." These were the very things I had on my mind. As I continued to read, God assured me he knew my needs: "Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? … Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don't work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?
"So don't worry about these things, saying, 'What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?' These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need."
My prayer was, "Lord, it's me again, Little Faith. I need to feel your presence. My natural urge is to panic. I feel the need to do something, but I don't know what. I'm afraid to spend any money. You know my need; I'm trusting you to provide."
With my fears quieted, I was able to go back to bed, and sleep peacefully until morning.
God's Faithfulness Shows Itself Again
Two days later, my accountant called to inform me that I was getting a tax refund of $2,700. The new Hope tax credit for parents of college students had resulted in a much larger refund than I anticipated. I paid my bills and bought the clothes I needed.
Later that week, my friend Marilyn returned from a vacation in Mexico with a souvenir for me: a hand-painted plate with lilies on it. I was excited to share with her the lesson of the lilies that God had shown me just days before. We marveled that God had prompted her to choose that particular gift; it added such a personal touch to his provision for me. My plate now hangs on the kitchen wall and serves to remind me of God's faithfulness. When circumstances cause my faith to waiver, I need only to consider the lilies.
Kathy Ptaszek is a speaker and freelance writer living in Michigan. holygroundallaround.com