April 15 has come and gone—the dreaded deadline for Americans to submit their tax returns. Regardless of the fact that most of us have our taxes taken out of our paychecks, Uncle Sam still demands a yearly reckoning.
This year when I did my taxes, I was excited to receive a huge and unexpected refund. But a couple of years ago I was sweating a bit as I discovered that I had underpaid the estimated taxes on my self-employment income, so I owed not only extra tax but a penalty as well. Talk about an unpleasant surprise! (Thankfully, the penalty turned out to be only $7.)
I’ve been researching a series of articles about tithing at the height of tax season, and it has made me wonder: What if God required us to file annual “tithe returns”? As we looked back over the past year, would we find that we had returned an honest 10% of our income to our Creator? Or would we discover a significant shortfall?
If you’re like many Adventists, you probably didn’t intend to under-tithe—you just forgot to turn in a tithe check…or two… or 15. I mean, who writes checks these days? And it’s not like you carry enough cash to drop 10% of your latest paycheck into the offering plate as it goes by.
Or maybe you paid a full tithe, but it seems like a meaningless ritual. Sure, you know tithing helps move the church’s work forward, but it’s just numbers on paper, rather than an act of worship. You get more of a feel-good buzz from giving a dollar to a homeless guy than from giving a couple hundred dollars to God.
If any of that describes you, here are a few ideas that could help.
Getting in the Tithing Habit
There are plenty of things the Adventist Church can and probably should do to bring tithing into the digital age. Ultimately, though, it’s up to us to figure out a system that works for our situation.
Here are my suggestions. I’d love to hear how you handle tithe—post a comment below!
- Set up a reminder. I’m self-employed, so my checks arrive sporadically, and my tithe is different every time. I’m always waiting for Friday’s mail to see if any more money shows up. And then around 11 a.m. on Sabbath morning I realize I forgot my tithe check. So I put a “tithe” reminder on my phone for Friday afternoon. Problem solved.
- Give digitally. It might seem sort of sterile, but the Adventist Church has a pretty handy system for online giving. There’s even a brand-new mobile app, just released in February, that lets you submit tithe and offerings right from your phone!
To get started, download the app from your favorite app store (search for Adventist Giving), go to AdventistGiving.org, or look for an online giving link on your church’s website.
First, you’ll need to search for your local church. If your congregation isn’t listed as a participating church on the site, ask your church treasurer to sign up!
Since I had never done my tithe and offerings online, I tried it out for purposes of this article. I like the fact that the website takes the math out of adding up your tithes and offerings. You can pay with a credit card, debit card, or checking account. Creating an account makes giving quick and easy every time.
You can also set up recurring donations (weekly, monthly, etc.) based on how often you get paid. For the extremely math-averse, you can put in your pay amount and it will calculate the percentages for you.
Another fascinating feature is the list of projects you can support. There are more than 300 different offerings in the “World” category. Did you realize you can give toward church roofs for Africa, Bibles for China, and orphanages for India? I didn’t either.
If you do all your financial transactions digitally, Adventist Giving might be the perfect fix to forgetting your tithe. In fact, my church treasurer reports that at least 25% of tithe contributions already come in online.
- Square up your tithe at the end of the year. April 15 is as good a time as any to make sure you haven’t overlooked some income that should have been tithed. For instance, I’ve made a practice of paying tithe on my interest income at tax time, since it’s easy to see how much my bank paid for the year.
Making Tithing More Meaningful
Once tithing becomes a habit, it can easily lose its significance. Especially if you’re not even bringing a tithe envelope to church. So how can we continue to see it as a meaningful part of our relationship with God?
- Make tithing part of your devotions. What if once a month (or as often as you decide to return tithe) you used your devotional time to focus on giving? After writing the check or doing the online transaction, spend time praying for wisdom for those who handle the funds. Ask God to bless the work of the pastors, teachers, evangelists, and administrators who are paid from your tithe. Memorize a Bible verse about giving. Pray for a generous heart and a healthy attitude toward money and possessions. Commit your financial worries to God.
- Write a note on your check. This might be a little corny, but in the memo line on my tithe checks, I used to write “Tithes and offerings for God” or “For God’s work” or something like that. It served as a momentary reminder of why I was writing that check.
- Meditate on God’s goodness. Sometimes it seems just as well that my tithe and offerings are all done virtually, because if I had to physically put that amount of cash into the offering plate, I’d feel uncomfortable about giving such a big chunk of money to God.
So it shook me up when I read Ellen White’s commentary about Jacob’s commitment to return tithe in gratitude for God’s blessings (see Genesis 28:20-22). She points out that we have so much more to be thankful for than Jacob did. In light of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, giving just a tenth of our possessions should seem like a “meager pittance” compared to “a gift of such inconceivable worth.” Tithes for Christ? No, White urges: “All that we have, all that we are, should be devoted to God” (Patriarchs and Prophets, pg. 188).
With that in mind, it would be presumptuous of us to complete our “tithe return” in hopes of a refund. Instead, we can be grateful that God doesn’t charge penalties and interest on unpaid tithe!
If you’ve been rendering unto Caesar more faithfully than you’ve been rendering unto God, I challenge you to start the tithe habit today. Don’t wait till next April 15!
 In case you were wondering why you had two extra days to finish your taxes in 2017, it’s because April 15 falls on a Sunday, and the following day is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington, D.C. So the deadline was moved to April 17.
 Unless, of course, you put your last dollar into the offering plate (or the online giving system), knowing you won’t be able to afford food for the next week. Giving sacrificially is always fraught with meaning.