I certainly didn't wake up on that Sunday about five weeks ago expecting God to teach me a major life lesson. Expect to learn? Yes. To worship? Of course. To get a serious attitude adjustment? Decidedly not.
It had started off just like most Sunday mornings. After the opening worship songs, I had scurried from the choir loft into our family's usual pew. Bible out, pen clicked, ready to go.
Today's text was Acts 2, our pastor informed us. My brain whirred. I know that passage. Acts 2.... Got it. Pentecost. Holy Spirit. Tongues of fire.
"Verses 42 to 47," he continued.
Okay, wait, that's definitely after the tongues of fire. I skimmed down the chapter and read it with him.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer," he read.
Oh yeah, I thought. The early church passage. He continued on....
"Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need...."
The pastor continued on, but I didn't. I was transfixed. Like it was marked with a holy highlighter, that one particular verse — which I must have heard a hundred times in my church career — was screaming out at me:
"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."
I kept reading it over and over. And then, I swear this happened though I'm not proud of it, a smirk crept across my face and I gave a discreet little laugh.
"They had everything in common?" I thought. "Well, that's nice for them, but that would never work nowadays. I can't see Christian communal living working — even here in the Bible Belt."
"And selling their possessions and goods to give to anyone as he has need?" I continued. "Wow! That's awesome, but if the church can't even get a handle on tithing, I doubt that most people would actually sell their stuff." Another discreet little laugh.
That's when the Holy Spirit stepped in. It must have taken tremendous patience for Him not to want to just pop that smirk right off my face. But, as ever, He was patient. The conversation was not exactly chronological, but here's the gist:
You know, Heather, that group's use of their money is just as precious to me as their commitment to the apostles' teaching and to prayer.
Ouch, busted! I sat up a little straighter and tried to fly right.
"Yes, Lord. Absolutely. I'm sorry about that." I managed, rather weakly. "I certainly didn't mean that it couldn't happen. Just that I don't see much of it around me."
And what about you?
"About me, Lord?"
That's what I said.
"Oh ... well ... um. You know I'll give whatever you want me to, Lord. If you really wanted me to sell my possessions, well...."
And that's when it hit me. One can tithe. And one can give offerings. But one can still be — or rather ... I can still be clinging to my possessions as if they are really my own.
I know what being a steward is. But, sitting there, I realized I had restricted myself to a narrow practice of the concept — that, as a steward, I should be "wise" with my money. You know, not spend it foolishly. Spend it where God wants.
All my life I've heard the saying, "God doesn't just own 10 percent of your finances, He owns it all." I knew that. But did I practice it? Would a steward even flinch if the landowner told him to sell a field? I doubt it. It's not the steward's field, why should he care? He'd just go do it. Yet, here I was, flinching just at the idea of having to sell something of value to me.
In the past, I've given out of my excess. "Sorry, God, but the bills are really piling up this month — I only have this amount left over to give to you." I understood the responsibility to give, but didn't really understand that it was the Lord who had control over my finances, not me.
Later, I gave without regard to excess. "Here, God. You're first. No matter what else happens this month, you will not be the one shortchanged." I started to understand the privilege to give and also that getting my financial priorities straight was a major prerequisite for spiritual maturity.
Now, I'm starting to see the person that God wants — and is teaching me — to be. The person He can trust to obey. To do my duty in giving, yes. But to be willing to do so much more. To sell the field, if He commands it, without batting an eye.
Have I ever actually sacrificed something that I had? Had to give up something that I enjoyed or — shall I say it — treasured? My clothing? My furniture? My car? Not simply putting off a purchase or choosing not to purchase, but giving up something that I already had?
The answer was no.
"Lord, is there something you want me to sell?" I asked quietly.
You already have, came the answer, just as quietly.
I knew immediately what He meant. I had just sold my daughter's entire wardrobe, infant to size 5, in a consignment sale and sold what was left in a garage sale. The proceeds were still sitting on my kitchen counter, ready to be taken to the bank. I had meant to use the money to replace my 10-year-old, very beat up kitchen table.
So I took a deep breath. My God is a faithful God. He has given me what I could never repay. Even in this lesson, He was asking for so little. "You've got it, God."
Later, over Sunday lunch, I broke the news to my husband. "Honey, I think we're supposed to give the money from the sales to the Lord."
We met eyes for a second. "Yeah, okay," he said and took another bite of potato chips.
"I mean all of it," I said, not sure he had heard me right. "I think God's trying to teach me something."
He gave me a little smirk. "Got it, hon. That's fine."
Well, I breathed a sigh of relief, that was easy. Thanks, God.
The next Sunday, we had the check ready. "Here we go, God." My toes were tapping a little. I understood in an even deeper way the real joy there is in giving and feeling a part of God's plan. That's when the pastor made an announcement: "By the way, we will be collecting a special offering tonight for our Benevolence Fund — which gives to those in our community who have need."
My husband and I just looked at each other and smiled. Don't you just love it when God ends a lesson with an exclamation point?
I don't know who is going to get that money. But God does. And they will get it, not because I am faithful, but because He is. Had I refused God's request, He would have provided through other means. Only I would have been the loser.
I'm sure this won't be my last lesson from Acts 2. But my husband and I both agree that this one has taught us a lot. As anal financial planners (yes, we do have our entire wedded life's finances on Quicken), it can be hard to let go of control and just, as my husband put it, "give that money away." But we know we can't serve both God and money, so, boy oh boy, we know which one we choose.
And who knows? This holiday season, maybe you should keep your ears and your heart open. I wouldn't be surprised if God pulled an Acts 2 on you too.