There I was, 25 years old, in a room full of 60-year-olds. At a seminar to learn about retiring. I had just been ordained and my financial education was about to begin. As strange as it felt at the time, the lessons I learned at that event shaped my life.
Up until then I never thought much about money. Money came in, and money went out. I did not have a budget, but I had lots of debt, and no savings. During that retirement seminar, I first heard the expression, “pay yourself first!” The idea was to save a percentage of my income every month — before I spent a cent — and put it away for retirement. I wondered, “I don’t have any spare money now! How am I going to save a percentage of my income for the distant future?” The answer was simple: discern a meaningful and challenging amount and have it come straight out of my chequing account at the beginning of each month and go into an investment account. I was told I would never miss it. Make saving a priority, the financial planner said, and it will happen. And it did. It is the single best piece of financial advice I ever received.
At that very same age, being a person of faith and just starting to receive a full-time salary, I was also deciding how much money I should give to our church’s ministry. Should I also give to other charities? Once again, I didn’t have any extra cash to spare, yet I was taught that living out my faith included sharing what I had. For a second time that financial planner’s words rang in my ears — discern a meaningful and challenging amount, and “pay (this time) God” first. Take it off the top, and you will never miss it. Make it a priority and it will happen. And it did.
Now, at the start of every new year, I make it a spiritual practice to discern how much to give to the church and other charities. I call it my “faith in action” money. Making this a priority has also taught me to better trust God when I don’t think I have enough.
It turns out this is biblical. It is called First Fruits Giving and it’s about putting God first. The people of Israel, living in an agricultural society, offered the first of their harvest to God as a sign of gratitude for all that God had given them. We too can express our thanks to God by also giving our “first fruits.” In our modern capitalist society, that means money.
In 2023, you and I have an excellent way to give our financial first fruits to God. The Pre-Authorized Remittance program, where a gift to the church is automatically withdrawn from our bank account monthly, can help us to take it off the top so we’ll never miss it.
It really comes down to this: years after I made the decision not to think about generosity as coming from what is left over, but to put God first, I am still discovering the hope and the promise that I will still have more than enough for my needs. It is indeed a decision that has shaped my life!
By Rev. Roger Janes, Community of Faith Stewardship Support for First Dawn Eastern Edge, Region 15, Fundy St. Lawrence Dawning Waters, Nakonha:ka, Eastern Ontario Outaouais, and East Central Ontario Regions of The United Church of Canada.
For more information on First Fruits Giving, see Firstfruits Living: Giving God our Best, by Lynne A. Miller