Today I am going to share with you the story of how Generosity changed my life forever.
I had my whole world rocked one Sunday afternoon many years ago at a retreat. The priest leading the retreat gave a talk describing his own experience of arriving at a new parish that was in financial distress. He dreaded going to the parish from the moment he was assigned, and once he arrived, he became increasingly anxious about the financial situation.
One day he called another priest, who had been a longtime friend, because he just needed to talk to someone about the situation. He hoped that his friend would console and encourage him, but instead he challenged him to introduce tithing into the parish budget. “I can’t pay the bills as it is, and you want me to give ten percent away?” the priest said to his friend. “You’re crazy.” The other priest said to him, “It seems you trust your money more than you trust God.” This stung the priest right to his core, and over the next several weeks he struggled with the idea. One day, he went over to the church at lunchtime and just sat in front of the tabernacle for a long time. Finally, he decided that he would lead the parish to become a tithing parish.
On Monday after the Sunday collections had been counted, he went to the bank, opened a new account, and deposited 10 percent of the collections into that account. Each month for twenty years now, he has distributed 10 percent of the parish’s income to various charities and ministries and to those in need. Little by little, the people of the parish were also won over to the idea of tithing. Today that parish is a vibrant spiritual community with excellent facilities and fantastic programs. It supports many ministries locally and beyond.
The priest finished his talk by challenging us to consider tithing in our own lives. I was thirty years old, had been a Catholic my whole life, and nobody had ever asked me to consider tithing. I was convicted as I heard his talk that day. Sure, I considered myself a generous person, but his talk challenged me to examine my financial giving, and what I discovered was that I was not particularly generous with money.
The following week I sat down and calculated what percentage of my annual income I had given to my parish and other charities over the past three years. The figure I came to was about 2 percent. Among Catholics my generosity was better than average, but nothing special. Statistically when compared with the general population I was not generous at all.
But—and we all have many buts in the area of money—the challenge to tithe seemed too much. My financial commitments at the time made it seem impossible. I read quite a bit on the subject, and many would say you had to take a leap of faith and just give the 10 percent away. Right or wrong, I was not capable of that leap of faith.
I prayed about it for a few weeks, and kept recalling the original inspiration I had found on that retreat. Finally, I came to a resolution. I would increase my giving by 1 percent of my income each year until I reached 10 percent. I laid this plan before God in prayer and felt at peace.
Over the years, it turned out I was able to increase my giving by more than 1 percent some years. When we reached 10 percent my wife and I talked about how blessed we had been and decided that we would continue to increase our giving by 1 percent each year until it was no longer possible.
Recently I read about a very successful businessman who had committed to a reverse tithe—that is, each year he would live on just 10 percent of his income and give 90 percent to his church and various other charities.
The path I have taken to become more generous with money is not the only way, but it has transformed the role generosity plays in my life. By becoming more generous with money I have become more generous in my relationships and in every aspect of life. So, I encourage you to set a giving goal each year. Why? Lots of reasons, but high on the list is because I want you to experience the intense joy that comes from celebrating generosity.
Now, here is today’s generosity habit.
Calculate what percentage of your income you gave to charity last year. Give 1% more this year. Give 1% more each year until it simply is no longer possible to give more and fulfill your responsibilities. You will be amazed how this one habit will change your life in one hundred ways.
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