Have you ever struggled with how much offering to give? After a personal struggle, I finally decided to raise the percentage of my “Promise,” my regular and systematic offering. However, I am not proud of my struggle with it. As a minister, I am supposed to be an example and give out of pure love for God and His work. But, the reality is not that beautiful. I still struggle with an extremely strong inclination toward materialism, consumerism, and the love of this world. For me, what is tangible is far more attractive than what is intangible, which makes it difficult to develop trust and faith in God.
Abraham’s story of sacrificing Isaac upon the altar shows not only how painful it may be to develop trust in God but also how much the Lord values that trust. God says, “ ‘Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’ ” (Gen. 22:12).1 Of course, Christians should be ready to sacrifice everything, but it seems that the experience of self-denial is especially painful for those who, like me, have a propensity to worldliness.
The work of trust
I became a promisor—someone who has proposed to give God a percentage of every income or increase as a regular and systematic offering—for the first time at age 11, answering what I believed to be a call from God through my local church pastor, Josino Campos, in Brazil. When the Lord gave me my first job, I doubled that (very small) percentage for the offering and then increased it a little again (to 5 percent) when I married Mari and started to work as a minister. Ten years later, after a mighty act of God (He almost literally delivered me from the grave), my wife and I felt compelled to double that percentage—even though she had to leave her job because we had just been called to a different field.
In my new position as the Santa Catarina Conference Stewardship director (Brazil), I felt it my duty to annually invite all pastors of that conference to sacrifice something by increasing their Promise percentages. But, then, should I not also increase my percentage again and again? Peter suggests that we need to be “examples to the flock,” modeling what we yearn to see in those we lead (1 Pet. 5:2-4; emphasis added). So, on different occasions, the percentage of my Promise was, again, increased.
Finally, in 2003, while working in another conference, my wife and I were led to commit as Promise what to us was a particularly challenging percentage of our income. It would require a miracle for us to survive every month until the next paycheck. However, my whole family experienced amazing miracles as the Lord took care of us in remarkable ways! I believe that experiences like that deeply influenced our children’s decision for Christ because they saw God and prayer in very real ways. On the other hand, if we did not give, or if we still had too much left with us, the chances would have been higher of fostering a lack of commitment in our children.
The move to North America
At the end of 2015, the call to move to the United States brought some great economic challenges. First, Mari had to leave her job again. Then, just after we sold everything and before exchanging our money for US dollars, the Brazilian currency lost a significant part of its value. On top of that, our two daughters told us that they would both marry in the same year, and we decided to provide some financial help for the weddings and the beginning of their married lives.
Increasing the percentage of your Promise will not necessarily decrease your standard of living. However, it does mean that you will need to increase your standard
Now, with the money left, it seemed impossible for us to purchase a house, a car, and everything else we would need in the new country. Besides that, how would we meet other important needs, such as building an emergency fund, saving for retirement, or providing for Mari in case I died?
At that time, it seemed that fear was stronger than trust because I decided to decrease the percentage of my Promise to a third of what I had been giving. (I still wonder whether lack of faith sometimes does not disguise itself as prudence, leading us to miss some precious experiences of trust that we could have had otherwise.) However, only three months later, God’s care was so evident that we decided to increase that percentage again, now to two-thirds of what it had been previously.
Even though I then felt much better, my impression was that I was sometimes living more by sight than by faith. Was I failing to trust more completely in the Lord, depend more on Him, and pray more?
The need for prayer
When giving is based on a call from God, rather than the desire to be recognized as a philanthropist (a totally different kind of giving), it becomes a humbling exercise of trust in God. Sometimes, by allowing more trials, the Lord is urging us to pray and commune with Him more. Other times, that same invitation for more time with God may come via an encouragement to give more. If you give more, you have less, and you need to pray more. If you pray more, you worry less—you trust more, you live by faith, and your eyes are diverted from this world and fixed on coming realities (Col. 3:1–3).
Increasing the percentage of your Promise will not necessarily decrease your standard of living. However, it does mean that you will need to increase your standard of prayer. At the same time, it will require you to learn from Jesus how to find real delight in a simpler lifestyle, which is an extremely useful skill in these end times that bring new economic realities. You also need to pray for wisdom about how to use the remaining resources more efficiently. You need to pray for a pure heart to keep the way open to receive that guidance, and you need to pray that you will find the same products or services at a better price.
With that experience in view, author Ellen White suggests that “every faithful steward” should be more eager “to enlarge the proportion of gifts . . . than to decrease his offering one jot or tittle.”2 This quotation is not saying that it is a sin to decrease the proportion (or percentage) of what we are giving. It is saying that our aim should be to enlarge it because it will also enlarge our experience of trust.
On the other hand, she also says that when we retain more, we do not necessarily have more: “They have thought it gain to rob God by retaining all, or a selfish proportion, of His gifts. . . . But they meet with loss instead of gain. Their course results in the withdrawal of mercies and blessings.”3 These two quotations constantly remind me about the importance of “enlarging the proportion” as an act of faith.
In 2019, I proposed a deal with the Lord, including three “ifs” as disclaimers. I would increase the percentage of my Promise again, to the same proportion it was before the end of 2015, “if” He would provide an income for Mari, “if” her income would be at least a specific amount (very unlikely to happen), and “if” Mari would agree on moving in that direction (I always include her in such decisions). After all, by choosing that percentage, my salary would cover only tithe, Promise, mortgage, car payment, insurance, and taxes. All the rest would inescapably be her part.
After a little while, the Lord fulfilled the first “if” by giving her a job, which she loves. However, the second “if” was not fulfilled (her income was much lower than what I proposed), so for a while, I thought that I was released from my deal. Then, it was as if a sweet Voice was constantly inviting me: “Don’t you believe that even with your wife’s smaller income that I am able to supply all your need in Christ Jesus?” (Phil. 4:19). I was unable to avoid the Voice.
So, after struggling for three months against that thought, I finally decided to talk to Mari about the plan. Part of me was hoping that her rejection of the idea would bring my feet back to “safer” ground. She instantly agreed to it. I was left with no other choice than to move back to that challenging percentage that was in place before the end of 2015. When the next paycheck arrived and I started to fulfill the vow, I experienced an indescribable peace of mind.
Trusting in the unseen
I still do not know the end of this story—it is an ongoing experiment. What will the Lord lead us to do with our percentages if, in the future, for instance, Mari is no longer able to retain that job? I do not know. But so far, I am not looking back. To live in that different kind of stability, one that depends not on what is seen but on unseen realities, has been a privilege for a man who, at his core, loves the things that are seen.4
- Scripture is from the New King James Version.
- Ellen G. White, Counsels on Stewardship (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1940), 200; emphasis added.
- White, Counsels on Stewardship, 90; emphasis added.
- A version of this article was originally published as “Struggling to Trust,” Dynamic Steward 23, no. 2 (April–June 2020): 9–11, https://stewardship.adventist.org/struggling-to-trust. For more information, see Marcos Faiock Bomfim, “What Is ‘Promise’?,” Dynamic Steward 23, no. 1 (January–March 2020): 12, 13, https://stewardship .adventist.org/what-is-promise. A pastor once wrote, “Kay and I became reverse tithers. We now give 90 percent away and live on 10 percent of our income.” That pastor was Rick Warren (see Richard Abanes, Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him [Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2005], 20). Some will say it’s easy to do that when you have Rick Warren’s income. Yet how much to give in offering can be a challenge for the rich and the not-so-rich. “ ‘Test me please in this,’ says Yahweh of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour forth for you an overflowing blessing’ ” (Mal. 3:10, LEB, emphasis included. See Malachi 3:8–11). Pastor Wintley Phipps says, “God is a gentleman. If you give Him too much, He’ll give it back to you.” If you have an experience where maintaining your “Promise” offering to God in difficult times, or even increasing it, has led to “an overflowing blessing,” we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at [email protected]—The Editors.