Since I've been thinking so much about money and investment of late, here's a little thought on first principles. I mentioned earlier that some planned giving is a key component of a good financial plan. This is not because I believe that God will somehow "give it all (or more) back to you," that kind of "prosperity gospel" is naive and petty. I believe that giving is one of the key attitude changers--rich people give. So if you want to feel rich, you should do what the rich do. When you are giving, there is a "more than enough" mentality that permeates decisions and has a transformative power. Of course, I mean "cheerful" giving--a grudging, tight-fisted approach will not have the same psychological or spiritual effect. One of the best lines I ever heard about this topic on why God tells us to give was this: "God wants us to be like him, and He is a giver." Certainly, God doesn't need our gifts to accomplish His purposes (any more than He needs our prayers to determine what He is going to do). But it is a great and powerful mystery that in His sovereignty, He chooses to allow us to play a part in being His agents.
All that said, the whole process of actual tithing may seem impossible. By tithing I mean the giving of 10% of one's income (whether of gross or net pay is a conscience issue, as is the whole commitment to give). This is not an attempt to be legalistic; nobody is required to give even a dime, much less some particular percentage of their paycheck. It has simply become a tradition over 2000+ years of Christianity, based in guidelines set down for the Jews back in the Old Testament (part of a covenant which was never intended for the gentiles anyway). But here's the catch: If you make a decent living, 10% is a LOT of money. The last time I heard a number for what the average American family made was somewhere around $41,000 a year. A tithe of that would be over $340 a month. That looks suspiciously like a new car payment. It's what I paid for our first apartment rent many years ago. If you've never done that before and you wanted to commit to be a tither, that's formidable. Most of us couldn't just free up that kind of cash in our budget (indeed, most of us don't have a nickel to spare. Scratch that--most of us don't even have a budget).
So, what to do? Many years ago, my family committed to become givers. But we couldn't give what we wanted, as we had previously made binding commitments that precluded that (a mortgage, car note, student loans, other debts... oh, and eating on a semi-regular basis). I approached a good friend who was a Christian and a financial professional who I knew to be a good steward and asked him for advice, and he said something wise. He said, "Give what you can, even a little more than is comfortable. Don't worry about what percent that is, but start now. And then commit that you will increase your giving as you are able, before you give yourself lifestyle raises. you'll find that in time you catch up to your goals." Sure enough, it worked. As we gradually got raises and retired debt, we took great pride in increasing our giving gradually. Now, we've been able to tithe for years, and it feels great.
If I could give but two pieces of financial advice to Christians, this would be the second (the first is to actually have a budget--which you have to do if you're ever going to give or save). And even for non-Christians, I would strongly suggest giving to charities of your choice. It's hard to feel broke when you know you are able to give significant sums away.