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Deciding How to Tithe When the Money Isn't There to Give

I'll never forget the moment my husband and I decided to change the way we tithed.

Deciding How to Tithe When the Money Isn't There to Give


And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites.So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had." ~Luke 21:1-4 (NIV)

I'll never forget the moment my husband and I decided to change the way we tithed. He and I had both grown up in Christian homes and churches that taught that tithing should be strictly 10 percent of one's gross income.

The only problem? We were living on a low income during the economic downturn of the 2000s—and after paying the mortgage on an underwater home we owned in a different state, our rent where we were living, and health insurance, we were left with a mere $250 per month to pay our utilities and feed our family of four. I was also expecting our third child at the time.

It was a desert of a season, and no matter how many times we worked and re-worked our budget, it never lined up to enough.

In order to make our money stretch, we were draining our meager savings account to cover the mortgage. This allowed us to tithe off my husband's gross income and to give an additional check to a missionary family each month.

But our money was quickly running out. When our savings was gone, we feared, we would lose our home—much less have anything to give to our church and other ministries.

When we didn't know what else to do or where else to turn, God provided wisdom and direction from an older man in our church. He was the teacher of a financial planning class we were taking, and he helped us pinpoint the root of our financial difficulties—and also gave us hope that we wouldn't have to stay there forever.

We had an income problem. Simply put—we didn't have enough money to live.

We were the working poor.

As he helped us learn how to put together a realistic budget, we specifically asked him about the question of tithing.

"Isn't tithe supposed to be 10 percent of one's gross income?" I asked. "How can we make that work?"

I was consumed with guilt, thinking of the many pastors who had taught me in the past that I was to give 10 percent of my gross income to the Lord—or I would be living in sin.

Looking at our growing family and the entire state of our financial picture, the man took us to Scripture, reminded us that God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and that to obey was better than sacrifice (I Samuel 15:22).

My husband and I walked away from that conversation tasked with making a life-changing decision. Our bank account said we didn't have enough money to eat, much less tithe.

How could we make this work? Should we stop tithing all together? Give less?

After much prayer, our family began tithing 10 percent of our net income—with a commitment to tithe more as soon as we had enough income to live. We were being obedient in giving, and at that point in our lives, even 10 percent of our net income was sacrificial.

That 10 percent of our net income was all we had at the time—it was our widow's mite (Luke 21).

Within two years of making this decision, we saw God open the floodgates of financial blessing in our lives. We witnessed Him provide more than we could have ever asked or imagined.

Do I think the commitment to giving 10 percent of our net pay caused that to happen? Do I think God would have blessed more if we had sunk deeper into debt and given off of our gross income?

I think neither. God is not a magic genie in a bottle, and we do not give so that He will give back to us in return—but we are to give out of obedience.

And I do know this: God never neglected to provide for our needs, even during that tough financial season of our lives. He honored our sacrifice to give exactly what we had to give.

So should the poor tithe? Absolutely. Must we insist they adhere to a strict version of tithing that says they must give 10 percent of their gross income—or they aren't being obedient?

I think we would do well to leave that to be between them and God—and remember the poor widow and her mite. She gave all she had to give, and Jesus said she put in more than all.

Erin Odom is the author of More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated and You Can Stay Home With Your Kids: 100 Tips, Tricks, and Ways to Make It Work on a Budget. In 2011, she founded The Humbled Homemaker, a blog dedicated to grace-filled living designed to equip and encourage mothers in the trenches. She is passionate about Jesus, motherhood, crunchy living, and seeing women use their God-given gifts and passions to overcome life's challenges. Her Southern charm and wealth of inspirational, practical content has drawn an audience of millions over the years. Erin and her husband, Will, live in North Carolina, where they raise their three spirited redheaded girls and sweet and spoiled redheaded boy. Follow Erin at