In one of the several offertory prayers we use in worship, we say, “Through your [God’s] goodness you have blessed us with these gifts, our selves, our time and our possessions…”
The older Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW, green) worded it this way, “we offer with joy and thanksgiving what you have first given us—our selves, our time, and our possessions, signs of your gracious love.”
Because the question of upon which portion of these things we are to tithe recently arose, it caused me to consider this one particular aspect and whether or not we really tithe our time. As with nearly any illustration or analogy, there are flaws, exceptions, whatever that might be used to undermine the whole concept, but I think we need to start the discussion somewhere.
So often, when we risk the topic of tithing, we think solely in the economic, financial realm and consider whether or not it is to levied on the gross or net figure. If we apply that to our time, then I think we need to start with a base of twenty-four hours and consider that the gross. If we tithe on that, then daily, we ought to be offering 2.4 hours of our time to the mission and ministry of our church.
BUT…for appropriate self-care and wellness, we need sleep, so take a deduction of eight hours. That would leave us a net of 16 hours, and we would, consequently, only need to offer 1.6 hours per day to the spread of the gospel.
BUT…because of work, school, activities, lifestyles, we might take another eight hour deduction, leaving us an eight hour net and a time tithe of less than one hour a day, or 48 minutes. Could we manage 48 minutes a day to further the in-breaking of God’s kingdom in the here and now?
If we expand our model to a 7-day week, we begin with a 168 hours gross time minus 56 hours for the sleep deduction, minus 40 hours for work/school/etc., we arrive at 72 hours per week (approximately 10 hours, 20 minutes a day) to tithe to the church. Oh what the heck, go ahead and deduct the one hour you spend in worship (maybe more, maybe less), maybe even one hour for Sunday School if that’s your thing. We are now down to a loose 70 hours per week. Which SOUNDS like a LOT of time for church and doesn’t seem to leave time for fun, family and relaxation, RIGHT? Those non-working weekends are a killer on the time deductions.
For those who are so inclined to continue working math problems, the variable results as they get spread out over a month, a year or an indeterminate lifespan are all over the place! I think you get the picture, though.
Of course, many people work more than 40 hours a week and some more than 5 days a week, which complicates computations. And what about our two weeks of vacation? Don’t we get any sort of break or exemption? I dunno. Isn’t even THAT time something God gives us?
Can we store up our time-tithe and offer it in apportioned segments? Sure. Why not? But, when?
Can you imagine, though, the power of our work and witness in the fallen world if each member of the body of Christ pledged AND honored a tithe on their time?! Or does the whole discussion of stewardship, whether it is about time or money, make us feel threatened and uncomfortable and just want the church to look the other way, and give us some credit for the time we DO spend? Do we console ourselves thinking, “Well, if OTHER people would tithe their time…?”
As with financial tithing, time-tithing is a faithful response to the gift of a loving God who even gives us this time in the first place. But the effect of not tithing “our selves, our time and our possessions” clearly has a debilitating effect on the ministries of a church.
Now, I am fully aware that this smacks of legalism and possibly even works righteousness, the two key adversaries to any life of discipleship. It could even be a pastoral attempt to lay a guilt trip on you. Read Paul’s epistles; even he wasn’t above such tactics. However, whether you tithe or not, whether time, money, possessions or not, your salvation doesn’t hang in the balance. Christ already died on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended for our sake. We have been fully gifted with self, time and possessions because of God’s gracious love. How you calculate and spend these gifts is between you and God, but I invite you to prayerfully discern a vision of your lived faith that takes into account a tithe of your time to the glory of God.