The three stories (below) illustrate great lessons about stewardship and our accountability to the Master. We share them for your edification as well as for the benefit of pastors needing sermon illustrations. You are free to use them in any uplifting, Christ-honoring way you find.
First story: Grant, my grandson, was 7 years old.
In the armoire in my bedroom, Grant had noticed the small plastic cup into which I dumped the coins from my pocket each night. At the moment, that cup was running over.
“Grandpa, what is that?” The dollar signs were dancing in his pupils.
I told him this was where I dropped my change each night while emptying my pockets.
He said, “How much is in there?”
“Usually it comes out to be around 30 dollars.”
“What are you going to do with it?” There was no mistaking the excitement in his voice.
I said, “I do various things with it. Sometimes I give it away. Sometimes I buy something with it. And occasionally, I put it in the missions offering at church.” Then an idea hit me. “Grant, would you like to have that money?”
I said, “All right. Here’s the deal. Have a conversation with your mom and dad about what to do with the money. Call me when they say it’s all right for you to have it.”
That evening he called. “Grandpa, I’m ready!”
The next morning, I took him the coins in a plastic grocery bag. He was so excited.
While I played on the swing in the front yard with his five year old sisters, Grant and his dad Neil emptied the sack onto the floor in his room and sat there putting it into one-dollar stacks. As I recall, it came to around $33.
Now, Grant had three banks in his room. His mom had had me draw pictures for the containers: a bank (for savings), a church (for the tithe), and some toys (for fun).
They had agreed that Grant could put a tenth into the church bank and a tenth into the savings bank, and spend the balance on fun things.
That’s how it happened that a few minutes later, I happened to glance down the hallway and saw Grant on the floor feeding the coins into his church bank.
He would pick up a single coin and bring it over to the bank. As he dropped each one into the slot, his little voice said, “Bye bye…..bye bye….bye bye.”
It was killing him to give that three dollars to the Lord.
I broke into laughter.
A few minutes earlier, Grant had been broke. Every dime on that floor was given to him. And yet it was killing him to set aside just one dime out of ten to the Lord.
Sound like anyone you know?
Second Story: Carolyn, who taught me an unforgettable lesson about the Christian life.
The first time I saw Carolyn I thought she was homeless. She was walking along the highway not far from our church and had that look about her. From time to time, I would see her with a small child or two. One day she walked into our church office to ask for help.
Now, many people who come to our church for help want a bus ticket to California or to have their light bill paid for the last three months. Carolyn asked for five dollars. There was such a sincerity about her, we began looking for ways to help her. Eventually, we helped her find a better job, the men of our church moved her and her three children from the dump where they were living to a better apartment, and we led them all to the Lord and baptized them.
In those early months, the women of our church would drive Carolyn and her children to services on Sunday and return them home. This particular Sunday, my wife drove them. When she returned home around 1 o’clock, Margaret said, “I want to tell you something Carolyn said.”
“We were driving along talking about other things. Suddenly, out of the blue, Carolyn said, ‘You know, MIss Margaret, I know God wants me to tithe my income. You know I can’t afford it. I don’t make enough to live on as it is. But I’ve thought about it and come to a decision.”
“I’m going to do it regardless.”
When my wife said that word “regardless,” all the bells went off.
The Holy Spirit just sent me a message.
This is precisely how the Christian life is lived. It’s lived regardless of what we have or do not have, what we know for certain or still question, how we feel and how others treat us. We go forward in faith.
Over these decades of ministry, I have known thousands of people who tithed their income to the Lord. But I never knew one who started tithing when they could afford it. No one has an extra ten percent laying around the house. “Honey, what shall we do with the extra money this month? I know–let’s tithe!”
Everyone I know needs all the money they have and just a little more.
We all began tithing in the same way Carolyn did: regardless.
Anyone waiting until they can afford to tithe needs to know one huge thing: It will never happen. The enemy will see to it that you always have plenty of needs and other reasons to block you from giving.
You will start giving to the Lord regardlessly or you will not do it at all.
Third Story: Charles and Shirley, generous with “other people’s money”
I was coming back from somewhere and decided to eat dinner at our favorite catfish cabin just outside Hammond, Louisiana, an hour from home. As I walked in, the popular restaurant was already crowded. In the foyer, I bumped into two of my church members, Charles and Shirley, who had been on a vacation.
“Actually,” Charles said, “I won a trip through our company.”
The boss had given them something like $4,000 and one week to do anything they pleased. They drove to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, their favorite vacation getaway.
When they offered to pay for my dinner, I thanked them but refused. That’s when I learned the nature of their prize.
Charles said, “Joe, this money from the company is ours to spend any way we please while we’re on this trip. But the moment we get home, the vacation is over and whatever we have left goes back to the company.”
“Now,” he said, “will you let me buy your dinner?”
I said, “Absolutely! Buy my dinner.”
He laughed and said, “Anything else in here you want? Any of those trinkets? Any takeout for your wife?”
Later as I drove home, I reflected on this as a parable for life. When we “get home,” everything we have left over goes back to the Boss. We keep none of it.
All the more reason to be generous today. After all, it’s not ours. This is the Lord’s money and He wants us to “give freely” since we have received freely (Matthew 10:8).
“What do you have that you have not received? And if you received it, why do you boast as though you had not received it?” (I Corinthians 4:7)
Let us freely give as our generous Savior has given to us.