Long before the days the IRS demanded an accounting for every penny given to a "church", I was a part of small fellowships held in people's homes on a regular basis. Although they were conducted as an extension of the ministry I served in, they were independent fellowships meaning the person in charge could determine when and where to meet and the structure of the fellowship. They also decided how the offering money was spent.
Back "in the day", I remember after each fellowship I conducted immediately setting aside 20% of the offering to be given to the ministry. The other 80% was equally divided between pressing needs people in the fellowship had and a special fund we had set up for doing special activities. No money went into my pocket whatsoever. In one way or another, every penny was used for the Lord's work.
In September of 1971 I was sent with two other people to far northern Wisconsin to build the fellowship found there. I remember the joy and anticipation in my 18 year old heart at the idea of being like Paul and Silas in the Book of Acts. It turned out to be an incredible year that I would not trade for any other in my life.
Our team consisted of me, another guy from the same city I came from and a young woman from back East. John and I were both teenagers with no previous work experience to speak of. Cindy had been a nurse aid and thus was qualified to get a real job. Part of the program we were in demanded we only work 4 hours per day and spend 8 hours doing "the work of the ministry".
John and I both worked at a restaurant washing dishes for awhile, but we both quickly grew tired of the work. We both ended up working at a small bakery doing janitor type of work. We each worked 4 hours per day, 5 days per weekÂ€Â”in other words, 20 hours per week. We each made $1.50 per hour. Thus, we each made $30 per week minus taxes, etc. We did get to eat all the broken donuts we wanted.
As the winter moved in, none of us were ready for the harsh reality of what takes place in the far north for 4 or 5 months of the year. The house we were living in only cost $100 per month in rent, but for three straight months that winter the heating bill alone was over $250 per month. Hmmm, two guys making $30 per week each means our total income was around $250 per month.
In order to survive, we turned the heat down to 60 degrees and wore more clothing. We lived on boxes of macaroni and cheese (which still is the cheapest meal there is), parked John's VW Beatle and walked everywhere and pretty much spent no money on anything except rent and utilities. You know what? We not only survived that brutal winter, we remained blessed.
As the winter bore down on us and the funds for survival shrank more and more, we decided to UP the amount of money we gave to the ministry from our tithes and offerings received. We ended up giving a full 50% of all that came in. Pretty much the remaining 50% went to keep the lights on and the house at 60 degrees. I have always believed that because we were willing to give more, God provided for us and took care of us.
In March of 1972, just as the weather started to moderate, our fellowship exploded with growth. We started having fellowships at the two High Schools in town. We started having 30 or 40 people show up for fellowships in our home. People started giving us all sorts of things to "bless us". First on that list was food. After living the whole winter on macaroni and cheese, bologna sandwiches and donuts from the bakery; it was a true treat to have people start inviting us to dinners at their home and bringing us all sorts of food.
I will forever remain thankful for all I learned that year in Wisconsin. Not only did I learn how to survive, I learned how to trust God even during the dark and cold of winter. Just as there are seasons (for most of us on earth), there are seasons in our lives. There are times of warmth and abundance and there are times of cold and poverty. Through it all, God never changes and He will always provide enough for needs to be met.
There is nothing to make you appreciate the times of bounty as living through times of austerity. Paul says in Philippians that he had learned that weather he had an abundance or next to nothingÂ€Â”he could still be content and that God would supply his needs. That is the true key to enjoying God's provision and blessings in this life. No matter what state you are in, always remain thankful and you will be blessed.
During my "financial crisis" last year during which we could have lost our home due to my illness and problems with my employer, my husband and I constantly got out that "box of snapshots" tucked away in our minds which record all of the various times God provided for us and kept us over the years. I was so glad I had those "snapshots".
There was the time when the entire second shift was laid off, three weeks after my husband started working there our first month of marriage. I was student teaching and not permitted to work. We had some savings and I was getting a survivor check each month as my dad had been disabled while on active duty and was now deceased but that was only enough to cover about half our expenses. How did we get through those times? We trusted God... and we are still here nearly 29 years later. God was and continues to be faithful!
I could tell stories of money coming unexpectedly, food being multiplied, a sudden vacancy at a place where my friend was a preschool teacher and vehicles which mechanics told me could not possibly be running and yet right before their eyes, they were. I could tell of instantaneous healings but also of times God gave you the strength and ability to endure. It is during those difficult times that we truly learn how to walk by faith and not by sight!