Praying your pocketbook
We say money talks. Could we also say money prays?By Beryl Jantzi
The story of Cornelius in Acts 10 has demanded my attention in a new way. In this story, God uses the Gentile Cornelius to usher in a world-changing view of salvation through Jesus being available for all peoples. But there’s something else, almost like a side comment, in the text:
“One afternoon at about 3 o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, ‘Cornelius.’ He stared at him in terror and said, ‘What is it, Lord?’ He answered, ‘Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God’ ” (Acts 10:3-4).
How about that: “prayer” and “almsgiving” mentioned with equal billing. I know prayer matters, but alms? Luke is specific with the details. It’s around 3 o’clock, the middle of the day, the regular time of prayer when religious Jews and God-fearing Gentiles would take a break and commune with God.
Then Matthew 6, which falls in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, has three references to the role of money in the life of a disciple (6:1-4; 19-21; 24-25). The first reference is about almsgiving, or giving to those in need — the poor, widow and alien. Jesus didn’t shy away from talking about the role of giving alms and the impact money has on our spiritual life, so why do we?
In Deuteronomy 14 we have instructions about three forms of giving, each of which was to be offered as a tithe. One was a tithe to be consumed (Deut. 14:22). Ever wonder how all the feasts and celebrations were catered in Old Testament times? The people brought the firstlings of their flock and the firstfruits of their field to be enjoyed by the whole community. It was the potluck tithe.
There was also the tithe for the Levites and, finally, the tithe for the poor, widows and aliens — or almsgiving (Deut. 14:27-28). The benevolence tithe was collected every third year. Altogether the Old Testament “tithe” amounted to 20 to 30 percent per year, depending on whether it was the year the benevolence fund was resupplied.
Giving seems to matter in times as far back as Moses and even to the time of Abraham and Jacob (Gen. 14:20, 28:22). The Genesis accounts occurred before the law was in place, so those who resist practicing the tithe, because it was part of the law then and not relevant for us now, may need to work through these texts as well.
Words such as “pray,” “prayer” and “praying” are mentioned about 500 times in the Bible. More than 2,300 texts mention money and possessions.
We are all familiar with the phrase “money talks.” Could we also say that money “prays?” How we use money communicates to God. God receives the gifts we give to those in need as if the gifts were given in God’s honor.
“Prayer changes things” and “prayer makes a difference” are familiar phrases. Couldn’t the same be said for almsgiving?
There continues to be a reticence in our homes and our congregations when it comes to talking about money and giving in general. God seems to care about money. We might do well to recognize the spiritual role money has in our lives.
Beryl Jantzi, of Harrisonburg, Va., is director of stewardship education for Everence.
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