My husband and I have been in some form of ministry a good portion of our marriage. Throughout the years of ministry, it seems that the primary source of angst and consternation within the body of believers is related to money – specifically the lack thereof. But, why do we get upset about money? What about money in the church bothers you?
Obviously, we need money to operate our churches. There are power, water, and phone bills. There is maintenance. Literature is needed, and worn out property must be replaced. There is insurance, and most churches pay someone to keep the facilities clean. Then, there are those kitchen supplies, paper products, and cleaning supplies. And, of course, salaries. I would be lying if I said that Doug and I don’t get nervous when there are money issues in whatever church we are serving at the time. It’s one thing to say that God is the true source of our income when the paychecks are coming in regularly. But, when we hit those moments when we wonder how the paychecks are going to keep coming, that reliance on God is put to the test. I’ll admit that we don’t always respond with full-fledged faith. We’re learning. We’re growing. But, we still struggle.
As I began reading through the book of Joel a few months ago, one verse really jumped off the page at me and challenged my way of thinking regarding money and the church. Obviously, we want all of the things above to run smoothly. Obviously, I prefer the reliability of knowing the paycheck is coming in every month. But, when tithes and offerings begin to decline, is our threatened ability to heat and cool the building, keep the supplies stocked, pay the bills, and write those paychecks really what we need to mourn? Or is there something else?
Look at this verse from Joel with me and see what you think.
Gird yourselves with sackcloth and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God, for the grain offering and the drink offering are withheld from the house of your God. Joel 1:13
Destruction and devastation were striking God’s chosen people. If you read even just the first few verses of Joel 1, you get the impression of the collapse that the economy was facing. There’s a reason the offerings were not being brought into the house of God. How can what doesn’t exist be brought in?
But, consider why the devastation is falling upon the land.
The kings had not been obedient to the commands of the Lord, thus leading their people astray.
The priests had not been faithful to the God they were supposed to be serving. They had not kept the temple pure, had not observed the sacrifices according to the law, had neither guided the kings nor admonished them, and had not guided the people toward lives of obedience.
The people had rejected God. They had not held the king or the priests accountable, nor had they remained determined to seek their God, the God who brought them out of slavery and bondage.
If anyone was mourning over what wasn’t being brought into the temple, the mourning was because the fat, happy life the priesthood had lived was being threatened. But, according to Joel 1:13, that was not why they should have been mourning. The grain offerings were voluntary offerings showing devotion to God. These offerings, along with the drink offerings, accompanied other offerings of worship. In light of Old Testament law, when these offerings were absent, so was worship. The mourning should have been because the withholding of offerings showed that there was no true worship of God. No real obedience.
That’s where our mourning should be as well. We must get to the root of the problems in our churches, whether they be money problems or anything else. Is there consistent and faithful obedience among the members of our body? Is there true worship in the hearts of our members? Most likely, unless the problems of the church are related to true persecution, the answer is no, and that is what we should mourn. And the mourning should bring about repentance. And the repentance should bring about change. And the change should bring about a renewed attitude of worship and obedience. And when worship and obedience are right, there should again be a reason for rejoicing.
And when the rejoicing returns, we must ensure that we are rejoicing not because any prosperity has been restored, but because the hearts of the people are turned once again to the worship and obedience of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.