My father is a very skilled mathematician. Having grown up with the passion he shares through his teaching of the subject, I myself found it contagious, and have always rather enjoyed maths.
Part of what I love about it is that mathematics is reliable. If you add 1+1, you will always get 2. I like that. As a keen linguist, I like that it is a universal language that everyone speaks to a certain extent, whether it is in simple addition or in complex formulas and theories.
I am pretty good at mental arithmetic, and, at least in some ways and on some level, I am quite organized. So, naturally, I assumed that I would always be good with money, with budgets.
But that is not really the kind of maths you are taught in schools. It should be, but it isn’t.
I tried to set budgets when I left home for university and was ok at sticking to them most of the time, but mostly I relied on common sense and memory rather than actual strict written down budgets, and then I would be surprised when I got to the end of the month and had only £0.22 in my bank account and was in need of food.
When I got married, I realized that this was something that needed to change. My husband and I have tried to work on this aspect of our marriage, but it is something that we are very much only starting to learn properly, and we still have a long way to go.
Having said that, I am constantly amazed by how even our feeble attempts at budgeting have been blessed by God. We are trying, however little, to be good stewards of what He has blessed us with. And He really respects and rewards that.
And it is in this provision that my love of, and aptitude for, maths leaves me baffled.
Because it doesn’t add up. Literally.
You see, with a large number of job changes, salary changes, life changes, moves, bereavement, and general messiness over the year and a half we’ve been married, we are still working out our exact budget figures, and this is something we are having to do regularly in order to keep up with the changes in our finances and life.
But with the messiness of the numbers and constant changes, what we did do when we were engaged was work out how to make our general budget line up with our priorities. That was the number 1 project for us in our budgeting, and we knew this was what God wanted for us, even if the figures themselves are constantly changing.
For us, that looks like this:
With these being our priorities, it makes our budget and where our money goes much easier. We can ask ourselves: “Is this something that is respecting our priorities?” “Are we making sure that the order remains correct?”
Since God is number one on our priorities, we made a commitment when we got married that we have not been willing to compromise on. If God is truly number one in all areas of our life, then He must get the “firstfruits” of our labour, of our money.
We committed to tithing 10% of our income straightaway when we got married, and this was something that was called into question when we moved recently, as we took a higher rent and a lower income, which only just covers our rent and bills, never mind food and council tax and petrol and all our other expenses! Since we had some savings and were hoping I would quickly find a job, we decided not to suspend tithing, but to eat into our savings instead, trusting that God would replenish them if we needed them.
And here we are 9 months later: still on just my husband’s part-time salary, both of us paying for studies, paying the same rent and other expenses, 8 months pregnant so I am unable to find a steady job, and trying to figure out the maths.
And it doesn’t add up.
We have decided to remain faithful to our commitment to tithe, and we have watched as the numbers tell us that we should have eaten through all of our savings, and yet the savings are still there – sometimes even increasing. It might not be much by some people’s standards, but the amount doesn’t matter. What is amazing to us is God’s provision.
He has come through again and again, providing smaller and larger amounts from unexpected places. And still the maths doesn’t quite seem to work. Yet here we are.
I have always been relatively sensible with money, and have tried my hardest to use my common sense. Tithing was something my husband always wanted to do, but it took me a lot longer to come around to the idea. I started slow, just giving a little of the money I was earning when we were engaged to the Church and Christian charities, not worrying about a percentage or regularity.
But the more I gave, the more I wanted to give, and I found God opening up my heart to the beauty of this act.
With the tireless and beautiful example of close friends, and the encouragement of my husband, I took a chance. I looked at our priorities and felt that this was something that needed to be a part of our married life.
And I never looked back.
It might have been, and might yet be, that God will not always increase or even keep constant the amount of savings we have because of our trust in Him as our Provider. It might be that sometimes He asks us to start over. It is not about the amount – not the amount you give, nor the amount He provides. What is important is that God is faithful, and He always comes through (often just in time) for us. As we trust in Him, He rewards us.
He has blessed us, but not so that we can simply view tithing as a transaction (put in money, get out more money). No, He has blessed us so that we can bless others.
You see, going back to our priorities, the “firstfruits” go to God and His Church. But what is left or provided goes on our family’s needs, and then to our ministry – from hospitality to travelling to see others, from volunteering to providing for friends.
The mathematician’s daughter in me cannot make all of this add up. I don’t understand it, but I’m not sure that I need to. What I do need to do is trust my money, time and energy to God. Because He is our family’s number one priority, and any resources that I am blessed with have come from Him anyway.
He is our Provider. Literally.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.