Truth mixed with error is the most dangerous kind, as it is hard to discern the one from the other. The prosperity gospel is a case in point. God does indeed bless us when we give of our first-fruits to Him, as John and I know from personal experience. If we are faithful with little, He will bless us with much. But He doesn’t guarantee that the blessing will be in the form of material wealth. We also must be discerning in who we are giving to--not to opportunistic “ministers” preying on the vulnerable. See article here: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20091129/NEWS01/911290359/Prosperity+gospel+faces+challenge++frugal+savers">
A better way to seek God's favor is to live by the practical advice found in His word. That includes staying out of debt, and giving of our tithes on a regular, consistent basis to faithful ministers of the gospel.
Remember this: God is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap. We cannot negate a lifestyle of sloth or irresponsibility by dropping money into an offering or donating to a cause. God usually allows the natural consequences of our actions to play themselves out in our lives, even if we have repented and received forgiveness. If we look to the Bible for guidance in our everyday lives and live frugally, we will be blessed in the long run.
The Old Testament principle of tithes and offerings is confirmed by the New Testament. The tithe is a tenth. Everyone can afford a tenth. It's all God's in the first place; He deserves at least a tenth. When it is the first tenth we spend, we ensure avoiding the temptation to spend it elsewhere. That is the concept of first fruits.
Unfortunately, American Christians have not taken this seriously. The average giving among them is only 2.5% to 3%--way below the biblical standard. As a result, American churches are largely impoverished, even while appearing wealthy. Think about it, and crunch the numbers. If ten families gave faithfully 10% of their income, they could theoretically support one full-time pastor at the median income of that congregation. As it is, most churches must have four times as many giving households to compensate for the lack. That means that each full-time pastor must personally shepherd 35 to 40 families. No pastor can do a good job of shepherding that many.
I believe this has contributed to the trend of churches adopting a mega-church, programmatic model, which leaves congregants improperly discipled and immature. Their church buildings and programs may look slick and trendy, but the relational needs of the members remain woefully lacking.
I'll admit I didn't really think about all this until I became a pastor's wife. I confess my self-interest on this subject. I recognize that economic hard times have hit, and I don't fault church members for that at all.
Simply take this as a loving suggestion. If you entrust God with your material resources, He will bless you--but only if you are walking in the light of His word, in consistent integrity. I feel the Spirit's conviction even as I write these words. I know I am not consistent in all things either. Lord, forgive me--and keep me humble.
"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also"