Many people call this time of year "The season of giving."
People give gifts to family, friends and even to some whom they barely know. Charitable organizations rely on donations during the Christmas season not only to meet immediate needs but also to carry their benevolent work far into the new year.
As Latter-day Saints, we realize that there really is no "season" for giving; we give throughout the year in the form of tithes and offerings.
At this time of year, we have the opportunity to meet with bishops or branch presidents for annual tithing settlement. Included in the summary of donations is a listing of other offerings to the Church during the year.
Paying our tithes and offerings is one of our highest privileges. In essence, we enter into a kind of financial partnership with the Lord as we add monetary contributions to our other endeavors and literally help build and sustain His kingdom here on earth and put into effect His work and will among His children.
We now have 124 temples in operation, with more under construction or announced, all made possible through the tithes of members. Tithing funds are used for other purposes also. In areas of the world, for example, where only a few years ago members met in rented halls, or even in member homes, there now stand meetinghouses and stake centers all made possible by the tithes of Church members.
When we read of disasters of the magnitude of the tsunami that hit portions of Asia in 2004, the hurricanes that devastated entire cities in the United States in 2005, or the typhoon that swept through part of the Philippines just days ago, we can know that we have done something to help the victims if we have contributed to the Church's humanitarian aid fund. Our individual contributions are combined with others, giving the Church the resources needed to ship millions of pounds of food, clothing, medical supplies and equipment, and other needed items to victims of disasters throughout the world. None of the money is used for administrative or other costs; it all goes to help those in need.
While visiting victims of Hurricane Mitch eight years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley said of using funds that come through the Church: "It becomes our privilege and our opportunity to help you bear the sorrow which has come your way....If we are true disciples of the Lord we must reach out to help those in distress" (from an address given in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Nov. 20, 1998; see Church News, Nov. 28, 1998, p. 3).
We are able to help those in need nearer home through fast offerings. While funds donated for humanitarian aid are for use through Church headquarters and cannot be accessed by bishops and branch presidents, fast offering funds can be used at their discretion. A fast offering is generally the cost of two meals skipped during the monthly fast. President Spencer W. Kimball suggested that instead of just the amount saved by our two meals of fasting we give much more, if we are in a position to do so.
Our contributions to the missionary fund enable us to nurture souls just as much as our fast offerings and humanitarian donations help those in physical need. Untold numbers of people have been taught the gospel because funds were made available to send into the field missionaries who, without such contributions, would have been unable to serve.
In some parts of the world, missionaries return home to bleak prospects for the future. In some countries, they have little opportunity to pursue higher education. Through the Perpetual Education Fund, returned missionaries may qualify for scholarships so they can earn degrees from local colleges and universities and, thereby, increase their opportunities to find jobs that will allow them to support themselves and their families. These returned missionaries continue to help strengthen the Church as they then serve as leaders in their local wards and branches.
Although we pay tithing and make other contributions throughout the year, the month of December is generally when we "settle up" with our bishops or branch presidents. More important, it's when we make an accounting to the Lord on how we have used the resources with which He has entrusted us.