Tipping is very hard for me. I accept the conventional rule that you should tip a waiter or waitress 15% of the cost of the meal. Because food service people seem underpaid to me, I usually make that 20%. Even if the service is bad, I most often give the same tip, thinking the person is probably already having a bad day. Tipping for other kinds of services totally puzzles me; what should you do for taxi drivers, baggage handlers, doormen?

Our family went on a Caribbean cruise in February. I was relieved to find out that the cruise line had calculated a fair tip amount and offered to accept an upfront payment and distribute it to all the personnel who were making our cruise enjoyable. Whew, I didn’t have to agonize about that each time someone served me. But then, during pre-cruise browsing on a cruise customer blog site, I stumbled on a discussion about whether certain categories of service persons, particularly your room steward and your dining room table host, should receive an extra personal tip, even if you’ve theoretically tipped everyone through the cruise line tip charge. I could feel my tipping anxiety rising again as I read this. I wanted to do the right thing.

As I was thinking about my tipping dilemma, I realized that an ironic twist had taken place: Tipping was supposed to be about the service person’s performance, but it had morphed and instead was about my performance. It wasn’t a measure of whether the waiter had done the right thing, but of whether I was doing the right thing. I was worried about him giving me a disapproving look, which was a strange twist on the original idea of tipping.

If I had the power to recreate the way the service industry operates, I would abolish tips. Instead of putting us all through the tipping drama, just increase the salary of all service people by 20%. That would show that we place a higher value on the work these people do. (It would also probably result in increased IRS collections, since tips are often under-reported.)

Now, here’s a really tough one: What kind of a tip should you give to God? Think of all the ways he’s served you — daily bread, family, safe home, good health. What percentage of your life should you give him? 15%? 20%? Church on Sunday? Prayer every evening? Try to behave better? Tolerate your neighbor’s loud parties? Some people just give him a tip of the hat.

Of course, that’s a pretty superficial way of looking at how God “serves” us and the “tips” we give him in return. As Paul points out in his letter to the Romans, he graciously meets our deepest spiritual needs, beyond anything we could possibly expect:

“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, we will be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, we will be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8-11)

What percentage of us does God deserve for such awesome service? Later in the same letter. Paul answers this question:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1)

The word translated “spiritual” in the last phrase is the Greek adjective logikon, which is an obvious relative of the English “logical.” If God gave so much for our redemption, what is a “logical” amount of our selves to give him in return? Paul’s answer is straightforward: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” All? Everything? It’s only logical.

I remember a little Gospel chorus from my youth group growing up:

“After all he’s done for me,
After all he’s done for me;
How can I do less than give him my best and live for him completely,
After all he’s done for me.”

 Let’s stop tossing God a tip!

 –Pastor George Van Alstine