As a small business owner myself, I can understand the tendency to minimize costs and try to do it yourself. DIY may be popular these days because it promotes education and saves on families’ personal finances, but there is a different reality in the business world.Continue Reading...
Archives For Stewardship
My friend who just finished seminary accepted a pastoral position at a church in Hawaii. (Talk about suffering for Jesus, right?) In moving there, the church will be paying to ship his truck there, so that he has a car while on the island. As any typical graduate student does throughout the course of their studies, he collected lots of stuff – mostly books, but also furniture, clothes, etc. While shipping his truck to Hawaii may sound like an easy way to take most of his possessions with him, it’s actually quite the opposite. He is only allowed to keep items in the truck that are bolted down. That means even his face plate for his after-market CD player has to come out.
Ultimately this means that he is getting rid of stuff. He just recently told me how he got rid of 3 boxes worth of books, in addition to lots of other clothes, etc. I started to think about how much stuff my wife and I have collected in the 3 years that we have been married. While we live in a 1 bedroom apartment, I can hardly believe how much stuff we have. How did this happen?!
Are Material Possessions Bad?
We often hear about consumerism or worldly possessions and how bad it is for us. I believe much of this conversation stems from a very basic truth:
You can’t take it with you!
This is the idea that when you die, all the stuff that you have collected over your life means absolutely nothing. Yes, that’s right, those baseball cards, your lucky underwear, your stainless steel appliances – it doesn’t mean anything when you pass.
Yet, this basic truth is often exaggerated…
Worldly possessions are bad. They are evil. Material possessions are false idols.
Or, my personal favorite:
Material possessions hurt your relationship with God.
Since when is a relationship with God and having stuff mutually exclusive? I guess I should be clear. I’m not talking about the level of the “Hoarders” T.V. show(s). I suspect that we all know that hoarding is a serious social illness of some sort (or at least that’s my suspicion without watching the show much). Instead, I am talking about the average person. Isn’t it possible that possessions are not all bad? Or even better, couldn’t it help us in our relationship with God?
Why Possessions Can Help our Faith
I ask this question of whether the stuff in our lives can be a good thing because of two reasons. I often like to tackle the common assumptions of the Christian faith, especially as it relates to finances. This is one of the reasons that I look at tithing differently than other Christian finances authors. The second reason that I ask this question is because of a significant change recently.
My wife and I recently invested in a portable dishwasher. There, I said it! Well, that may not sound like much, but if you know me, it is huge! I absolutely hate doing dishes. Because we are renting, our unit does not have a dishwasher. In our 3 years of married life, we have never had one. This means that we spend, at minimum 3 hours a week doing dishes. My wife’s in-laws were coming into town and I had two days of dishes piled up (prior to getting our dishwasher). I had to do all the dishes at once and it took me 2 hours! Wowzer!
As a result of buying our new dishwasher, things have drastically improved. It literally takes minutes instead of hours each week. I told my wife that it was the best investment ever! That’s how much our dishwasher means to us.
Does this mean that I am too reliant on this material item? Am I ruining my relationship with God because I enjoy the luxury of some of my STUFF?
I think it would be hard to find someone that would answer, “yes” to these questions. I think it is especially relevant when you consider the time saved. I have more time to spend on whatever I choose. Whether this is volunteering, praying, reading, etc. I believe this is a great example that material stuff cannot be equated with evilness. Stuff is not inherently bad.
A Proper Balance
I believe understanding that our possessions are not bad in and of themselves, but instead how we use them is very important. Understanding that we can utilize our STUFF to be a greater service to our community is an important thing. Yet, it doesn’t mean you should buy as many items as possible to free up more free time. There needs to be some balance.
There needs to be a balance between spending without concern for others and avoiding items all-together because of the belief that they are inherently bad. I can’t say where people should draw the line, but I believe it should be somewhere in the middle. One needs to consider the motives for buying stuff before anything.
Are you buying that because it will make you feel good? Do you absolutely NEED to have it? Why are you buying it?
These are all important questions to answer when thinking about how much stuff you have. When you consider that in addition to the great need in this world, you are on the right track.
Readers, where do you think is the balance? Should people sell all their possessions?
One of the most obvious bible passages that relates to personal finances is the story of the rich young ruler. The passage, which is found in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tells the story of a man asking what he needs to do to obtain eternal life. The question is one of the most pertinent questions because since those of us living in western society are the rich, it forces us to ask whether we need to give away all of our wealth. Does God’s message suggest those who are following Jesus to give away everything we have? Such an extreme message seems to suggest that financial planning of any sort is the opposite of what Jesus commands. This seems to be the opposite of what this blog is about, but if we refuse to go the extreme, do we lost the identity as Christians. This paradox is one that has puzzled the church for some time, so I thought I would spend some time reflecting on it.
Here’s the exact words from Mark 10:17-31:
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again,“Children, how difficult it is[a] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him,[b] “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter began to say to him, “See, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfoldnow in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Initial Commentary on Rich Young Ruler Passage
There are a few preliminary points that I need to point out before reflecting on the question of whether you need to give away all of your wealth. The first, and perhaps more important, is our understanding of “eternal life.” Most often, in Christian circles, this is understood as the path to Heaven. When understood this way, the rich ruler’s question to Jesus seems to be phrased as such: “Jesus, what do I need to do in order to get into Heaven?”
This couldn’t be further from the truth of what he is asking Jesus. Instead, eternal life is more accurately referring to a way of life. In the same way that the “kingdom of God” is referring to a movement that Jesus is starting (instead of some place you go after you die), so is eternal life. This interpretation is supported by Jesus’ response. He instantly refers to the commandments. The commandments were a part of the covenant of Israelites with God – it was about their life with God right now – in this world. Therefore, the rich young ruler’s question, when paired with this understanding of ‘eternal life’, affirms the importance of our action now.
A Possible Interpretation of Rich Young Ruler Passage
The question remains then, what should be the Christian response when it comes to using our wealth. Does this passage suggest that we need to give everything away?
While it may be tempting to support such an idea, I think reading the passage in this way is too simplistic and misses the point of the passage. Jesus’ point is not that everyone who is rich should give away everything that they have, but instead to point out that we are too strongly connected to our possessions. After all, verse 22 says,
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (emphasis added)
I am not sure about you, but I know that I can relate to this state of being. I know that I am considered on of the richest people in the world. While I strive not to be tied down to physical items or consumed with buying the latest, fastest gadgets, it can be difficult at times. I think we can all relate to wanting the best stuff. The problem is too often we let our consumerism get in the way of following a better path. Instead of feeding the poor, or contributing to a better society, we are caught up taking care of our items. It was just today that I had to run to the DMV before work, drop off my car to get the oil changed, and will have to do several other errands this just to take care of my car. While it is a blessing to have such items, it can also be a curse, as it has the potential to drain all of my free time.
If we understand this passage this way, it helps re-affirm our act of being intentional with our finances. Planning, one of the core fundamental values of this blog, is supported. Following Jesus or even caring for others does not mean that we do the opposite of financial planning, but the exact opposite. In order to help others, we need to weigh the options and be purposeful to not get caught up in consumerism. Jesus asks us to step away from the distractions for the benefit of others. Last but not least, it is important to point out that I am not saying that you should forego giving. This isn’t in support of the idea of hoarding all of your wealth to yourself because it is yours and we are supposed to be wise with our money. Instead, this is an attempt to hold in tension the willingness to help others while also planning ahead for the financial needs that will come up with your family.
Do you identify with the rich young ruler? Is it difficult to avoid buying the latest items?
Do you know how missionaries in the traditional sense fund their efforts? Growing up in and being an active of a Christian church, I have become quite familiar with how missionaries fund their mission efforts. In fact, it was just last week that I met up with a friend of mine who, with his wife, is an official missionary with a particular denomination.
He and his wife returned from overseas for 2 short (and meeting-filled) weeks in the U.S. In fact, it was so busy for him and his wife that I only got to see him for a couple hours. One of the primary purposes of their trip back to the U.S. was to raise more monetary support. While it was great to see him and he was able to connect with friends, I can’t help but question the sustainability of the Missionary system. While my particular friend wouldn’t consider himself a traditional missionary, I still can’t help but criticize the traditional system of missionaries, with particular attention to the finances.
What is a Missionary?
For those who didn’t grow up in the church, you may be wondering what I am referring to or what/who is a missionary. Let me first start by defining missionary, as it has traditionally been understood within Christian churches. While I would like to trace the development of this term, it would take thousands of words to do so – and unnecessarily so.
In the traditional sense, a Missionary is one who is on a mission by God. While this is the basic understanding, the term is most often used to refer to a religious individual who travels overseas for the sake of spreading the gospel – i.e. sharing about the influence of Jesus Christ in their lives in order to make the world a better place. The actual work that missionaries get involved in varies from person to person. Some see the most important aspect as winning souls, saving innocent people from an eternity in Hell. Others find the purpose in making this world a better place and focus more on social justice issues.
While there are recent voices who stress the importance that anyone can be a missionary in their home location, there is a strong correlation with moving overseas or to a foreign place.
How Missionaries Traditionally Fund their Efforts
Moving to a new place is difficult enough without having to worry about how to provide for the family. Given the primary purpose of a Missionary’s effort to be about church-related activity, it is often difficult, if not impossible for Christian missionaries to provide for themselves as they work in a new place. As a result, missionaries are often financially able to do what they do only by support from the sending communities. It is through the financial support or sponsorship that they are able to leave and pursue this work.
My friend and his wife are only able to live overseas as seminary instructors and members of the church through the support of many local churches here in the U.S. Simply put: sponsorship makes their work possible. This means lots of visits to churches and correspondence with local churches to fund their trip(s) and effort(s).
Is this Missionary System Sustainable?
While I think sponsorship is an important step in the right direction, I can’t help but wonder about the sustainability of this system. First and foremost, (and not just financially) this form of Missionary work can easily be seen as charity (in a bad way). What I mean is that this type of work, while helpful for many people, does nothing to help the other community long-term. It is a short-term fix; a band-aid.
Financially speaking, the system to fund missionary work is very similar. In order to obtain enough money to support their efforts, missionaries are often required to return to their home to ask for financial support. For many people, this could mean long periods of time away from what their work. It is not only dependent on the willingness to give of the rich communities, but does nothing to stimulate the economy where Missionaries are working. This is all done instead of trying to create a business in the new community, which would be of greater help to the communities in which missionaries serve.
To put it simply, the traditional ways that missionaries fund their efforts is not sustainable. It is always dependent on the sending community’s support and does very little to empower the community that missionaries serve. I don’t mean to say that the entire concept should be thrown out the window. But, if Missionaries want to have any lasting influence on the community that they are serving, they should make every effort to create sustainable change.
What are your thoughts on Missionaries?
On the About page, I state that Provident Planning is dedicated to exploring God’s Provident Plan for the personal finances of Christians. But what does that mean? What is God’s Provident Plan? It’s God’s clear Biblical message that through contentment in Christ, diligent work, and good stewardship Christians can prosper so we can give generously in the name of Christ. By following the Provident Plan, Christians can glorify God through their finances.
This message is what I discovered as I have studied personal finance in the Bible. As a Christian and someone who studied financial planning in college, I wanted to know how I could give sound, Biblical advice, but I found so many conflicting opinions that I felt I should find out for myself. After searching for all the Bible verses I could find about personal finance, I began to see God’s wonderful plan for a Christian’s personal finances.
It’s not a plan focused on making Christians rich, or how we can retire early, or the things we can do to make us feel good about ourselves or our money. No – just like every other part of God’s plans for Christians it brings glory to His name and strengthens the witness of Christ in the world. If all Christians followed God’s Provident Plan for their finances, we would radically change the Church and the world. And while it involves how we handle our money – it’s all dependent and focused on the transformation that occurs when we fully give ourselves to Christ and realize the power of His death, resurrection, and the life we have in Him. Let’s take a closer look at each part of God’s Provident Plan.
Contentment in Christ
Once we have decided to follow Jesus, He becomes everything to us. We are in a continual struggle against Satan to keep other things (especially money) from taking the place of Christ. When we find contentment in Christ and Christ alone, the importance of money in our lives diminishes and pales to the value we place on Jesus. We learn the secret to being happy in all situations – whether we’re full or starving, rich or poor, employed or jobless, single or married – nothing in this life matters at all when compared to the glorious gift of Jesus and the fact that no one and no circumstance can take that away from us. We see everything in light of eternity, and we find that nothing on earth is of more value than our faith in Christ. We come to fully believe and trust that God cares for us and will provide everything we need.
Once we have this habit of always finding our contentment in Christ, the Spirit will teach us to place much less importance on material things. We will no longer be focused solely on our own needs and wants – an early retirement, a bigger house, a nicer car, and so on. Instead, we’ll be consumed with a desire to focus on the needs of others – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and show God’s love to the world through our faith and our deeds. We’ll spend less and less on ourselves as we give more and more to others.
Where contentment helps us to spend less on ourselves, understanding God’s call to work diligently helps us earn more money. As the gap between our spending and our income grows, we are left with more to manage wisely, prosper, and then give generously to the needs of others. The attitude and spirit we have as we approach our work can also glorify and honor God’s name. His witness can be seen in how we deal with people in our businesses and our motivation in our work.
You can read more about hard work in the Bible here.
While the Bible says little about financial planning as we know it today, God has shown us the value of using wisdom and prudence in managing our affairs. There are verses that speak to planning ahead, saving, avoiding debt, and other practical matters we will encounter in our personal finances. By wisely managing the blessings God provides (that gap between our income and our spending), we can be good stewards and have even more to give in His name.
As we follow God’s teaching on contentment, diligent work, and good stewardship, He will bless and prosper us. When we think about prosperity our focus needs to be on having God’s view of prosperity and its purpose. Prosperity can come in many other ways than just material blessings, and God wants us to use our prosperity to honor Him – not just make ourselves more comfortable. When God prospers us, it’s so we can further glorify Him as we give more and more to those in need.
Giving is the purpose of God’s Provident Plan. All other aspects of His Provident Plan are a means to this end. Through our contentment in Christ, we spend less so we have more to give. Our hard work provides more income so we will have more to give. Through good stewardship we avoid wasting what God has given us so we will have more to give. Our prosperity comes from God not so we can make ourselves richer but so we can give even more. God’s Provident Plan is completely focused on others – on how we can glorify God by laying down our lives and our wants for the needs of others. We live simply so others can simply live.
At the same time, we’ll realize that God’s Provident Plan gives much to us as well. Peace beyond understanding, joy beyond description, and happiness beyond compare are all ours as we trust ourselves to God’s care. When we first begin following God’s Provident Plan, we hardly realize the potential benefits it will have for our own lives because we were still mired in the views of the world. But as we follow Jesus and see that He is trustworthy and faithful, we become aware of the indestructible treasures in heaven that He has taught us to accumulate.
When we fully grasp God’s Provident Plan, we’ll see that giving in the New Covenant has nothing to do with tithing or percentages. It’s not about requirements, rules, obligations, or blessings or curses. Our giving is to be completely motivated by love – joyous and cheerful as we realize that our sacrifice is not loss but gain in Christ. We give freely, generously, and sacrificially not out of compulsion but out of our joy and contentment in Christ. Such giving is a sign of our total commitment to Christ and His teaching, and it’s a very powerful witness to the world.
Following God’s Provident Plan
Following God’s Provident Plan for our personal finances has huge implications for our lives. It goes against every motive the world gives us for why we should manage our finances well. Instead of focusing on what’s in it for us, we look at what’s in it for God and others. But we know that the rewards God has for us far outweigh the deceitful and false promises of worldly riches. If you feel God calling you to follow His Provident Plan for your finances, please browse around the website and sign up for free updates through email or your favorite feed reader!
There are thousands and thousands of people out there living lives of quiet, screaming desperation who work long, hard hours, at jobs they hate, to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.
- Nigel Marsh