Living within your means is a spiritual discipline

Man, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time!  I think about this a lot.  I am the executive pastor of a fairly young congregation.  I look over a lot of reports and numbers.  I have a lot of financial conversations with people from various generations.

And while I think my generation and subsequent ones after mine are particularly financially ignorant, this is not a new phenomenon and is definitely not limited to those 35 and younger.

I was raised by financially sound parents who started teaching me about money as soon as I could talk it seemed.  My grandmother tells the story of me being at the store and having a toy in one hand and my birthday money in the other as I soberly and tearfully had to make the hard, life altering decision of how I wanted to spend what little money I had.  My dad had to explain to me that he couldn’t just pull out the book of green papers (i.e., checkbook) when we didn’t have money in the bank for everything I saw and wanted.  I paid for my own Nintendo.  I saved up my own money to buy my trampoline.  The first thing I did when I turned 16 was open a checking account.  I had a Roth IRA at age 20.

I realize this is not a typical upbringing, but it is one of the things I am most grateful for in how my parents raised me.

All of this is simply to say that money makes a lot of sense to me.  It’s finite and measurable.  It’s earnable and spendable.

And while I realize that money is quite a hot button issue for church leaders to talk candidly about, I must say it is a far scarier prospect that we would leave it out entirely in the discipleship process or dance around it rather than equipping people to live in financial freedom.  After all, what is discipleship if it’s not learning how to live faithfully as a follower of Jesus?  And what are better indicators besides your time and your money on how faithful you are being with what’s been entrusted to you and where your affections & trust lie?

While I can’t unpack all of my thoughts on money & discipleship in one blog post, here are 3 of the things (in brief) that I most want to share:

1.  “Work” is not a four-letter word.

The ethic of work has been pitted against trusting God to “provide” and I  honestly can’t take hearing it anymore.  The Lord “provides” through work for the vast majority of us.  Sometimes that means we don’t get to spend as much time at home as we’d like for a season.  Sometimes it means we get a second job to make ends meet.  Sometimes it means we work a job we don’t feel “called” to (or even like) and we need to be grateful for the the provision of a paycheck.  God is not displeased by us taking personal responsibility for our finances.  On the contrary, Scripture is very clear  about the value of day’s work. (2 Thes 3.10)

Do not overspiritualize work or assume that because it’s hard or less than ideal that it isn’t from God. (Or that at the very least that He can’t use it for good in your life and the lives of those around you.)

2.  Don’t pass the buck.

Be self-aware enough not to dress up your desires or justify your poor decisions as God’s will or provision if those things compromise your ability to live within your means.  No, I don’t think He intended  for you to buy that “dream” house you can’t afford.  No, it doesn’t sound like the Lord’s will for you to buy a 2013 minivan when the car you’ve got runs just fine and you are already living paycheck to paycheck.  Nope, I don’t think the Lord ordered those steps into the Apple store to buy a Macbook Pro on Monday when you can’t seem to find your wallet when the offering plate passes you by Sunday after Sunday.

I know I’m being tough and pointed and everything about this aspect of discipleship is uncomfortable.  I do not mean to say that God does not give good gifts to His children.  Quite the opposite.  A good Father doesn’t give His children their wants at the expense of their needs.

I’m worn out by people who won’t take the initiative to ask for help to learn how to live within their means but who have no problem repeatedly making poor choices with money and wrapping those choices up in spiritual language and then expecting God to “fix it.”    You might not have had any financial education growing up.  You might not understand the value of compounding interest or what the heck a Beacon score is.  But the tools and resources you need for living within your means are available to you.  Do not live financially ignorant.  It’s simply not necessary and not worth the stress and turmoil it produces in your life.

3.  Self-control will sanctify your spending

We all have our weaknesses.  Shoes, clothes, electronics, coffee, eating out, cars, concerts, travel- surely you could name yours.  Mine is eating out.  I like to cook but eating out is convenient and a treat and fun for me.  So, I’d be happy to have 60-75% of my meals in a week not come from my kitchen.  However, we live on a tight budget and eating in 80-90% of the time means we can make it to the end of the month in the black.  It’s what is wise for us.  Let me be clear:  I would MUCH prefer the Original Pancake House for my usual Saturday breakfast over the Rouse Pancake House (though our chocolate chip pancakes and pumpkin waffles are pretty spectacular)!

No matter what income bracket you are in, living within your means, practicing the virtue of self-control, will always be a discipline.  There will always be more things you could spend your money on.  There will always be opportunities to blow your budget or compromise your financial health. There will always be a list of things you “need.”  That is not unique to those on a limited income.  It is unique to mankind.  Set some financial goals and boundaries, or at least a budget, and protect it!

The Lord is compassionate and gracious; slow to anger, abounding in love.  It’s true.  There is grace and mercy for our mistakes, for our carelessness, for our greed, for our lack of self-control.  But repentance requires change.  And discipleship is more than having a quiet time and fasting from chocolate during Lent.  It’s about faithful living.

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3 thoughts on “Living within your means is a spiritual discipline

  1. Great ideas. Point 1 is a bit dicey for me, though. And its a conversation I’ve had with my wife many times over the years. She was raised to believe that we work for EVERYTHING. I was raised to believe that we do God’s work, and everything we need will be provided. Two very different perspectives. My Dad was a great man of faith, and he taught me (and proved to me) that if there’s a need and we are doing what He has required of us, the need will be provided. That does not give me a right to be lazy, and I think some can easily move this thought toward an excuse for being lazy. But, I have never taken an extra job to gain money. I’ve never taken time away from my family to cover the bills when there just wasn’t enough. And God has always provided. Always. There are two perspectives we can take on this:

    1) I WORK AND CONTINUE TO WORK FOR EVERYTHING I HAVE.
    This idea is what my wife was raised with. And while people who have this mindset are undoubtedly hard workers, there are some deep spiritual inefficiencies with it. First, it implies that I earned everything I have, which can lead to a deep sense of ownership (which I’ll address in point 2). Also, it can cause me to put my work/paycheck ahead of my family, which in my pov, is always the wrong mindset. (Of course, there are exceptions…sometimes a job will require more of us than at other times, and we have to buckle down and get it done, but it should not be a constant pulling away from our families.)

    2) I DO WHAT GOD ASKS OF ME AND HE PROVIDES ME WITH ALL I HAVE / NEED
    This is the mindset I was raised to have. I have a purpose on this earth and a divine calling. If I am fulfilling that calling, God WILL ALWAYS PROVIDE. It also keeps me from feeling the deep sense of personal ownership that idea 1 can create. I OWN NOTHING. IT ALL BELONGS TO GOD. No matter how hard or how little I worked for it, it’s all His. And this idea also requires faith. When I accept a ministry position that doesn’t pay enough to cover the bills, God will provide. When I am in limbo waiting for the right door to open–waiting to hear from God–God will provide. He always has, and He always will. And in my nearly 12 years of marriage, my wife has seen this to be true over and over and over again. So much so, that even as I write, we are in limbo. She is between jobs, and waiting for God to open the right door. She had a backup plan for a paycheck, with a part-time job waiting in the wings, but she recently let the backup plan go. Some (especially those who take view #1) would call her crazy, but we call it faith. We trust God is going to open the right door at the right time, and we didn’t feel right about the part-time job at all, so we stepped out in faith. And I have no doubt God will provide.

    Again, this could potentially be used as an excuse for laziness, but if that’s what we use it for, God will not provide. He doesn’t honor laziness. But he also doesn’t honor the idea of self-sufficiency. He wants us to believe in His sufficiency, and when we do, He always…ALWAYS…comes through.

    I have a feeling you already agree with these thoughts, but your first point made me think about this, and it’s a bit of a passion of mine. Thank you for the great ideas! I will be following your blog! Bless You!

  2. Great thoughts Tracey. It’s so important to talk about discipleship effects the way we used money. I’m actually in a discussion right now in a class at Fuller about how American Christians need to engage more with biblical values of wealth.

  3. Wow, well-said, Tracey! I especially like what you said about God’s provision sometimes being the opportunity to earn a paycheck. I think that’s a very un-PC truth nowadays, and props to you for being bold enough to call it out. It’s like the old joke where the guy is on the roof in a flood and turns away a rescue boat and helicopter saying “God will save me,” and when he gets to heaven God says, “Dude, I sent a boat AND a helicopter!” Sometimes the job at Home Depot (or the accounting firm or the [insert job you don’t love]) is the boat or the helicopter, oui?

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