Balanced Week Two: Reading the Fine Print
If you are interested, we have a form available for you to track your spending that I didn't have last week. Hey, it's not too late to start, right? You can download the form HERE. It's the one that says "Track Spending." Just click on it and download it.
The focus this week can be summed up in one very big question: "If you had to sum up your financial objective/goal in one statement what would it be?"
Some people might say, "I just want to make all I can." But focusing on making money isn't going to bring balance to your finances. There are lots of bankrupt people who made millions and lost it all. And don't get all high and mighty by saying, "If I had millions, I wouldn't squander it!" None of us knows how we would respond given the same circumstances.
I know people who would say their objective would be to spend all they can. "You can't take it with you!" they say cheerfully. It's fun to spend money. I like doing it... alot. But in the end it doesn't bring you balance and all you're left with is a bunch of stuff and not a lot of satisfaction.
Some people want to save all they can, which sounds pretty good on the surface. But if this is your only focus, you can easily become obsessed with security and safety and miss out on the joys of generosity.
My favorite as a pastor is when someone says, "I want to give all I can!" There's a little part of me that just does a little Irish jig whenever I hear that---not that I hear it that often, to be honest. But if this is part of an imbalanced financial life, giving all you can might be an irresponsible act.
And what about all the talk that seems to be bandying about regarding "financial freedom?" Isn't it a good goal to be financially "free?" Perhaps, but if there is no balance, no compass and no boundaries to freedom it can go south pretty fast.
The bottom line is simply this: If you pursue any of these to the neglect of the other, you are out of balance. And if we are going to understand the proper objective/goal for our finances that reflects the balance that we are talking about, we first need to understand how God views our money and our stuff.
There is this great story in 1 Chronicles chapter 29 about how David, the great king of Israel decides to start a capital campaign. It seems that after all of his battles had been fought and won, after all of the struggle over establishing his kingdom had come to an end, David's thoughts turned to things a little more peaceful and meaningful.
At that time the worship of God centered in the Tabernacle, which was a fairly temporary structure. David realizes that he is living in a house while God is worshiped in what was essentially a tent. When he begins the process of building a temple, however, David is told by God that the honor of actually building the temple is not for him---largely due to the fact that he was a man of war and not of peace. BUT God had no problem with David raising the funds! In fact, David gave what scholars estimate as $14 billion of his own funds to the project that would be completed by his son Solomon.
When he was dedicating the project and the fund raising, David prayed a prayer that reveals his views on wealth. Here it is:
10 David praised the LORD in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
"Praise be to you, O LORD,
God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
11 Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
12 Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
13 Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
14 "But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.
So here's what we can glean from David's prayer.
First, everything belongs to God ("....everything in heaven and earth is yours...")
Second, everything comes from God ("Wealth and honor come from you... In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all...")
Third, everything is distributed by God in God's wisdom ("Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.")
Simply put: If everything belongs to, comes from and is distributed by God then our objective should be to HONOR God with everything we manage while on this earth. To remain balanced financially, we must ask, "How can I honor God with my wealth?"
We need to be clear though.. Honoring God isn't just about giving. It includes giving and living. It's the whole thing. Giving is only a part of honoring God with our finances and we cannot use it as an excuse to do what we want with the portion that is not being "given."
Here's an example... I have a 2009 VW Jetta. I'm a sold out VW customer, and I love my car. It's black and shiny and I happen to think that it makes me more handsome when I drive in it. It's magic that way. So, let's say that you ask to borrow my car to drive your grandmother to Texas. And let's say that I actually let you do this. Do you think that you would instill a lot of confidence in me by saying, "Hey man, I'll do an excellent job of taking care of 10% of your car...pretty much just the front bumper and headlamps, is what I'm thinking..." "HECKS-TO-THE-NO!" as my teenage son often says. You better take care of 100% of my ride.
Or how about this... What if when I met with my father-in-law nearly 20 years ago and said to him, "George, I promise to love and cherish Merideth 10% of the time." Do you think that George would have been thrilled with this news? Would he have encouraged his daughter to tie the knot with me? I am guessing that he would have had something to say to me that would not be printable here...
I am using 10% as a reference point, knowing full well that most Christians give between 2-3% of their income and don't really believe that God's commands for tithing apply to them. Sadly, in mainline churches like mine, the percentage is even lower. But you get the point. It's not about percentages. 100% of your money/stuff belongs to God.
John 3:16 doesn't read, "For God so loved the world that he established the church in order to get your 10% every week..." As a matter of fact, it reveals that God gave what was most important to him in order to redeem all of Creation. To simply honor God with what we have been given by God is the very least we could do in return for eternal life, don't you think?
When we get this at last and figure out that all of our stuff is God's and not just the small, miniscule portion that we drop in the plate some things will begin to change. Some people will begin to give more, because they've never really given anything or very little. Some will begin to save more. Others will quit wasting so much and will think twice about their entertainment options. Maybe some people will cancel subscriptions or liquidate some of their collections. Perhaps there will be some that won't leave so much to their kids or who will downsize their lifestyle. Some people might learn to lend more freely and others will work hard to get and stay out of debt. I think that couples will learn to exhibit mutual submission to one another when it comes to their shared financial life. And who knows, some people who have been stingy and fearful might actually learn to enjoy what they have.
Our objective is to honor God with ALL we have. Our point of reference for staying balanced is found when we pay attention to where our money is going and guard our hearts accordingly. When we realize that all we have belongs to God, comes from God and is given by God... the only response that we can reasonably make is that we must honor God with everything.
But this calls for surrender. How often do we really say to God, "Thy will be done?" How often do we really live with open hands and open hearts? We need to surrender our money/stuff on a daily basis in order to honor God with them. And there's a sense of urgency to all of this. Life is short, and in the end you will leave everything behind. What kind of legacy do you want to leave---because your legacy is the only thing that will live on when you are gone. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, we need to understand that all of this isn't some sort of "add-on," that you can pick up at some later date, or drop when it suits you. This is an essential part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. As we mentioned last week, our relationship with God is revealed in the way that we handle our money.
Are you ready to surrender? Are you ready to honor God with all that you have? Are you ready for your outside to match your inside when it comes to your walk with Christ? Are you ready at last for Christ to be Lord of your entire life?