When the Lion’s meeting broke up, John turned to his friend. “Mike, I’m in a terrible pickle! I’m strapped for cash and I haven’t the slightest idea where I’m going to get it!” “Well, that’s a relief,” Mike said. “I was afraid you had an idea you could borrow it from me!”
People have a tough time with friends, family, jobs. But you know what’s really tough for folks to get a handle on—money. Maybe not for you, so good for you, but for a whole heck of a lot of people, money causes all kinds of issues.
We aren’t naturally good at money. Let me give you an example. Let’s say a someone goes from making $25,000 a year to $150,000 a year. That person is going to feel so good about life. Now, take the person who goes from making $10,000,000 a year to $500,000 a year. That person’s going to feel like the sky is falling, even though that amount would still be among the highest-earning households in the United States and earns far more than the first person.
And that’s why money is so difficult—it has the power to define how we feel about our lives and what we think about ourselves. But that’s not all. Money impacts how we think about God, whether God is watching over us or walked away. When life is good, God is good; when life is hard, God is gone. This is the simple equation people have about God and money.
But it’s not true, no matter what some preachers try to tell Americans. Money isn’t the currency of God’s life with us. Grace, hope, joy, peace, strength, purpose, and love are.
Almost nothing else has this capacity to turn our heads and hearts inside out and upside down. And it does turn people into something they might not be. That’s why scripture says that we can’t serve both God and money. It’s one or the other. It’s why the Bible tells us in 1 Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” Of course, we don’t just pierce ourselves. Love of money can wreak havoc in other people’s lives.
We want to find freedom when it comes to money’s influence. It’s easier said than done, because for one it’s too easy to buy now and pay later. This is not the freedom we’re talking about. The average American puts something like $1,300 on a credit card for every $1,000 made. That leads
straight to debt! This is when money is managing or rather mismanaging us rather than the other way around.
We need to be better at managing our wealth. Proverbs 21:20 says, “Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool devours it.” Or as another translation puts it: “Wise people live in wealth and luxury, but stupid people spend their money as fast as they get it.” That’s definitely another way of saying it!
The truth is the Bible makes more references to money than to heaven and hell combined. What we do or don’t do matters. Most of us need to be taught the 10-10-80 principle. It’s a great way to become intentional about your financial decisions, and to keep us in check. The first 10% goes to God. There is blessings in devoting first fruits to the Lord. The second 10% goes to savings or investing. Commit to saving money every time you make money. We live on the remaining 80%.
This may seem like a high leap to make but anything is possible, and it isn’t rocket science. It can be done.
But all this assumes you have enough money to manage. Proverbs is right when it talks about money and keeping or losing it. But that refers to only two kinds of people: those who are given money and those who make enough money to lose it. Other people don’t have precious treasure like this in their house. They don’t have enough money to worry about managing or mismanaging it, or rather, it mis-managing them. They’re fortunate to even have a house or an apartment with how much they make and how much it costs to pay rent, electric, car, gas, food, clothes, etc., etc.
We know that almost half of Americans will have trouble paying for their next $400 expenditure. What I’m saying is that when scripture says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you,’” this means something very different to those who have little choice themselves but to be content with what they have. The love of money to them means that they love money because with it their kids eat, they have clothes, they keep a house or apartment over their heads. They have a need for money to keep their lives intact and not fall apart. There are no extras for them that discretionary spending affords others.
Here is what I wonder. You might call it a test: If you had to trade places with someone of very little means would you regret it because of the material loss you suffered and the harsh new limits to what you could do, buy and experience for yourself or loved ones, or because that financial loss would make a brand new spiritual demand on you: to discover value and
importance in your new life lived with fewer if any, shall I say, privileges and possibilities.
Is our contentment with what we have, as scripture says we should be, based on our financial strength and what it gives us or on our spiritual strength and what we have become within ourselves? This is a test that pretty much nobody wants to be put through in real life.
But it is the test that Jesus tells the wealthy young man he should do in real time, permanently, if he wants to know the kingdom of God. The man responds in shock, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
He didn’t want to have to build a whole new life of meaning and joy that didn’t have massive amounts of discretionary spending involved. He wanted his money and the spiritual life he had put together to keep him good and enjoying the best life has to offer.
That’s when Jesus turns to his disciples and said, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” which the disciples don’t comprehend because Christ hasn’t died yet and his poverty and humility and sacrifice aren’t seen yet as the truest glasses through which we understand more fully and rightly who God is.
But the truth is, Jesus wasn’t asking the rich man to give away and not to receive anything in return. He would purchase something with what he gave: The kingdom. But to get there from here was asking for too much. He wanted to be good, to have a bigger spiritual life than he had already kept, but if he had to lose what he had, he wasn’t going there.
We like to spend money on comfort, but the Bible teaches us to spend it on character. Proverbs 23:23 tells us to “Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction and understanding.” This is what Jesus told the man. You want to be good, you want to know more, you want to get past where you are now and get unstuck in your spiritual life as it is. Then buy it. Spend your money on it. Give your money away, follow me, and you will have purchased the kingdom of God.
Jesus dares each of us not to accept the limits. Un-contain yourself. Think bigger than what you’re thinking. Heed Christ’s call to be more than what you are so far.
You see, this isn’t about money but it’s about what money does. It feeds us, but it also fattens us. It houses us, but it also isolates us. It clothes us, but it also controls us. Be careful about money’s grip on you. Put it to a greater purpose. Purchase something better with it, if you have the means beyond day to day living.
Money has tremendous power to do good for us and others. We must be the ones who choose to use it this way.
My grandma was special. I remember going to her house. I would drive about twenty minutes; and on the way there would pick up a McDonald’s filet o’fish sandwich, French fries, and an orange soda for her lunch.
I would go there to cut her lawn. This was in the late 70s and early 80s. I was in my teens. We would sit and talk for a while. Then I’d go out, start up the mower and spend the next hour and a half cutting, bagging the grass, and putting away the mower. If I had worked at the store where I worked, I would have been paid about $5 for that hour and a half work. Gram, as we called her, gave me a $20 bill.
It wasn’t until later that I reflected on that and understood what her extravagant gift had truly meant to me—what it had done for me. She told me through that over-sized gesture that I was special. It told me she loved me. And you know what, it worked. I believed her.
That’s the power of a grandma. It’s the power of money doing good as well.
Nobody has ever said at their life’s end, “Bring me my bowling trophy, I want to see it one more time.” “Bring me my college degree so I can look at it again.” “Bring me the nice gold watch I got for 30 years of service at my company.” Nobody ever says that. They say, “Bring me the people I love.” We want to be shown the good we did in the world, that we mattered to our family.
I wish I could have been at my grandma’s bedside when she died. I would have made sure she knew who she was in my eyes and heart. She deserved that.
We want to rest in the true thought that we have been those who contributed, who did something beyond ourselves. We want to have made an impact and a difference. What we do with our money will tell the story.
The truth is money was never given us to be used for ourselves on ourselves, nor even just on our loved ones. It’s too powerful; it can do too much good for it not to be connected to the giver of all good gifts, and what God wants to get done with this powerful instrument.
We are under obligation to put our money back into circulation for God to direct and bless. We ought to free ourselves from the struggle to have enough, especially when having enough is in truth quite a bit more than enough.
Answer Christ’s call to grow your spiritual life by reducing money’s power over you. Put the work of the Lord higher up on your to-do list, and your to-support list. Bless the work of the church with your full giving. Find your way to extravagant giving to do the good you want to make happen. You will change lives and make God’s kingdom come alive.
Can the church say Amen?