by Travis Shelton, Financial Ministry Leader
I recently had the privilege of leading our staff prayer time. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the focus of this prayer time was on financial stewardship. In the days leading up to our time together, I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with families in the community since the beginning of COVID-19. Ultimately, I chose four areas of our financial lives that are experiencing more stress than ever during this trying season. These certainly aren’t new, but they have been magnified for all sorts of reasons. I want to share with you what I shared with our staff.
More and more, our finances face a spiritual battle in a world driven by materialism. Our culture defines us by our income, our houses, our cars, and the vacations we take. Social media has only magnified it. After all, that vacation didn’t happen unless we post about it on social, right? Amidst all this noise and mixed messaging, it can do our souls so much good if we’re able to take a step back and really reflect on how God wants us to handle our finances.
This may sound like a foolish topic in today’s world filled with racial tension, COVID-19, derechos, and crazy school schedules, but whether we like it or not, money leaks into every area of our life. And I firmly believe if we honor God with our finances and make peace with this area of our life, it frees our spirit to love others so much better and pursue excellent and fulfilling work.
Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the lord’s, and everything in it”
Matthew 6:19 – “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
Everything we have is from God. Our money, our houses, our cars, our possessions….everything! When we wake up each day, spend half our waking hours at work, pour out our mental and emotional energy into our job, and receive that paycheck a few weeks later, it’s easy for us to forget it isn’t ours. After all, “I worked for it.” “I earned it.” “I deserve it.” It can be so easy to forget it belongs to God and we’ve been given it to manage it for His glory. I talk about this each day, and even I can lose sight of it if I’m not careful.
As I pray about God’s ownership, I ask God to constantly remind me who the rightful owner is. I also ask He give me peace and contentment, and resist the urge to compare my life to others. Comparison is an unwinnable battle, and every time we venture down the road to comparison, it robs us of our ability to freely and joyfully serve those who we wish to serve.
On the flip side of contentment, we also need to enjoy what God has given us. Just as we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, we also shouldn’t be ashamed or feel guilt for having a good job, or a decent car, or the opportunity to take our family on some fun vacations.
Ecclesiastes 5:19 – “Moreover, When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil, this is a gift from God.”
With the exception of a few rare occasions, God doesn’t ask us to live a life of poverty. He doesn’t condemn us for our successes. He doesn’t judge us for enjoying life. Quite the contrary! He explicitly asks us to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Not all of them, but some of them! Money certainly doesn’t cause happiness, and countless secular behavioral scientists have proven that over and over again, but enjoying some of the money God entrusted us with can be fun and God-honoring.
One area we often go astray is when we start spending our money on someone else’s values. When the culture tells us what we’re supposed to enjoy rather than leaning into the interests and passions God gave us, we lose joy and fulfillment. Many years ago, I was working with a young lady who deeply desired to travel. One problem: her income was spent on expensive rent, a big car payment, and hair/tanning…..and she didn’t care at all about any of them. She was doing it because that’s what she was “supposed to do.” Meanwhile, her dream of traveling was slowly dying. Fast forward many months and a handful of important counter-cultural decisions later, she stopped spending money on these non-value-add components of her life and started living out her dream of traveling more. It’s not always about spending less, but rather spending better.
As I pray about spending, I give thanks to God for everything he has given me. I tell him how grateful I am for continuing to take care of my family. I also ask him to give me the discernment and clarity to continue using what He’s given me in accordance with MY passions and HIS glory.
Prov 16:9 – “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender.”
Our culture is in the middle of a crisis which is ripping us apart from the inside-out. So many of us are slaves to debt, and when that happens, it steals us of our joy, our freedom, and our ability to serve our God with everything we have. Every single day I work with people who are scared and tired. They feel hopeless and helpless. And worse, the problem isn’t going away.
Every time new statistics are released, more and more people are deeper and deeper in debt. Today, 80% of Americans are in debt……with an average debt balance of $250,000 ranging from credit cards, to cars, to student loans, to mortgages, to retail store cards.
Here’s the good news: it doesn’t have to be that way! The slavery of debt doesn’t discriminate based on income. I work with families making $600,000/year with the same amount of turmoil and pain caused by debt as those who make $40,000/year. The silver lining here is debt is a choice. Well, two choices, actually. First, “am I committed to aggressively paying off my existing debt?” Second, “am I committed to never again going back into debt?” Each one of us has the opportunity to make these two choices. And remember, not making a choice is still making a choice.
As I pray about debt, I ask God to give people around me the fire and the courage to make a different choice….a better choice. I ask God to bless these families in the coming season. To bless them financially, and to bless them with the patience, courage, conviction, and determination to see it through. Lastly, I pray for God to change people’s hearts when it comes to living with debt, and pray He can use you, me, and others around us to model to our culture there is a different and better way.
1 Peter 4:10 – “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
2 Cor 9:6-8: – “Each one must do as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion. For god loves a cheerful giver.”
God doesn’t just ask us to give. He asks us to give joyfully and sacrificially. And it’s not just about our money. After all, everything we have is from Him. So whenever we’re talking about generosity, it means our money, our possessions, our cars, our houses, our chainsaws (#derecho), our influence, our relationships…..everything!
We’re living in a season where it can be hard to feel connected with our financial gifts. We aren’t meeting in our church as much as we used to. We aren’t seeing first-hand how the awesome ministry we support is loving people well. We’re overwhelmed by our own lives, nervous about our own jobs, maybe consumed by all the political/racial tension in our society. It’s easy to lose connectivity with our giving.
Whenever that happens – and it does happen to me on occasion – we need to recognize it and take intentional steps to find joy and purpose in our giving. One of the best ways to do that is to, well, give. We can’t find joy and purpose in our giving if we aren’t trying. For some of us, it means starting to give. For others, it means finding new and unique ways to give. Maybe it
means finding an organization doing something you care deeply about. Maybe it means blessing a neighbor, or a friend, or family member with a cool but unexpected blessing. For some of you, it means stepping in to meet a profound need in someone’s life at a time when they need to see God the most. In the past several weeks, in the aftermath of the derecho, I’ve seen people open up their homes to strangers who needed a shower, or a meal, or a bed. I’ve seen people pay to have their neighbor’s tree stumps removed. I’ve seen people lend their car to a co-worker because a fallen tree crushed their vehicle. People all around us have found ways to use what God has given them to bless others. Not because they wanted a pat on the back, or a favor in return, or an acknowledgement of how awesome they are. They did it because that’s who we are called to be as Christians. Generosity isn’t something we do…..it’s who we are.
As I pray about generosity, I ask God to constantly remind me of the responsibility and opportunity to show His love to others with the blessings He’s given me. I give thanks to all the generosity that’s been exhibited over the last several weeks, and ask him to sear this into people’s hearts so we can continue our joyful and sacrificial generosity into the future. Lastly, I pray that God will create opportunities for me (and help me see them!) to use generosity to make a lasting impact on someone, for His glory!