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How to Rise Above the Economic Crisis
Here is some sound biblical wisdom on money management in tough times.

Unwise. Bizarre. Dangerous. The Bible’s teachings about money and possessions can be described in all these ways. Jesus told the rich young ruler to give away everything he had and He highly praised a destitute widow for doing just that. Kind of puts our “economic crisis” in a new light, doesn’t it?

Crises can benefit us at times. We may be forced to re-examine our priorities and whether or not our actions match those priorities. Many people in Canada today are re-examining their investments, retirement plans and income sources. Christ-followers are doing the same thing – or are we?

The upside-down Kingdom

Practical money management for the Christian is truly very different from the world’s ways of managing money. Yes, Christians try to make wise investments like anyone else but our ultimate goals and “investment vehicles” are radically different.

Christians know that, ultimately, there is nothing secure on Earth (even securities) and nothing guaranteed (even guaranteed investment certificates). We agree with Scripture that being truly “rich” refers to being “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21), not to an amount of money. And we have to admit that an investment does not qualify as being “long-term” if it matures after only 30 years – the only truly long-term investment is an eternal one.

The world may scoff when believers give away a lot of money but Christians know that our retirement plan is out of this world.

In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus says: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

As we think about some practical ways of matching our bottom line with these heavenly lines from Matthew 6, let’s keep in mind that final cause-and-effect statement: wherever we put our treasure, our hearts will follow. Thus, if we buy a new computer, we will spend time on it. If we pay for a trip to a sunny locale, we will get excited about it. If we get a bigger home or a better car, our comfort will increase.

Nothing wrong with these choices, necessarily. But let’s be clear that the Lord’s work is by far the best priority because we want our hearts to be in heaven with God. (Who wants to put his or her heart into an earthly bank vault? Vaults are stuffy places, and every heist movie I’ve seen has thieves breaking into them fairly easily.)

… the vast majority of Christians do not even tithe…

Practical money management

If our goal is to invest our financial resources in ways that align our hearts with Heaven, how do we actually accomplish this?

Here are four simple but radical steps:

  1. Give More: God’s financial common sense as conveyed in His Word is the opposite of the world’s. In a crisis, instead of keeping resources or spending on ourselves, it is best to tithe as Scripture says and then give over and above the tithe. Right now we have an opportunity – an investment opportunity – that should not be ignored. Rick Wukasch is an associate pastor at The Meeting House, a Brethren in Christ church with several locations in southern Ontario. He says: “Giving is an essential part of our lives as Christians. Being a Christian should totally reorient our view of things and stuff and what’s important. It’s not about amassing treasures for ourselves. How much do we earn or invest so we can give it away for others?”

    Study after study reports that the vast majority of Christians do not even tithe – that is, ensure that they give away at least ten percent (or some experts read up to 23 percent) of their income. Perhaps the best way to start tithing is to set up automatic withdrawal transactions with your church or give your church postdated cheques. Automatic tithing has an advantage over what I call I’ll-have-enough-money-at- theend-of-the-month-AND-I’ll-remember-to-write-a-cheque giving. The automatic method actually works!

    And it’s not much different than what the Apostle Paul instructed when he was collecting a gift for desperately poor believers in Jerusalem: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16:2).

    Arienne Corben started automatic tithing when we were acquaintances, long before I married her. I asked her to recall why she started tithing that way.

    “I felt called to do it,” she says. “My finances were out of control and I was always robbing Peter to pay Paul. I had never really tithed before so it was a way of giving my money situation over to God. Since trusting God with my finances (His finances), I am no longer in bondage.”

    After a pause she adds: “But lately I don’t feel much joy in tithing because I don’t miss that money. I’d like to start taking a more active approach and give more.”

    Automatic tithing alone may be insufficient but surely it’s a great place to start for the vast majority of Christians who give only a tiny percentage of their income back to God.

    There are many reasons for not tithing: I don’t have enough. It’ll just get wasted. My heart isn’t right. I’m waiting until I can give joyfully. Some of these statements may have merit. But the best heavenly investment advice is to put aside these thoughts and act now.

    When 2 Corinthians 9:7 says “[Do not give] reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver,” it does not mean we should wait until we are cheerful before giving or wait until our reluctance disappears. That may never happen.

    The best response is simply to be cheerful about giving. Ask God to give you joy when you tithe and when you give. And, once again, remember that Christ said your heart will follow your treasure – you may develop joy in giving if you first start giving.

  2. Spend Less: Dr. Tim Volkman was a pastor at Centre Street Church in Calgary for 20 years before resigning to work out in the marketplace. Volkman worked at several short-term jobs before beginning a career in real estate – right before the housing market disappeared!

    “After I left the church, my paycheque was cut in half, and then in half again. If I had my pastor’s income back, we would now consider it a lot of money. But back then I thought ‘We’re barely making it.’ ”

    Barely making it is a common feeling for many of us despite the fact that virtually everyone reading this article is among the wealthiest people on Earth. We have very few “needs” but a lot of “wants.” While this is obvious to many of us, we continue to spend as much as our incomes will allow. But there are ways to resist the materialism in our society.

    Wukasch says: “At The Meeting House we are teaching that it should be normal for Christians to live below their means so as to have money left over to give away.” So how do we actually accomplish spending less?

    A good place to start is to have only one credit card and use it only when other payment methods are not possible. Next, make a monthly envelope with cash in it for entertainment and discretionary spending. When the envelope is empty, agree to wait.

    Let’s challenge each other to look seriously at all our expenses and spending, then cut out or reduce three items NOW. For many of us, our two biggest expenditures each month are housing costs and vehicle expenses. We need to ask ourselves: What would happen if we moved to a less expensive home? What would happen if our family had one less vehicle or if we got a less expensive one? Our standard of living would drop, certainly. Maybe that would be a bad thing, maybe not. But it would also free up resources for an eternal investment.

  3. Pay Off Debt: Perhaps the most important step in reducing debt is not to incur new debt. We should not buy anything unless we can pay for it with cash. For existing debt, setting up an automatic payment each month will help. As soon as some debt is paid off, reduce your credit limits so you won’t be tempted to increase your debt again later.

    Those of us who end up having to buy groceries or pay rent with credit and who have no possibility of cutting back on our standard of living need to go to a debt counsellor.

  4. Save for Emergencies: Proverbs 6:6-8 recommends we be like the ant saving for the upcoming winter. But this excellent advice is emblematic of a biblical paradox. The few verses in Proverbs that recommend savings are set against the many, many other passages throughout the Bible that strongly urge us to give, seemingly without thought for ourselves.

    Or is it without thought for ourselves?

    Jesus says to store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. It is really for our benefit, this heavenly investment. God loves us and wants what is best for us, and what is best for us is in heaven. If we are regularly tithing and also giving on top of our tithe, then opportunities from God may come along in which we feel led to give out of our savings. Perhaps we can save for emergencies – as long as we are aware that the emergencies may turn out to be someone else’s!

Difficult investment, immeasurable returns

Honouring God with our money requires ongoing attention, even from mature Christians who tithe. Pastor Wukasch admits: “I am still struggling with what it means to live simply with generosity, with doing it in real life. I am trying to give up the things I have accumulated over the years, to reduce debt so as to have margin to give more generously, to engage those who are poor rather than only donating money to a cause, to reduce my consumption and ‘green’ my activities, to live the message rather than simply talking about it.

“It is difficult to change ingrained ways. Yet I am finding peace, purpose, contentment and joy in allowing the Spirit of God more access to my chequebook, my credit card account, my time management, my housing decisions, my relationships – my life!”

Ironically, the worldwide economic crisis presents a glorious opportunity for Christians to obey God and enrich our relationship with our Lord. God says: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:…to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:6-8).

Russell Corben is a co-author with Brian Smith of Your Money or Your Life: Can You Do Both God’s Way? (Word Alive, 2007). This book, the story of seven diverse characters who debate their way through a Bible study on money, materialism and giving, is appropriate for individual and small-group study.

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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