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Upside Living in a Downside Economy
By Mike Slaughter
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2009 Michael Slaughter
All rights reserved.
Seeking God's Perspective
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (James 4:1-6)
If we truly desire to build sound financial health, we must begin by building a foundation that is firmly grounded in God's perspective on wealth and finances. We must earnestly search for what God has to say about wealth and money. Checking God's perspective comes by looking to God's Word. Yet beforewe can respond appropriately to God's perspective on financial matters, we must be sure that we have a right understanding of who God is. We must know God's character in order to trust God; only that trust enables us to put God's principles into practice. because financial freedom is based in trusting God's character and intentions toward us.
Check God's Character
Many of us struggle when it comes to the subject of God and finances because we do not understand who God truly is. We have a picture of God as a moralistic judge-creator. Yet Jesus taught us to pray, "Our Father ..." (Matthew 6:9). This opening address of the Lord's Prayer is a reminder that God is a powerful parent who actively seeks the well-being of God's children. As a matter of fact, again and again Jesus reminded us of the fatherly kindness of God. In Matthew 7 we read, "Everyone who asks [God] receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.... If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (verses 8, 11).
When my son, Jonathan, went to college, I had a black 1960 Corvette with silver coves and a white convertible top. It had Financial freedom begins with knowing who God is been completely redone, and I loved having and driving this car. But then I sold it. Why? Because my son's well-being—specifically, his education—was more important than that Corvette. Now he is a third-year medical school student!
One day Carolyn and I were watching the news. They were reporting that many college loans will be cancelled because the banks that are receiving government bail-out money are using it for bonuses and buyouts of other banks. As a result, a lot of students will not be able to get loans. Carolyn looked at me and said, "What happens if Jonathan's loan for medical school is cancelled?" I said, "Carolyn, our house is mostly paid for, so even if we took a major hit on selling our house, we would get enough money out of it to pay for the rest of his medical school. We can live in an apartment."
The heart of a loving parent does whatever is required for the sake of the child.
Jesus was saying that if we have this kind of love for our children, how much more will our Father in heaven—whose love for us is infinitely greater and purer—give good things to those who ask. The New Testament is filled with similar promises. In Philippians we read: "My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (4:19, NIV). Isn't that an amazing Father! Likewise, in Romans 8:32 we find this promise: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (NIV).
This reality of God as our loving Father is powerful, which is why I pray the Lord's Prayer aloud in my study each day.
The next words in the prayer are equally powerful: "Our Father in heaven" (Matthew 6:9). "Our Father" reminds us who God is. "In heaven" reminds us what God has. To put it another way, God owns the universe. God created the cosmos. All things in heaven and on earth are owned by God. In other words, not only do we have the love of our eternal parent, God has the resources to back all of God's promises. Financial freedom begins right here, and it is based in trust. When we trust God's promises, we are able to practice God's directives.
I do not believe in prosperity theology—the idea that you follow Jesus to get rich. That is self-centered and self-focused. But I do believe that God desires our success. Every good parent desires the success and well-being of his or her children. If my kids could make $40,000 a year or $100,000 a year, what would I choose? I would choose $100,000 if they could earn it by serving God's purpose and serving humanity. I desire the best for my children. Our infinite God cares even more about our well-being and is deeply invested in bringing about God's best will for our lives. Nothing is beyond God's provision for us.
Check God's Perspective
The Bible not only tells us who God is; it also gives us the promises and principles of God. It teaches us God's perspective on everything from morality, salvation, and eternal life to practical matters such as finances. In fact, there are hundreds of financial directives in the Bible. For example, we are told that debt is not our friend. The Bible says the debtor is always slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). Here is the problem with debt: When you have debt of any kind in your life, you are working today to pay for the past, instead of creating the future. That is why debt is not our friend. The Bible also says that we should never co-sign a loan for another person (Proverbs 11:15; 17:18; 22:26-27). But the basis of all financial wisdom and health begins with this essential principle: We are to practice planned giving to God. We will discuss this principle at length in the next chapter. For now, we will generalize by saying that we must put God first when it comes to our finances.
When we put God first and serve God with our money, money serves us. That is exactly what this verse means: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33, NKJV). "All these things" refers to the physical provision of God on our behalf. We don't have to worry about multiplying wealth because God has promised that to us. But if we serve money instead of God, we will always be slaves to the past, because we will be working for our possessions instead of working for our Creator. God has promised to supply all we need if we will put God first in our lives.
I am not worried or afraid in the midst of this financial crisis because I know that my only job is to serve God's purpose. God has promised to provide all my needs if I follow God and seek to live according to God's principles. So, I continue to invest in my 401(k) every two weeks because I know that God will provide all my needs. This kind of perspective is possible only because of the power of the Word of God. We must continually come back to the Word and check God's perspective.
Check Your Motives
In addition to checking God's perspective, we must check our own motives. James 4:3 says, "You ask and do not receive." Sometimes we simply fail to ask. Other times we do ask God, but nothing happens. Perhaps the reason we do not receive is because we ask with wrong motives so that we may spend what we get on our own pleasures. Our motives are the compelling force or energy behind all our actions. Our motives drive our actions.
Note the word at the end of James 4:3: pleasures. The word in Greek is hedonism. Hedonism is an ancient Greek philosophy that was articulated in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. by a disciple of Socrates named Aristippus. Aristippus taught that the pursuit of pleasure is the ultimate objective in life. He said that pursuing pleasure is why we work hard. Today, we work overtime so that Our motives are the compelling force or energy behind all our actions. We can buy boats and go to the lake and have a lot of toys. Aristippus said that minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure is what life is all about. This philosophy is in stark contrast to the worldview of Jesus Christ, which the apostle Paul expressed this way: "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings" (Philippians 3:10).
We are never going to know the power of the resurrection in any dimension in our lives—in our marriages, our relationships, our work, or our finances—until we are willing to go through the pain, to experience the discipline. We can sum it up this way: No pain, no gain. This hedonistic philosophy has created a Christian hedonism that has infiltrated the church. People have come up to me after worship and said, "Mike, I don't know what is going on with me. I used to really enjoy worship. It was such an incredible experience. It was like tingles went through my body. Now I am not experiencing anything." They were seeking a pleasurable experience instead of seeking God.
So often we profess Jesus Christ but continue to pursue the values of our materialistic culture. It is like the rich young entrepreneur who came to Jesus and asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17). Jesus responded by mentioning some commandments. The young man said that he had kept the commandments.
Like many Christian hedonists today, the rich young man was committed to moral living. Yet even though he was pursuing Jesus and was committed to moral living, he still found his values in hedonism, in the pursuit of pleasure. We know this because of what comes next in the story.
In Mark 10, Jesus said to the young man, "If you wish to be complete, sell your possessions." I don't believe Jesus meant for him to literally sell everything he had. Rather, I believe Jesus meant that he needed to let go of what he was holding onto in his attempt to find meaning and security. Jesus essentially said, "Let go of where you are trying to find life, and focus on the things that God cares about. Then come and follow me."
The motive of hedonism creates a spirit of coveting. Coveting means to want what we don't have, which often leads to debt. Coveting is failing to celebrate the blessings of what we have been given, and it always leads to conflict. In any dimension of our lives, when we fail to see and celebrate the blessings that God has already given us, we inevitably begin to seek satisfaction in other sources. James calls us adulterous people (4:4) because coveting is adultery (disloyalty) against God.
Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" (John 6:34-35). When we fail to see the blessings of what we have in Jesus Christ and seek satisfaction somewhere else, we are saying that Jesus is not enough. But the truth is that we can lose everything we have and still have enough if we have Jesus Christ.
The idea is not that having money and possessions is bad. It is loving money, or seeking security in money, that we must guard against. The Bible warns, "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). Likewise, the Book of Hebrews instructs, "Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for [Jesus] has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you'" (13:5). With that promise, we truly can be content! We are in a good place!
So, we must continually ask God, "Do I have the right motive?" We also must continually ask God to help us stay motivated.
Check the Source of Your Motivation
Many people start something with the right motive but never finish what they started because they don't stay motivated. Motivation is the ongoing force or energy that propels each action toward the next accomplishment. We simply must stay motivated. But where does motivation come from?
James gives us the answer in these words: "But [God] gives ... more grace" (4:6). Motivation comes from grace, and grace comes from God. Grace is something we do not deserve or earn; it is a gift. This is why James ends the verse with these words, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
Have you ever tried to get out of debt only to get frustrated and give up? Have you ever started a diet with the right motive only to quit? What happened? It is called fatigue. How do we stay motivated? God gives us "more grace." God knows that we will fail multiple times, and God's provision is grace.
Some of us have experienced failure in the area of finances. Others of us have experienced failure in other areas. Eight years ago I made a commitment to exercise and eat healthy, and I am sticking with it. Yet sometimes I fail to exercise or eat right. Despite my failures, however, God's grace enables me to keep on keeping on.
My family recently celebrated my birthday and my future daughter-in-law's birthday at the same time at my sister's house. My wife, Carolyn, made an apple pie for my future daughter-in-law, Stacy, and a cherry pie for me. My sister, Gayle, also made her incredible homemade ice cream. That is one addiction I have. I can pass on regular ice cream, but there is something about homemade ice cream! So on my birthday I had apple pie, cherry pie, and two big bowls of homemade ice cream! However, it is not my practice to do this. That occasion might be called a failure, but it was not the beginning of a habit. I am thankful that God gives us more grace.
When it comes to pursuing financial health, a lot of us start with the right motive but fail to stay motivated. Where does lasting motivation come from? It comes from the Lord. Our dependence must be on God alone. We can't manufacture motivation. Even when we fail, God's grace is what sustains us and enables us to persevere.
Whether it's our health or our finances or any other area of our lives, God gives us more grace.
Check Who You Are Listening To
Finally, we must check who we are listening to on a regular basis. A good friend of mine, Ross, is in automobile sales. Of all the professions that are experiencing greater challenges during these trying economic times, automobile sales is surely one of them. But there are some people who always find a way with God. Recently, I said to Ross, "I have known you for many years, and I have never seen you not find a way with God to sell cars. How many cars have you sold this month?" It was three days before the end of the month at the time. Ross said, "I have sold twelve this month." Now, that would be considered good in a stable economy, so it's beyond good in the current economy! Then he added, "My goal is fifteen." I asked him to tell me how he does it. His answer was simple: "I don't listen to the media."
To keep our motivation, we must be careful to whom we are listening. This is why I am continually aware of what I am putting into my mind. The first thing I put in my mind every day is the Word of God. Regardless of what all the indicators say across the globe, I daily feed my mind and my spirit with the Word of God. The other folks I am listening to, including the people whose books I am reading, are those who are demonstrating godly fruitfulness in their lives.
Take advantage of every opportunity you have to gain financial insights and wisdom. Anyone who desires to build sound financial health seeks wise counsel. My wife, Carolyn, and I have been blessed to have people in our lives who have taught us wise financial counsel, beginning with To keep our motivation, we must be careful to whom we are listening. Professors I had in college and seminary who sat down and taught me basic principles about debt and interest rates. Who are the people in your life who can provide wise financial counsel? What opportunities are available to you for financial instruction? Talk with people you know and respect who are knowledgeable in the area of finances. Look for books you might read, workshops or seminars you might attend, courses you might take, or Bible study groups you might join. Consider the benefits of consulting with a financial advisor. Follow the advice of Proverbs 1:5, which says, "Let the wise listen and add to their learning, / and let the discerning get guidance" (NIV), and you will be on your way to achieving financial health!
Excerpted from Upside Living in a Downside Economy by Mike Slaughter. Copyright © 2009 Michael Slaughter. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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