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What would it take for you to make a radical change in the way you earn, save, and spend your money? On a deeper level, what would be required for us to experience a fundamental shift in the relationship between our faith and our finances? - From the Introduction
Faith and finances—these two areas of our lives sometimes seem poles apart. And yet, shouldn’t our finances be shaped by our faith?
Guided by the Bible and the timeless wisdom of John Wesley, popular author James A. Harnish challenges Christians to face the issue of money head-on, with God’s help.
Ideal for individual or group use, this book’s contents include:
- When Crisis Forces Change
- Gain All You Can: A New Opportunity
- Save All You Can: The New Frugality
- Give All You Can: A New Generosity
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About the Author
The Rev. Dr. James A. Harnish retired after 43 years of pastoral ministry in the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He was the founding pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando and served for 22 years as the Senior Pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa. He is the author of A Disciple’s Heart: Growing in Love and Grace, Earn. Save. Give. Wesley’s Simple Rules for Money, and Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve. He was a consulting editor for The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible and a contributor to The Wesley Study Bible. He and his wife, Martha, have two married daughters and five grandchildren in Florida and South Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
Simple Rules for Money
John Wesley on Earning, Saving, & Giving
By James A. Harnish
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2009 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
When Crisis Forces Change
An excellent branch of Christian wisdom is ... namely, the right use of money—a subject largely spoken of by men of the world; but not sufficiently considered by those whom God hath chosen out of the world.... Neither do they understand how to employ it to the greatest advantage.
JOHN WESLEY, "THE USE OF MONEY"
Read: Luke 16:1-18.
WHAT DOES IT TAKE for you to make a radical change in the way you earn, save, and spend your money?
There are times when I can identify with the man who came home from work one day to discover a small magnetic sign on the front of the refrigerator that said Prayer changes things. Immediately he took it down. His wife, offended by what appeared to be the man's lack of faith, asked, "What's wrong with you? Don't you like prayer?" He shot back, "Sure, I like prayer. I just don't like change."
If we are ruthlessly honest, most of us don't like change, particularly when it comes to our finances. We crave economic stability and financial security. We measure success by the size of our bank account and the profitability of long-term investments. We save for a secure retirement and are frightened when signs of political insecurity send the stock market into a tailspin. We don't like change, particularly when it comes as a result of forces over which we have little or no control.
When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that "sometimes it's a crisis that forces change," he pointed to an underlying reality that faces us every time we are forced to make difficult decisions about money.
A spouse is fired, retires, or dies.
A child is born or goes to college.
A plant shuts down, and a position is eliminated or a salary reduced.
An investment turns out to be an unanticipated windfall or a dismal failure.
The global economy shifts downward in a major recession.
How do we deal with a financial crisis that calls for fundamental change in the way we earn, invest, and spend our money?
On a deeper level, what would be required for us to experience a fundamental shift in the relationship between our faith and our finances? We like prayer; we just don't like change. What difference does our relationship with Christ make in the way we use our money?
There's something here also for seasoned men and women, still a thing or two for the experienced to learn— Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate, the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women. PROVERBS 1:5-6, THE MESSAGE
Wisdom from Wesley
The eighteenth century was a time of major economic and social change in England. The gap between the comfortable, affluent aristocracy and the beleaguered, poverty-stricken working class was growing larger and more tenuous. One historian described the era as having a "taut, neurotic quality—the fantastic gambling and drinking, the riots, brutality and violence, and everywhere and always a constant sense of death." John Wesley confronted the crisis of his time with a word of hope for transformation in every area of human experience. The personal and spiritual discipline that he practiced and taught resulted in people becoming more responsible, better educated, and more prosperous. Soon Wesley faced the unexpected predicament of Methodist people accumulating wealth, wearing fine clothing, and building more attractive preaching-houses.
In response, Wesley called for a fundamental change in the relationship between faithful Christian people and their money, when he wrote his classic sermon "The Use of Money." The result was useful not only in his own time but also through the present day, providing a corrective balance to the two extremes that sometimes seem to be the only alternatives for Christian people.
At one extreme are the "prosperity gospel" preachers who tell us that God wants everyone to be rich. They promise that faithfulness to the gospel will result in financial success. They use the Bible as a "get rich quick" scheme that generally results in the preachers getting rich, whether or not any of their followers do. The size of their congregations, the ratings of their television programs, and the place their books hold on the best-seller lists confirm that there is always a market for their dubious theology.
At the opposite extreme are the preachers who approach the subject of money as if they were afraid of being infected with a fatal disease. Reacting against the abuses of the "prosperity" preachers and in response to people who (sometimes for good reason) complain that all the church wants is their money, they act as if the gospel has nothing to say on the subject, in spite of the fact that Jesus talked more about money and possessions than any other subject except the Kingdom of God.
In an attempt to convey a spirit of pious poverty, some preachers approach the subject of money apologetically as if they are embarrassed that it even needs to be mentioned while people in their congregations wrestle with these matters day in and day out. The result is often that Christian people live with a total disconnect between the faith they celebrate in worship on Sunday morning and the financial decisions they make every day of the week.
I recently preached on John Wesley's sermon, which includes Wesley's instruction to "gain all you can." When I met with a small group of businesspeople the following Monday, they said it was the first time they had heard anything like it. Their experience had been that the church looked down on any desire to gain wealth and that the only word the gospel had for rich people was that there was more chance of a camel getting through the eye of a needle than there was for them to get into heaven. As a result, these businesspeople lived for years with inner tension between their faith in Christ and their desire to prosper in their work. Wesley's words created the opportunity for them to discover a new connection between their finances and their faith.
After nearly four decades of pastoral ministry, my conviction is that that while most people are wary of "prosperity gospel" preachers who promise that God will make them rich, and while many people are weary of preachers who use biblical texts only as a fund-raising tool for their ministries and programs, most faithful people are ready to receive a biblical word that will guide them toward a healthy connection between their finances and their faith. Particularly in times of economic crisis and change, they are searching for that gift of God that the writer of Proverbs summed up in a single word: wisdom.
Exceptional Wisdom for Unexceptional People
Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis identifies Proverbs as "a book for unexceptional people trying to live wisely and faithfully in the generally undramatic circumstances of daily life." Biblical wisdom is more than the accumulation of knowledge or information; it is a gift of the Spirit of God that enables us to know what to do with the knowledge we accumulate in order to live well in our relationships with God and one another.
Eugene Peterson captured the spirit of biblical wisdom in his paraphrase of the opening verses of the Proverbs:
These are the wise sayings of Solomon, David's son, Israel's king— Written down so we'll know how to live well and right, to understand what life means and where it's going; A manual for living, for learning what's right and just and fair; To teach the inexperienced the ropes and give our young people a grasp on reality. PROVERBS 1:1-4, THE MESSAGE
Biblical wisdom on the relationship between faith and finances goes beyond fundraising for the church, although Paul unashamedly sets the biblical model for that task in his letters to the Christians in Corinth. Based on Paul's example, no preacher needs to be cautious or embarrassed about challenging Christian disciples to give to the work of God's Kingdom!
But at its core, biblical wisdom on the use of money is centered on helping faithful people order their financial lives around their faith in God so that they can live well in every area of their lives. The writer of Proverbs promises that when we honor God with whatever we own and give God our first and best, our "barns will be filled with plenty, and (our) vats will be bursting with wine" (Proverbs 3:5-10).
Jesus may have been drawing on the wisdom of Proverbs when he spoke about money and possessions. He assured his followers that when we order our lives around the reign and rule of God, then "these things will be given to you as well" (Luke 12:31).
Money, the Excellent Gift
When John Wesley wrote his sermon "The Use of Money," he picked up the word wisdom from Proverbs when he identified "the right use of money" as "an excellent branch of Christian wisdom." He went on to acknowledge that the wise use of money is "widely discussed among people in the world" but that it is "not sufficiently considered by those whom God hath chosen out of the world." He recognized the need for faithful people to give more attention to "the use of this excellent talent" and "how to employ it to the greatest advantage."
Wesley chose as his text Jesus' strange command to "make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness" (Luke 16:9 KJV). It's an odd enough text, taken from an even more peculiar parable. Jesus shocked his disciples—and he shocks us!— with the story of a crooked manager who, when confronted with a financial crisis, was smart enough to look out for his own welfare (Luke 16:1-9). Here's the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased the punch line of the parable.
Now here's a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself. Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens. They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you'll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.
LUKE 16:8-9, THE MESSAGE
The parable is followed by Jesus' stern application of the story to the relationship between our faith and our finances.
If you're honest in small things, you'll be honest in big things; If you're a crook in small things, you'll be a crook in big things. If you're not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store? No worker can serve two bosses: He'll either hate the first and love the second Or adore the first and despise the second. You can't serve both God and the Bank. LUKE 16:10-13, THE MESSAGE
It's a parable with a twist; a story that turns our expectations inside out. The crook becomes the hero because of the way he managed his money. And that's precisely the kind of twist that Wesley built into his sermon.
In contrast to the preachers who railed against money as "the grand corrupter of the world, the bane of true virtue, the pest of human society," Wesley reminded his followers that "the love of money," not money itself, is "the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10). "The fault," he said, "does not lie in the money, but in them that use it." He declared that when used in ways that are consistent with biblical wisdom, money is "an excellent gift of God, answering the noblest ends." He called money "a most compendious instrument of transacting all manner of business, and (if we use it according to Christian wisdom) of doing all manner of good."
While some pretentiously pious people think of money as "filthy lucre," it would be difficult to find a nobler vision for money than the one John Wesley gives:
In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked.... By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless; we maybe a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain. It may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death!
Three Plain Rules
Wesley laid out what he called "three plain rules" for the wise use of money: Gain all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.
The first two of those rules led to improved productivity among the Methodist people, resulting in increased income. As they grew more prosperous and began to rise out of the lower economic classes, Wesley became concerned that their success might separate them from the people they were called to serve. That concern led him to a more aggressive emphasis on the third rule, "Give all you can." We can almost hear the urgency in his voice when Wesley declared, "Let not any man imagine that he has done anything, barely by going thus far, by 'gaining and saving all he can,' if he were to stop here. All this is nothing, if a man go not forward, if he does not point all this at the farther end."
Two-and-a-half centuries later, Wesley's rules on the use of money continue to provide practical and positive wisdom for discovering a faithful, biblical, and hopeful approach to our financial lives. The rules are time-tested, experience-proven disciplines that if practiced over time can lead to a healthy relationship between our faith and our finances. They provide the framework for a radical change in the way we earn, invest, and use our money.
Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding. PROVERBS 3:13
To set the stage for our exploration of Wesley's rules, let's look at the process by which faithful people confront a crisis that causes change.
C. Douglas Lewis, the retired president of Wesley Theological Seminary, was writing for leaders in theological education when he affirmed that "a crisis can become a gift" by serving as a "wake-up call" for us to examine how we function. To help us look at the process by which we can confront economic change, I've borrowed the "crucial elements" that Lewis described in his article and am presenting them here as issues for all of us to consider: clarity of mission, persistent core values, and a commitment to excellence.
Clarity of Mission
Who am I? Why am I here? What are the most important commitments and priorities in my life? How do my financial decisions grow out of my identity as a follower of Jesus Christ? Clarity of mission defines who we are.
In his sermon "The Use of Money" and his companion sermon "The Danger of Riches," Wesley began with the assumption that Christians would be different from the people around them because their financial decisions would be a direct result of their identity as disciples of Jesus Christ. For Christian disciples, the first question is not How much do I have? but rather Who am I?
Jesus wrestled with these questions of identity and mission during the forty days he spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:1-13). Satan tempted him, beginning each time with the words "If you are the Son of God...." The temptations dealt with very practical issues of power, prestige, and purpose in Jesus' life, questions that had to be settled before Jesus could set out to fulfill his mission in the world. These are still the fundamental questions that define who we are and why we are here.
When plenty of money is available, it's easy for any of us to start believing that we can do anything and have everything we want. We are tempted to assume that our identity is defined by the size of our house, the make of our car, the label on our clothing, and the balance in our checkbook. But when money is tight, when finances are precarious, when we cannot have everything we want, then we are forced to face deeper questions with ruthless honesty. The crisis becomes an opportunity to take a serious inventory of the things that are most important in our lives.
Like Jesus wrestling with Satan in the wilderness, we feel pain when forced to confront the deepest questions of our identify and personal mission. But as Jesus discovered, there is no escape if we intend to be faithful to God's claim on our lives. This is the non-negotiable starting point for dealing with fundamental change.
God is solid backing to a well-lived life, But he calls into question a shabby performance. PROVERBS 10:29, THE MESSAGE
Excerpted from Simple Rules for Money by James A. Harnish. Copyright © 2009 Abingdon Press. 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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Table of Contents
Contents1. When Crisis Forces Change,
2. Gain All You Can: A New Opportunity,
3. Save All You Can: The New Frugality,
4. Give All You Can: A New Generosity,
Questions for Reflection and Discussion,
Resources for Continued Study,