According to statistics, 71% of people in our community struggle with finances. To struggle financially can be a source of shame and nobody wants to talk about it. As a church we want to help people grow closer to God and that involves stepping into the mess with love. We need to be honest and tackle it. Spiritually mature people base their financial priorities on God’s principles.
A typical household has $15,000 in credit card debt. How did we get into that? Nobody just woke up one morning with a stack of bills. There are four factors that lead to debt.
First, lack of knowledge: Most people have not been trained to handle money God’s Way. We have done what was modeled to us or what we thought was best based on what we were told.
Second, lack of discipline: Many people spend impulsively because they have no written plan or budget to ensure that spending does not exceed income. They live from check to check without really knowing where all their money goes.
Third, lack of planning: We can get into debt quick simply because we don’t plan ahead. Credit cards allow us to skip the planning process and just pay as we go. The problem is that it can easily spiral out of control.
Fourth, circumstances: Sometimes we use debt when we experience unexpected emergencies, such as an illness or loss of a job. Sometimes circumstances dictate that we either go without or buy on credit. Credit cards can be awesome in times of emergency.
The problem is most of us don’t just use credit cards in emergencies, we use them all the time.
Now that we know how we have gotten into debt, let’s talk about how to get out of it.
How to get out of debt.
Step 1: Pray. I believe that God loves you and wants you to work towards becoming debt free and is willing to help you do it if you take a step of faith.
In 2 Kings 4:1-7 a widow was deep in debt and her creditor was threatening to take her two sons as slaves to cover her debt so she cried out to Elijah for help. God miraculously provided for her. The same God can supernaturally provide for you if you trust Him and surrender your situation to Him.
Step 2: Know what you make. Most people don’t know exactly what they make. You need to know what you make every month as a baseline. For those in sales or small business owners this can be a little tricky to figure out but you can look back over the years and get a really good estimate based on the past.
Step 3: Know what you owe. How much money do you really owe? List out all your bills on a piece of paper or a spreadsheet. Have you ever tracked what you spend your money on for a week or a month? You will be blown away at where is all goes.
Step 4: Create a budget. A budget is an itemized list of where the money is supposed to go and knowing where all your money is spent.
Step five: Stick to your budget. This takes discipline. Tell your friends about your budget, tell your family. You need support if you are going to shed the debt. Don’t binge spend. Change your habits to fit your new lifestyle.
You cannot lose all your excess debt overnight but you have to start someplace. If you want to get involved in a small group to help you start the debt diet process we are launching one. The focus of this small group is to help you come up with a plan and stick to it. This week I challenge you to go online and find a budget worksheet and fill it out. You can write this web site down if you want a great place to start.
How you handle money is a reflection of your faith. Whether you are just starting this process today or are years into it, you can master your money, lower your stress, and increase your joy if you are willing to stick with God’s financial plan.
How much better would your life be if you had half the debt you do now? How much more money would you have to spend on the things you want rather than on interest? How much less stressed would you be about retirement or being able to pay for health insurance? Less debt translates into a better quality of life, less emotional stress, less worry, and more joy.
Do you know that how we handle my money reveals a lot about our relationship with God? Money in and of itself is neutral. In fact, I believe that God wants some people to be wealthy so that they can use their wealth to help other people. But the vast majority of people struggle with their finances primarily because we don’t live according to God’s financial principles.
If we are even willing to consider starting a debt diet there is one key overarching principle that we need to know because it impacts every financial decision we make. This is the key principle: God owns it all. God is the master of everything and we are managers. The Bible says:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalm 24:1
God owns all that we have, and He has given us the responsibility to manage that which we have been given faithfully according to the financial principles of Scripture. Once we admit and acknowledge that God owns everything, we stop asking God what he wants us to do with our money, we start asking God what he wants us to do with His money.
There are three benefits of faithfully managing the money that God has blessed us with. First, being faithful with finances helps us to grow closer to Christ. You will see God provide for you in tangible ways that will stretch your faith and encourage you to trust Him more.
Second, being faithful with finances helps us develop godly character. God uses money to reveal and refine our character. As a follower of Christ you will have to decide whether or not to trust God and give him 10% of your income off the top or buy something new. How we handle money is an indicator of our true spiritual condition.
Third, being faithful with finances leads to contentment. As we apply God’s principles to our finances it is possible to achieve financial contentment and financial freedom but it takes work and discipline and commitment.
How do we faithfully manage money so that we can honor Christ in this area of our lives?
Commit to trusting God with all of your finances. We trust God with our problems we know are out of our control, like illness, but when it comes to our finances we say, “I know how to handle my money.” Really? God promises that He will provide our needs. In Genesis 22:14 one of God’s names is Jehovah-jireh, which in Hebrew means “the Lord will provide.”
Commit to applying God’s financial principles to your life. Do you believe that the Bible is a collection of good stories or God’s Word? The truth is that the Bible is full of financial principles that will help you have a better life if you live by them.
Commit to taking hard steps now that will produce long term gain. What hard steps? Here are a couple easy ones. First, stop chasing after things and experiences that you can’t afford. If you have the money, enjoy it. But if you don’t have the money, don’t go into debt to get what you want. Second, do more that costs less. Looking back most of the best memories I have with my family don’t include spending a ton of money.
The Bible says:
“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God” Proverbs 30:8-9
This is my prayer for us. That God will give us exactly what we need. I want you to be open to examining God’s financial principles and willing to make financial changes. So take an honest look at your finances and do what you need to do to reach your goals.. Start today and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you. He will.
A few months ago I went to a MN Gophers hockey game. While there I looked up and read all the banners that hang proudly from the ceiling commemorating when the Gophers won national championships. If you look closely there are markers all over society proclaiming significant events. The Israelites followed ancient customs by setting up standing stones as a reminder of God's covenant and supernatural acts on their behalf. These stones are known as “Massebah.”
This past week I read Psalm 78 which helped me to see why we need to have spiritual markers in our life. The author of Psalm 78:1-7 writes:
“2for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—3…stories our ancestors handed down to us. 4 We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about his power and his mighty wonders... 7 So each generation should set its hope anew on God, not forgetting his glorious miracles and obeying his commands.” Psalm 78:1-7
There are three reasons why spiritual markers are important. First, spiritual markers reveal the presence of God in my past. The Massebah stood as a monument to what God had done in the Israelites history. Generation after generation could see the stones and heard the stories and it encouraged them.
I have never piled rocks to remind me of what God has done in my life, but that doesn’t mean I can’t point to any spiritual markers in my life. I have a cross that we gave out at one of our Good Friday Experiences. I still have a candle from the Good Friday experience in 2016. A couple of years ago I did a series called Broken and Blessed and handed out a piece of broken pottery to everyone in attendance. I can also look at pictures that remind me of spiritual markers. When I look at these, I am reminded how faithful God has been. What spiritual markers do you have? Can you think of a time this past year when God moved in a powerful way in your life? It is our job to proclaim the works he has done.
Second, spiritual markers provide assurance that God is with me now. The ancients would pass by the Hebrew massebah and it would reassure them that God was with them wherever they went. I keep my wooden cross, candle, and piece of broken pottery to remind me that God is still with me. Past victories give us present hope. Stay strong, God is still with you.
And third, spiritual markers encourage me to trust God with my tomorrow. The Israelites often forgot about all that God had done for them and turned away from him. When they walked away from God they walked away from God’s blessing. They would be overrun by their enemies, forced into slavery, and have to forfeit their land and possessions. Over time they would start to remember just how good God was and repent and turn back to him and he would bless them again. This happened over and over and, the truth is, the same thing happens to you and I.
The author of Hebrews writes: “2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”Hebrews 12:2 NIV
To those who are born again the cross is the most powerful massebah we have because it reminds us of the manifest power of God. God is always with us, always willing to assist and guide and care for us. The cross reminds us that Christ came in the flesh to reveal the power of God.
So this year I challenge you to live out your faith more than ever before. Look back and review what God has done and be encouraged because God is not done with you yet. There is hope for your family to be restored, for your dreams to come to fruition, for you to connect with others, for you to find the help you need, there is hope because there is an empty cross.