This is the last post in our series on pursuing discipline in 2017. This post will likely be the most difficult of the five areas we have considered. I say that because the average US household has around $90k in debt. Now that number does include mortgages, but it also includes households that have no debt. Maybe a better number for us to ponder is the $733 billion in credit card debt that we as Americans carry. Just so we’re clear, some of that is mine, too. Don’t hear condemnation, but hear the severity of the situation. We need help with our money which means we need some discipline and we need to examine our hearts.
“If you want to know what you worship, just look at your checkbook or bank account.” I am sure you’ve heard the statement as much as I have. It’s heard so often because it’s true. We don’t climb the hill to the Temple of Aphrodite like the Corinthians did. We don’t burn incense to Caesar. We don’t bow before statues of Baal. We carry small pieces of plastic in our purses and pockets, and we fill our lives with stuff. Again, it’s not that there is anything wrong with capitalism or that there is anything wrong with the stuff that we buy. The problem is our overspending, consuming, and hoarding that are daily practices for us as Americans. There’s so much to be said on this topic, but I think most of us get it. We know we have a problem, we just don’t know what to do. This heart issue, like any heart issue, needs to be confronted as a worship problem and disciplines are needed to help us put up walls to keep the city safe (Proverbs 25:28.)
First, let’s consider our hearts. Our financial healthiness and stability is a worship issue. We must start here because disciplines without heart change produce bigger problems. Everything is given to us by God to know Him and make Him known, and usually, our debt and unhealthiness come from valuing things over God. We wouldn’t reach beyond what we could afford if we didn’t value what we were buying more than we should. There’s nothing wrong with a bigger house, nicer car, trip, clothes, or whatever you spend money. There is a problem when you are willing to sin to get it or sin to keep it. Debt is sinful when it’s rooted in a heart that loves things over God. So before we ever talk about ways to deal with our debt we need to deal with our heart. Confession is a gracious gift to us; we can confess, and He will forgive. So, start here with me.
Second, let’s consider our heads. Once we’ve dealt with our heart, we need to deal with the way think and approach our finances. There are tons of great resources to help you with your finances so pick one. I love Dave Ramsey because his system is rooted in community and not just personal effort. I love Crown Financial Services for their determined connection to the Bible throughout their training. There are tons of options; the point is to submit to one and their process to help you grow. Most of these are going to force you to be honest about how much you owe, how much you spend, and how much you ignore both. So, understand that you are going to have to re-wire the way you think about money and spending.
Third, we need to consider our hands. That means we need to utilize the tools available to us. Maybe the most important tool you will have in your financial toolbox is your budget. You need to work to live off less than you make each month so that you can give, save, and do. That may be a spreadsheet you’ve created, an app you plug those details into, or system of putting and pulling cash into and from envelopes (www.youneedabudget.com) but this tool is THE tool you need to have. It will take time to get your budget set, learn to use it, and to adjust it as needed but this will be a lifelong tool for you. I personally love www.Mint.com because it keeps me most on track with my goals of saving, spending, and giving. I had a mentor suggest www.Digit.co a few years back, and I love that automated way they help you save. I would also highly recommend www.creditkarma.com so that you’re aware of your credit score and how your decisions today affect your decisions tomorrow. There’s no shortage of apps, sites, books, and tools so put one or two in your hands today.
Lastly, let’s consider our habits. We are where we are today because of bad habits, but by God’s grace, we can build some new ones that will help us become financially stable. Two specific habits come to mind for me. First, you and I should work to be more generous people. We want to be in the habit of giving and hopefully giving more each year. I will never forget hearing Danny Akin say that he wanted his largest gift to the kingdom to come after he passed away. What he meant was that he was setting aside money from every paycheck so that when he died, he could leave an inheritance to kingdom work. That’s a habit of giving. We should be working to spend less so that we can give more. Debt isn’t just restricting us financially, but it also inhibits us ministerially by not being able to give or go. We also have a pretty good role model in this; Jesus gave everything for us. Second, we should want to be people who save for the future. You and I have no clue what tomorrow holds. Savings doesn’t “problem proof” our lives, but it prepares for the problems we will face in life. When you don’t save, you set yourself up for fear and failure. It’s discipline to save, but by doing so, you protect your future. These two habits, giving and saving, make life beautifully better. Edmund Burke put it this way, “If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.”
Financially stability is a great goal for 2017. It’s not just a goal, though, it’s a lifestyle. We want to live our lives with Jesus as King, not with things owning our heart and debt defining our future. That takes real discipline and work. That’s ok though because we know that Monday is for habits so today we are going to examine our hearts, refocus our heads, put some tools in our hands, and develop some habits for life.