Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105
Walk into a room full of people, begin talking about money, and the chances are pretty good that a variety of strong emotions will be stirred up. Some people may feel smug and satisfied that they have a big income and have “made it” according to the world’s standards. Others might feel melancholy or anxious because they haven’t figured out how to stretch their hard-earned paychecks to cover all the material possessions society says they should want and have. Some in the room may be relieved they have just enough to cover their bills and debts, but aren’t really sure where they’re heading beyond that. A few folks might leave, hoping you won’t ask to borrow any money from them!
With mixed messages being cir--culated throughout society about money and possessions, it’s easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of buying more stuff. Obtaining fancier cars, designer clothing, and the latest electronics consumes more and more time, as does getting the credit to purchase them. Instead of working to serve God and finding fulfillment in his kingdom, many people become slaves to earning their next dollar just to stay ahead. So much energy gets focused on paying bills and buying more stuff that often there is little left over to enjoy family, friends, or activities that are really of interest. High anxiety, physical ailments, and other bad habits may follow. In some cases, tired, stressed-out people turn to second or even third jobs in order to maintain their extravagant lifestyles.
Men and women both face anxieties over money, but not always for the same reasons. “Men will be depressed and be unfulfilled in their jobs and relationships and say they have to be the breadwinner. That makes them more stressed, and they go out and buy themselves something bright, shiny and new—boy toys,” says Dr. Anita Thomas, associate professor of counselor education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago. The threat of layoffs combined with overall lower savings rates has resulted in more Americans shopping to make themselves feel better, even if they can’t afford it.
The stress women feel about money is often tied to issues of independence, says Thomas, who also does mental health counseling at her church. Articles and books tell women to have financial independence, especially in case the husband dies, and that puts too much pressure on women to maintain a career along with their other family responsibilities. That pressure can lead to buying sprees.
“I think a lot of women have stress that purchases should be equal, so they can have a stake and a claim. They don’t want the house to get divided and then they end up with nothing,” says Thomas. And because a lot of the male gender identity is caught up in being the primary earner, that focus on achieving independence creates a double bind for men and women and can ultimately be hurtful to a marriage by causing a tug-of-war over money, a leading cause of divorce (Eph. 5:28–30).
Thomas’s holistic approach gets clients to address their fiscal problems in relation to other areas, including their emotional, physical, and psychological states. “It makes them realize that financial issues have a bigger role in their everyday life than they may realize,” she says. For couples, sitting down, discussing their concerns, and working out a budget and a financial plan can help with other troubled areas of their relationship. Singles can confront fears or uncertainty about the future by taking a hard look at how much of a financial cushion they would have if they lost their job or had an emergency. Often stepping back to look at the big picture will put things in true perspective and help diminish feelings of panic.
If you’re having money problems, stop and ask yourself: Who am I trying to impress? Do I really need all this stuff I buy, or am I just stuck on the belief that I deserve to have it? Do I even know why I crave bigger and better things? How important is money to my life? Why can’t I be content with what I have?
If you don’t know the answer to some or all of these questions, then you don’t have a clear idea of your personal financial goals. Your coworkers and neighbors can’t give you clarity in this area and may only confuse you further. You need to follow God’s Word when making fiscal decisions. He’s the true owner of our possessions and has only given them to us to use and enjoy. “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). We must accept his ownership before we can truly become good managers of those resources and receive all the blessings he has for us, as Jesus explains in the parable of the steward who squandered his master’s possessions (Luke 16:1–15).
Nevertheless, many people struggle with the concept of God’s ownership and being responsible for their own financial choices. “I’m trying to live the belief that the money I have honestly belongs to God. But at the moment when I see something I want I’m not thinking that way,” says Faith, 36, who says she lets her husband handle their finances and avoids most money issues. “It’s trying to bring my heart around what my mind knows. I don’t think I’m honestly an adult when it comes to money.”
A college-educated woman who says she has a good understanding of money and investing, Faith says she’s just not that interested in keeping track of the household expenses. She says her parents and grandparents provided good examples of money management while she was growing up, but no one ever talked about money. “In the late ’70s my father made $100,000 a year, but I had no idea how that fit with anything,” she says. “I leave everything in my husband’s hands . . . I don’t respect my position on finances. However, I’m not doing a lot to change it.”
Faith’s internal conflict may strike a familiar chord in your life. If you, too, are having trouble accepting your adult role as a caretaker of God’s belongings, try spending more time in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. “I’m trying to control impulsive spending more. Before I get out of my car, I try to say a prayer and remind myself where I want to be [spiritually and financially],” Faith says. “My goal financially is just to be mature about what I have, whether it’s a lot or a little, and to handle it in the way the Bible tells us we should handle it.”
By overspending as God’s children, we are telling him that we know better than he does how our money should be spent. We are telling him that we are lord over our finances. Repentance is key to breaking free from this pride.
To establish workable financial goals, you must first determine exactly what role money plays in your life, using the four-step process in figure 1.1. First, determine what matters most to you and what you want to accomplish. Is it more quality time with your family? A six-figure income and accolades from your peers? Learning to be content with what you have? Making a difference in the world? Being financially comfortable enough to follow your calling into full-time ministry? Homeschooling your children and being a stay-at-home mom?
Steps to Setting Goals
1. List life goals and beliefs.
2. Does behavior support or contradict goals?
3. List specific financial goals.
4. Form action plan to surmount obstacles.
Whatever system of beliefs and values you have should be listed in your journal under the heading “Important Life Goals.” It may help to think of it this way: If you knew you had only one year to live, what would be most important to you and how would you spend your time? List as many ideas as you feel apply to your situation. If you really believe that working ten hours a day in corporate America is the ultimate goal in your life, then by all means list it. However, I suspect that item won’t grace most people’s list!
The second step is to read through that list again. Ask yourself these two questions: Do my present fiscal habits move me closer to or further away from this goal? Am I willing to make sacrifices to get where I want to be financially? If you wrote down that you want to give money to charitable organizations but are currently giving zero in this area and are instead filling your closet with clothing you don’t need, then your current spending is incompatible with that life goal. If you find that many of the life goals you stated aren’t supported by your financial habits, then it’s time to reprioritize some things and create a new action plan.
Write down how you feel about your overall financial situation under the heading “My Feelings.” You may be pretty comfortable with where you are or somewhat stunned to realize how wide apart your life goals and current financial habits are. Your honesty is crucial to achieving success with your makeover and moving past any fears and bondage you may have. What you write is between you and the Creator, so try not to avoid serious issues that you know are hanging over your life.
If you make a good income but gamble much of it away every month, then you need to get with God and deal with that. Stop joining in the office lottery-ticket pool if that’s a temptation. If you’re losing sleep at night because you’re a single parent and are struggling to make ends meet and purchase a home, take it to God in prayer. Ask for clarity about your financial picture as well as other areas of your life and what he wants you to achieve. Ask for forgiveness for wasting or mismanaging resources and for the wisdom you need to heal your finances.
The third step for establishing financial goals will provide a blueprint for daily decision making and transactions. Just as an architect draws a blueprint to be used when building a house, your plan will help build a stronger foundation for your fiscal habits. Think about what specific needs or wants you have and list them under the heading “Financial Goals.” If you’ve been struggling to pay for your child’s education or praying that you and your husband will come to better agreement over money matters, then list that here. Remember, be realistic with your plans. Becoming a millionaire in a month is not a realistic goal.
Step four is determining what the biggest obstacles are to achieving the financial goals on your list and developing at least one action plan to surmount them. List those under the heading “Obstacles and Action Plan.” For example, is the real issue that you haven’t received a raise in five years or that you’ve been mismanaging your funds? If mismanaging your money is the issue, then write down: “I will begin managing my money better starting NOW!” Perhaps a steady paycheck has kept you tied to the same job for years without any real sense of purpose or fulfillment. If so, then perhaps you need to write: “I will look for a new job that fulfills me and moves me closer to my life goals.”
The Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to separate communist East Berlin from the noncommunist western half of the city, kept people trapped and cut off from relatives and friends for almost thirty years. Many died trying to escape over the wall, which came to represent a symbol of oppression throughout the world. In 1989 border crossings were opened, and by October 1990 when East and West Germany reunited as one free country, the massive wall was being torn down.1 The joy and relief that citizens on both sides of the city—as well as throughout the entire country—must have felt upon seeing the 26-mile-long wall topple is hard to imagine.
Even before the government officially began tearing down the barrier, reports circulated of excited Germans celebrating by climbing up and hammering off pieces of the wall, as the following excerpt from an article in the German newspaper Die Welt describes.
At the south end of the Hindenburg Platz, where the Wall is 3.5 metres tall, the sounds of hammers were heard for hours. The young people succeeded at breaking off some of the round concrete blocks, and dropping them over into the death strip in the East. As dawn arrived one of the upper parts of a concrete plate reinforced with steel broke off, amid much cheering.2
However big or small your obstacles may be, it’s time to get a sledge hammer and strike them down. Don’t remain cut off from the blessings God has waiting for you in his kingdom. Pray to be released from the grip of fear or self-doubt that may be keeping you paralyzed and unable to make changes in your life.