God’s Help in Making financial decisions
A few months ago I was facilitating a seminar on financial stewardship and we were talking about seeking God’s direction regarding how we manage our money. One of the participants asked the following question, “So does this mean that whenever I go to spend any money, I need to pray first and find out if God is okay with it? I mean, on my way to work as I get close to Tim Hortons, am I going to be praying, ‘Lord is it your will that I get a Timmy’s this morning?’”
Even if the questioner was exaggerating the situation a bit, this issue of trying to figure out how God wants us to manage our money is an important one for anyone desiring to be a faithful steward. While I still have times when I struggle with this question, I’d like to share with you some of the things that my husband, Les and I are learning in this area.
The first is that scripture provides us with a lot of answers to many of our questions. And when we put these answers together, we see that God has in fact created a wonderful framework for how He wants us to manage the resources He has entrusted to us.
Through scripture we learn:
•God owns it all – 100% of everything we have, and we are to manage it for His purposes not ours
•God wants us to work and earn a fair wage
•God wants us to spend some of what we earn on our family to meet our needs and to enjoy what He has given us
•God wants us to be generous and to give back to Him
•God wants us to save for the future
•God wants us to avoid debt and when we are in debt, to eliminate it as quickly as possible
These principles go a long way to helping us understand how to manage money the way God wants us to. We need to generate an income. Out of that income we need to give, save, and spend. For many of us, the spending part causes the greatest problem. How much should we spend and on what?
For Les and I, the answer to the “how much” question only comes after we answer the questions of first, how much to give, and second, how much to save. We have chosen to develop an annual gift plan. At the end of each year, we pray and ask God to challenge us and enable us to give beyond what we gave the previous year. When you ask God to direct in this way, he does. And when you commit to give as God directs, it can be challenging and mean sacrifice, but God does make a way.
For us, answering the question of how much to save has been a little trickier. Knowing what we need to save for emergencies is a bit easier – we put aside between three and six months worth of income in an emergency fund. This gives us some breathing room – enough time to figure out how to deal with whatever emergencies come our way.
But long-term or retirement savings is more difficult. That is where a financial advisor can be a great resource. Through looking at our goals for the future and our current financial position, an advisor can help determine how much we need to be saving today.
Once we’ve answered the how much to give and how much to save questions, it’s pretty easy to figure out how much to spend: income – giving- saving = spending. Now we need to come back to the question of “on what?”
While praying for direction before every purchase may not be such a bad idea, I would be kidding myself if I thought that I would actually do this. So what is the alternative? We’ve found that a budget, [yes I said I budget but you can call it a spending plan if you like] provides the best answer to this problem.
All of us have more opportunities for spending than we have money. We need to decide what are the best choices for our spending. Often our choices are not between a blatantly good “thing” and a blatantly evil “thing”. Most often we have to make choices between two good things. The question then becomes, “What is the wisest choice for me and for my family?”
I’ve seen many parents, struggling financially, choose to enroll their children in: piano lessons, soccer, hockey, dance, camp, and the list goes on… While all of these are great options for their kids, if the family does not have sufficient money in the budget (remember there are associated costs such as uniform, equipment, gas), then is it really the wisest choice?
A budget allows us to categorize our spending. There are things that we must include in the budget: housing, food, transportation, clothing, etc. Les and I have always started budgeting by looking at these “must have” items and figuring out how much we will need to spend there. Then we move on to the more discretionary items such as recreation, entertainment, gifts, etc.
Once we have a draft budget, we spend some time praying and asking God if He is pleased with our decisions or if there are changes we need to make. We seek God’s blessing before we finalize our budget. On more than one occasion God has challenged us to rethink our priorities.
Going back to the initial question of “Do I have to pray before I go through the Tim Horton’s drive thru?” My answer is: if I have developed a budget that I believe God is pleased with and I have money set aside for this kind of expenditure, and I haven’t overspent it this month, then yes I can stop and get a coffee and enjoy it guilt free. Does that make sense to you?
Through our Generous Steward ministry we have many workshops, seminars and other resources that can provide you with tools to help you make financial decisions consistent with God’s will. Check us out at www.generoussteward.org.
Joanne Bell is the Stewardship Ministries Director for The Free Methodist Church in Canada