Winston Churchill, the great statesman of war time Britain during World Word II, once said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” Such a statement rings in accord with the divine perspective on wealth. Your life is not defined by how much or how little you make, but what you do with your financial resources. The legacy that you will leave behind in your life will be the lives you’ve touched, not the total net worth of your career’s earnings. At least, my hope is that what you leave behind will be touched lives and not merely a pile of cash. The majority of Jesus’ early followers were poor people. They didn’t have much in the way of real estate, stocks, or hard cash to contribute to Christ’s work of painting the world with the colors of God’s love. Yet, this did not prevent them from sharing what they had.
Conversely, the early Christian movement in the first century also included many wealthy men and women. These followers of Jesus had ample financial resources, and they, like their poorer brothers and sisters in the faith community, used what they had for God’s purposes. I think the modern day Church has often handled the topic of money incorrectly. Church leaders either tend to stay away from the topic almost entirely, except perhaps for an annual giving appeal, or emphasize the tithe (giving of 10% of one’s income to the local church) as the principle expression of the Christian way of handling money. Now, let me make myself clear, I’m not against an annual focus on giving to the church, or a year round emphasis on the tithe. The tithe has foundational roots in the Scriptures and the history of the Christian community. However, either approach, or even both taken together, misses the holistic approach to money that Christian spirituality calls for.
Money is such an integral part of our lives in the Western world that it would be spiritual suicide to ignore its implications for our lives. To say that we can follow God by treating others well, while at the same time ignoring God when we write a check is what psychologists call denial. The divine perspective does not limit its concern to the giving a person may make to his or her local church. On the contrary, the divine perspective encompasses a concern for how you manage all of you assets. This is because how we handle our money often reveals what is truly important to us. In addition, how we handle our money has a great impact on the quality of life of the people in our immediate and extended family.
How you spend your money is not merely a private affair. What products you buy and don’t buy can have wide ranging implications for the economy. The economy in turn translates into people’s jobs and the well being of their families. In turn, when you purchase a product you are implicitly giving approval to the working conditions that were utilized to produce that product in the first place. The implications of how we spend our money are vast. It can seem overwhelming, but just as we must take each interaction with every person we meet as a potential encounter with Christ, so we must spend each dollar and cent as a potential opportunity to do God’s will.
Despite what you may have heard from certain preachers, God does not want you rich. Persons who preach such a message have turned their spiritual cell phones off and have replaced God’s message with their own. God doesn’t want you poor either. However, the idea that God is somehow in the millionaire making business is a temptation that many millions of people make every day as they pray to God for help in winning the lottery or discovering oil in their backyard. There is nothing inherently noble about poverty. This is an error that some people make in spiritual circles; often such people have had little experience with actual poverty itself. Christianity through the centuries has held simplicity as an ideal state of living for Christians, both individually and as families. This has been highlighted by the example of monks and nuns who give up all personal claims to own anything and take a vow of poverty. However, these monks and nuns still have the basics of life, often more, but these are seen as owned by the community as a whole, and ultimately as God’s possessions on loan.
In the Protestant tradition of Christianity many groups have emphasized simplicity, such as the Mennonites and their famous cousins the Amish. These strands of the Christian tradition all take seriously Jesus’ warning, “How hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” If you’re reading this article it is likely that you are an American or European. If so, even if you consider yourself to have a modest income, you are vastly wealthier than the majority of people in the world. You have shelter, food, clean drinking water, and access to a variety of medical services. This alone sets you apart from the vast majority of the world’s population. Does wealth then automatically disqualify someone from being a person who is spiritually healthy? No, it doesn’t. However, Jesus was very stern in teaching that wealth can be such a distraction, such an obsession, such a worry that it can break up the signal the individual man or woman is receiving from God. Money, when it starts to consume our lives, whether because we are in debt or because we are rolling in excess cash, has the ability to be like a large mountain that blocks off cell phone signals. Money can become the mountain that blocks your connection with God.
The idea is to hold whatever possessions we have lightly because they can, and will at some point, be taken away from us. Everything is a gift from God; the question for you is how many gifts are you going to keep, and how many are you going to share with others? Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Friend Chicken, was recorded as having once said this: “There’s no good reason to be the richest man in the cemetery.” The colonel is right. There is no good reason. The bottom line is that whatever assets you have should be used to carry out God’s will.