Let me start by saying, I am not great at any of this. My husband has to talk me out of weekly impulse purchase decisions (wise man he is) and I have to tell him that it’s okay to spend money on things we actually need, and we don’t just need to eat peanut butter and tortillas like he did in college. Our twenties have been a learning curve in many areas, but none more so than money.
Jesus talked about money more than he talked about heaven, and almost 1/3 of the parables he told relate back to finances (probably because he knows we are all slightly challenged when it comes to this). The number one thing couples self-report arguing about? (according to this study…and a whole lot of others)-
So, attempting transparency, here are the money lessons that I personally have tripped over, stumbled upon, and potentially learned something from in the past few years:
1. My tithe is not mine. This lesson was learned abruptly and while drinking coffee, as the best ones always are. I was just a few months shy of graduating from college and sitting in a Panera, across from a mentor. We were discussing giving, and I was joking about the small amount I made from spending afternoons taking orders at a coffee shop, when she suddenly picked up on the fact that I didn’t give regularly to the church. She froze, looking shocked. “That money isn’t yours,” she told me, dead-panned and eyes wide, brows reaching into her hairline out of surprise that I hadn’t yet figured this out on my own yet. Oh. I sat across from her, staring blankly in return. I knew I was supposed to give, but I had never heard anyone claim that this money I earned wasn’t even mine. I love the way Cortni Marrazzo puts it in this article:
“We are not saved by works, thus failing to tithe will not necessarily send you to hell, but doing so will help improve your life and strengthen your relationship with God. I personally don't believe that God will curse us if we don't tithe, but I do believe He will help us escape the curse that is already in the world if we do.”
I began tithing that same day.
2. My worth cannot be measured by how much I make per hour. Or how much I make per year, or how many hours I work. The amount of money on my check at the end of the week says nothing about who I am as a child of God. I have made a lot for my age bracket and I have made a little, and everything in between. When I am making a lot, I have a tendency to want to hold onto the number, to whisper to it that I am so grateful for what it says about me, but this same logic flips itself when my income dips. All of the sudden, I don’t really want it to say anything about me anymore- because what it is saying doesn’t seem so good in my head. I am slowly learning to walk away from this measuring stick, and to remember that the Lord’s standards are different than the world’s.
3. Budgeting is a God-Send. We listened to this series of talks on budgeting and finances, and it seriously changed our lives, especially heading into a season where we decided to work and pay cash for graduate school to avoid taking on loans. The first month we committed to a budget was the first time in my life I actually knew where all my money went, down to the penny. Never ever have we kept track of our money to the extent that we do now, and it is amazing how much simply knowing has helped us change our habits. We see exactly how much each impulse decision costs us, and have to face it at the end of the month. Learning to say no when a friend asks me to go out to eat and I know we are over-budget for the month was a huge learning curve, and sometimes it is hard and awkward to say, “Sorry, it’s the end of the month and I’ve used up all of that category of my spending money, can we eat at my house instead?” But the beauty of a budget doesn’t just come from making one, but sticking to it- and it’s been worth the financial freedom, even if it feels uncomfortable sometimes.
4. There is more than one way to spend money that is pleasing to the Lord.
“Is buying a house honoring God with our money?” I asked my husband the other week. His answer was frustrating: “Well,” he said, “I think it can be, and it can’t be. It depends, I guess.”
I hate that answer, because it’s ridiculously vague, but I think that in this scenario, my husband is the one who is right-thinking here. Whereas I tend to think of money as either good or bad, money itself is actually neutral- what we do with it, and where are hearts are when we spend it, is what is sinful or not. Money is a tool to help us please God, but money itself doesn’t please God one way or the other. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,” Proverbs 3:6 tells us, meaning that when we are seeking God and living out his word, our decisions, especially with money, will align with his desires.
5. I really, really, really can’t buy contentment, no matter how hard I try. It’s hard for me to believe sometimes, but a beautiful new couch from Crate and Barrel won’t actually make me happy. It might excite me, for a month, but it won’t give me the everlasting joy I am constantly seeking. There will always be something newer, bigger and better, and I will never win the game if I start playing. I have had to reconcile, over and over, with the scripture of Paul when writing in Phillipians 4:11-
“…for I have learned to be content in any circumstance.”
Money cannot buy me real satisfaction, and I am learning to filter my purchase decisions though a couple questions: Why am I buying this? Do I think that it will bring some kind of joy that I don’t have right now? There is a huge difference to me between buying something to fill a void or out of boredom, and buying something for Godly delight and enjoyment.
6. Comparison is the thief of Joy. Someone will always have more money than me. Someone will always have nicer clothes, cars, furniture, or fill-in-the-blank, and me focusing on what I don’t have instead of what I do have will crush a biblical view of finances. Paul writes in Corinthians that
“When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 2 Corinthians 10:12
And yet, if I am not careful, I do this all the time! One of the best quotes from CS Lewis writes that pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only having more of it than the next man.
7. You cannot serve both God and money. When everything is stripped away, I have to remind myself constantly that I am not protected by my bank account. Yes, it is wise to save for emergencies, and so we do. But assuming that my savings will protect me from disaster is not trusting God.
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs to it and is safe. A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.” Proverbs 18:10-11
I decided to memorize that scripture this month, because this truth hit me like a bat over the head: our wealth so easily becomes our protection in our head, our buffer or our insurance from the world’s problems. And again, while it is good to save, assuming that a big savings account is all we need to guard us is like a high wall in our imaginations. The truth is that in this world we will have trouble, whether we have a large bank account or not, and a natural disaster or large emergency could drain all of my savings faster than I like to admit.