Walking in the Spirit with money challenges my ability to trust God more than any other endeavor. I grew up with a fear of poverty, having watched my parents adopt a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle. Because my father liked to gamble – and lose at gambling – my mother often worried about all of us going hungry. I remember one fight they had where Mom asked my dad where our bread was going to come from. He had just lost an entire paycheck at the racetrack and she was filled with dread. My seven-year old heart could not bear the pain she had. So I shuffled off to the store with my month’s allowance and bought a loaf of bread. When I gave it to her, she used it to shame my dad, calling him a horrible father. I chose to adopt a mindset that money would not be there when we need it.
Years passed before I allowed the sanctifying work of the Spirit to touch my view of money. God used a thanksgiving dinner, a simple budgeting process and a store clerk to start my transformation.
For years I had despaired of keeping track of our expenses accurately. I constantly forgot to put our expenses in the account book; therefore, I hardly ever knew what we had in the bank. I am not a details person and my wife had to care for the needs of three little children, so it fell on me to care for our finances – as flawed as I am.
We did discover a solution to my forgetfulness. It is called The Envelope Method. For monthly household expenses (food, clothing, eating out money, haircuts etc.) we put a set amount of money in an envelope under each category. When the envelope is empty, we don’t spend any more money on that category. We learned very quickly how to budget and account for our spending. Best of all, I didn’t have to log dozens of receipts into a ledger every month. However, it did mean I had to get around $600 of cash every month to put into the envelopes.
Two days before Thanksgiving, we decided to invite several poorer members of our church over for dinner. We realized our 12 pound turkey wouldn’t feed everyone, so I went down to the grocery store to pick out a bigger one. The store had a promotion that Fall which gave us a free turkey. It didn’t matter how big the turkey, we got one for free because we spent over a certain amount during the preceding months. I went to the store and began digging through the turkey bin. There were about 150 free frozen turkeys in that huge bin and I wanted to find the largest one. I snagged a 22 pounder and brought it to the checkout. I felt so frugal being able to buy the turkey with no money at all.
I arrived home and showed Kathy the bird. She wasn’t even sure we had a roasting pan large enough to house the cooking turkey. She called around and found someone who had a large enough pan. At that point, my money lesson started.
“Mike, did you get the money for the envelopes?” Kathy asked.
“Yeah; I stopped at the bank right before getting the turkey”. I reached into my jacket pocket and felt around for the packet of money. It wasn’t there. I checked my other pockets. Still, no money. I searched the car, the trunk, the bag the turkey came in and my entire route from the driveway into the house. The money was gone.
Mentally, I traced every place I had been since leaving the bank. It was an easy route to account for. I had gone from the bank directly to the store and then home. I didn’t stop anywhere else.
At this point, Kat said, “We should pray. We can’t afford not to have that money.” All of my fear of poverty came crashing on top of my soul. I had trouble breathing and what little faith I thought I had in God left. Here’s what I said…here’s what this pastor, Christian of 22 years, father of three, writer of books and articles on God said: “You go ahead and pray, but it won’t do any good. Even if someone finds it, it’s CASH!” I knew in my heart the money was gone and it wasn’t coming back.
Kathy stared at me a long time and then decided to pray a very simple and heartfelt plea to God. Twenty seconds after she finished praying, the phone rang. She literally ran to the phone full of hope and expectation. I just sat deeper in my recliner hoping she would find out how her prayers were all hopeless.
As she listened to the caller, she answered “yes” a couple of times. By the time she hung up, she was grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“That was the bank” she started. “One of the clerks was reloading the bin with the turkeys and noticed a packet of cash in the bin. It had our account number on the withdrawal slip. He turned in the money to his boss and they called the bank. The bank called me and confirmed the amount. Praise God, huh?”
This may sound strange, but that news made me more miserable. I felt similar to how Peter felt when he heard Jesus was risen from the dead. It was great news, but it showed up Peter’s denial as both dastardly and faithless. I knew I was faithless, but it wouldn’t have felt so heavy if God had truly failed to help us. When He did help us, it made me even more depressed.
Walking in the Spirit often requires we dispose of our money so differently than those who walk in the Flesh. Walking in the Flesh can be obviously harmful (like my dad’s gambling problem), but it can also manifest in ways that seem wise. The Flesh can pull upon great advice like “save for a rainy day” and “bring all your tithes into the storehouse”. I’m not saying those are bad rules to live by, but many times the Spirit would choose we follow His guidance rather than accepted financial rules.
Have you ever emptied your bank account because God told you to? Have you given away everything you had because the Spirit was leading you? Have you ever invested in something seemed doomed to failure because God said it was the right thing to do? Perhaps you think I am exercising my hyperbole muscles, but I have found people who walk in the Spirit regularly do such things.
I hear many Bible teachers talk about the volume of teachings in the Bible on finances. But if they really looked at the full breadth of those financial truths, those would not be easy sermons to preach. Jesus talks about giving away our money, paying for taxes from the mouth of a fish, selling everything and buying a pearl of excessive price, pouring expensive perfume over his head, taking care of the poor, a widow who gives away every cent she had (all two of them), leaving lucrative professions for which people were trained, expectations that food will be hard to come by and there may be nowhere to bunk down for the night….on and on these teachings go and no two are alike. If you tried to boil down all of Jesus’ financial advice, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense. You certainly couldn’t build a company following his explicit commands.
In essence, the best financial advice Jesus gives does not mention money at all. In John 16:15: “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” The Spirit is God’s guide to the place where “all that belongs” to God can be found. The Spirit of God knows where all our supplies can be found, all our needs can be met and all our callings can be expressed. When he tells us to empty out our bank account, we learn how to become conduits of his supply instead of storage places.
Recently, an article in the New York Times explains the problem today’s recession-affected banks are having. They are too flush with cash. People are cashing out of bonds, stocks and other commodities and keeping the money in bank accounts. But because there are so few good investments around, the banks have nowhere to invest that will give them a guaranteed return. Therefore, even though money is coming to them, they don’t know what to do with it. One bank in New York City is now charging their largest depositors a few to keep cash in their accounts. Money is called “currency” because it is meant to be Current; it is supposed to keep moving.
The same is true in the Kingdom of God. We are not meant to view money and possessions as permanent, but rather as means to get the work of God done. For those who view money as a vehicle with which to serve God, more money will flow through their hands. This is the meaning of the parable of the talents. To him who has, more will be given.
Once I confessed my total lack of faith with money, I asked Father God to help me see money the way He does. He taught me how to view money by giving me regular financial assignments. The first way the Spirit guided me out of my prison-like financial beliefs involved my mother. My father had passed away about ten years before and she was not handling her own finances well. She owed about $2500 on her credit cards. This was also the same amount of money we had saved up in the bank. It was really the first time in our lives we had accumulated more than $1000 at any one time for which we had no use. During my learning days, God had me go weekly to Him and find out how to spend or not spend money.
I prayed one day and felt God telling me to make my mother a proposition. I would pay off her credit card if she agreed to cut it up and never get another one. She had lived too far beyond her means for too long and God wanted me to minister to her. He also wanted to show me I had nothing to fear by emptying out my bank account. I asked Kathy if she agreed and she did.
Not only did we end my mother’s sickly dependence on credit, I finished off my fear of poverty with the writing of that check.
Following the Spirit bridges the gap over our fear, pain, grief and anger over money. His road leads somewhere. The Flesh is a road to a money bridge that will never be properly built.