Sometimes when I look at our budget, our future financial trajectory, and our giving, the best word I can use is fear.
Following Christ down the pathway of generous giving does not exempt us from human emotions like fear. The challenge is to determine when something is simply a human emotion and when something is promoted by God.
I had a very strong first quarter in 2012. Early in the year, we arrived at the amount we predetermined with the graduated tithe. The last few months, things have slowed down quite a bit. I find myself fearing the distant future. I find myself wondering if I’m not going to look back in 2013 and think that we made a mistake. Of course, I don’t think we are, but I have these types of thoughts.
I doubt I’m the only person who has ever experienced fear when looking at his finances.
We had a daughter who visited the doctor and had a $485 bill. What if that happens more? What if that happens a lot? Since medical expenses are expensive, how will I be able to afford to pay for health care when I get older?
I realized that in ordered to get my Permanent Residency status renewed, I’ll need to spend around $500. What if there are a lot more unexpected expenses? What other charges am I going to be hit with that I’m not expecting?
All these things extract a very familiar feeling: fear.
In the presence of this fear, I believe there are two very different options.
1. In the face of fear, we can clinch our hands more tightly.
On the one hand, this seems to be the most logical solution. Why should I give my hard earned money to others when I feel fear? Isn’t the point of all this financial peace? Wouldn’t I feel more at peace if I had a few million in the bank?
Yet, the Bible reminds us that this ultimately is the greatest of all dangers. It is dangerous because we might turn so inward for illegitimate reasons. We might be consumed with our own financial health and survival that it won’t be until we look back from the side of eternity that we realize our foolishness.
This is not to say that there are not reasons to scale back your giving. There are!
2. In the face of fear, we can trust.
So that I’m not misunderstood, let me lay out the pathway I suggest as the pathway to generosity:
- You always participate in the grace of giving. While you’re in debt what you can give will be more limited. Personally, I’m comfortable encouraging people to reach towards giving 10% of their income.
- Establish an emergency fund. This can be between $1,000 and several months of living expenses.
- Pay off your debts. This includes credit card debt, house debt, vehicle debt, and other debts.
- Save a reasonable amount for retirement. This could be between 5-15% of your income, depending on a lot of variables.
- Learn to grow in the grace of giving.
There are other pathways to generous giving, but this is essentially what our family has practiced.
You may find this hard to believe, but even when your debts are paid off, even when you have an emergency fund, and even when you’re saving for retirement, you can feel fear over your financial situation.
If we attempt to put our faith, stability, and trust exclusively in what we have, I think we’ll never feel like we’re at a place where we can be givers. In Transforming Your Financial Diet, the first of seven steps to simple and generous living is to count your blessings.
God seeks to teach us to focus on what we have. Satan teaches us to focus on what we don’t.
In the Garden of Eden there was only one tree that Adam and Eve could not eat. Where did the Serpent want the man and woman to focus their attention? On what they did not have. He wanted them to question God’s goodness. Perhaps God doesn’t have a good plan for you, Adam and Eve. Perhaps the reason why God is stopping you from eating from the tree is because he is withholding something good.
I should clarify that there is a fine line between faith in God and testing God.
Thus, the next time you experience fear in your finances, you need to identify the source of that fear before you can create a plan for the future.
The question to ask: is this feeling, motivation, or direction from God? If I were to do this thing with my finances, would it make God smile?