The post title is a summary of a question I received.
It’s an extremely difficult question to answer.
The question goes on to ask about how one can purchase luxury items when there are people just down the street who are starving.
How Much of My Income is Mine to Spend on Me?
In an effort to address this reader question, I decided to highlight a few of the points I think are worthy of consideration.
1. Embrace the tension
Forbid it, Lord, that we should feel as though we’ve found a balance.
I find that the more content we are with our current situation, the more quickly we melt into the status quo. When that happens, we stop listening to God’s direction. We allow excuses and justifications to keep us from facing the awful truths of suffering and poverty that are all around us.
I live with this tension on a daily basis. Remember, the average annual income here is $775.
The tension is a sign of spiritual health.
2. Discover your Motivation
I’m finding that when you answer the ‘why’ question, you’ll make more progress than any other question.
Why did you buy the luxury item? Why didn’t you choose to give the money? Are there unhealthy roots of greed? Unhealthy roots of guilt?
3. Acknowledge the Fallacy of Wealth Transference
If wealth transference was possible, I think this would be an easier situation to address.
Wealth transference assumes I could take my income and give it to a person in poverty and their life problems would be solved because they are now in possession of my resources.
Pragmatically, that is not the case.
The reason is because God intends for us to receive an income through work. Those who do not have the skills to manage money will not manage it well – no matter how much we give. You could give someone the money you’d use to buy a HDTV, and they might just go out and buy an HDTV.
It’s an unfair parallel to say I have so much and they have so little (if you are talking about money). A lack of money is not causing their problems. There is something more valuable you can give than money – time, mentoring, training …
3. Realize that buying luxury items is not inherently sinful
I found it interesting that the gentleman who asked the question says he has no trouble spending money on food, clothes, car, internet, and holidays – things he categorizes as needs.
In many places around the world, internet, cars, holidays, and even clothes are a luxury.
My point is simply: who gets to decide what is a luxury?
All of us live with a certain amount of luxury.
In the end, I think spending decisions are indeed very personal.
I do not believe I can judge a person’s generosity by what I see externally. God does that.
4. Recognize the dangers of guilt and the dangers of indulging
I think all of us find ourselves somewhere on one end of the above spectrum.
Some folks are paralyzed every time they spend money on anything. For such people, they need to be reminded that God, as our Father, gives us good gifts for our pleasure (1 Tim. 6:17).
Others spend as if they have no responsibility to the poor. The reason is that if they made it themselves, then they’re going to spend it on themselves. However, the Bible reminds us that a purpose of our work is to have something to share with others (Eph. 4:28).
Each probably needs to be challenged to move in the opposite direction.
5. Identify your giftedness and uniqueness
The reader asked:
How do other Christians deal with this… turning a blind eye (and buying yourself a new HD TV) doesn’t seem like a reasoned theological approach, but it’s what I fear most Christians do: That sometimes you just need to be selfish… Jesus didn’t teach that, did he?
Romans 12:6-8 indicates that giving is a gift. Furthermore, it seems like it is a gift that not all have.
If I’m giving and spending my mental energy as the purchase police for other Christians, then I believe God will relegate me to a tremendously bitter experience on this earth.
Worrying about what others are doing always does that. Instead, I think we focus on being sure that we’re honoring God with what we’ve been entrusted with. In Transforming Your Financial Diet, I call that Proportionate Stewardship.
Let me be clear that I’ve created a format and a venue where I do challenge Christians and their giving habits. The venue is my own, and people must click or subscribe to hear the MH4C message.
Still, I would not directly confront a personal friend or relative about an item they bought that I thought was too luxurious. I have neither the wisdom nor the judgment to do so.
If someone asks what I think, I respond. If they don’t, I don’t bring it up.
I find that when it comes to giving, I have enough logs in my own eye to worry about.
What advice would you give when determining how much to spend on yourself?