We are in the middle of a month-long emphasis on Biblical stewardship and finances at New Testament Baptist Church in Miami, where I serve as the Executive Pastor. Some people hate stewardship month — but I don’t. It doesn’t bother me one whit to talk about money, teach about money, learn about money or listen to someone preach about money. I’ve heard all the old jokes and criticisms about addressing financial issues in a church, but if it wasn’t so important to God, then maybe He wouldn’t have shared so much about it in the Bible. It’s JUST money, people. It doesn’t even belong to us. You aren’t taking it with you! It’s just a tool. Get over it!
Recently, I’ve been looking at my own personal financial goals to make sure that I am adequately planning for the future. My family is at, what is probably, the appex of financial needs in the timeline of our family. All four kids are still living at home. One is in college and another joins him next year. We do not own our house — the bank does. We have four drivers in the family. One of my kids is in braces and two more will soon join her. You know — it’s just life….and life take money. God has always been very generous to me as I’ve ministered for Him. I sometimes feel a little guilty with the blessings we’ve received over the years and the level of comfort we enjoy compared to many others in the ministry. Having received a family inheritance in my early thirties, being able to spin my public-speaking and writing into a channel for an extra income flow, having the privilege of serving as an adjunct professor and other similar blessings from the Lord has made all the difference in the world for our particular situation.
But as I look at my current financial condition and the chllanges that will stress my personal finances in the future, I”m extremely thankful for a principle that was taught to me by my grandfather and parents. It was the principle of “living below your means.”
As a pastor, I’ve often been called upon to offer counsel to families who are in tremendous crises personally, spiritual and financially because they have been guilty of living above their means. Much of the time it was due to silly spending, chasing foolish dreams or wanting too much too soon. All of the time, it was directly related with a budget that encouraged them to live at or above their income level. As a result, they rarely had a “buffer” for emergencies — something my mother refers to as her “rainy day fund” and more often, there was a gradual descent into a quagmire of personal and consumer debt that eventually overwhelmed them.
Why is it that so many of us try to live life at the margins? We overextend our time, our money and our commitments. We try to have it all and in the process we enjoy very little of what we have. In our wild-eyed pursuit of trinkets and toys, we leave ourselves no space for pleasure, emergency or error.
Living below your means provides incredible freedom. The concepts is that you don’t spend everything you have. My grandfather taught me to take 10% of everything I earn and put it away before I ever can get my hands on it. So I have always had a payroll deduction system that does just that. I always have, and I have, a next egg for emergencies and, hopefully, my eventual retirement without having to be a burden on others. My parents always taught me to give at least the first 10% of my income to the Lord’s work. Over the years, that 10% has at times risen to as much as 20% and is rarely just 10%. I’ve enjoyed supporting my local church, helping missionaries, taking part in projects and building campaigns and helping the hurting as I’ve applied this principle.
Living below my means has never really forced me to sacrifice, even when we had an extremely limited income with very high expenses. At times, it meant we sat on used furniture, lived in a smaller house and didn’t eat out very often. But debt didn’t enslave us and we were just as happy as if we’d been sitting on Ethan Allen chairs in a 20-room house dining on chateau briand and caviar every night….maybe happier.
Scripture tells us that a foolish man does not consider th e cost of his house before he builds it. We would all be wise to consider the principle of living below one’s means in order to learn from the discipline, to be free from materialism and debt and to prepare fo the future benefits of Biblical stewardship.
I hope that someday in the future, we will be in a position to give even more of our resources to the Lord’s work. Of course, I want to leave something for my children when my wife and I head for heaven, but I also want to continue making an investment in what I spent my early life doing even when I’m in heaven. Living below my means is essential to having the freedom to give today and the hope of taking advantage of the opportunities tomorrow.
For a great little read on this and other financial principles, read Randy Alcorn’s, “The Treasure Principle” which you can find HERE.