Do your finances help or hinder God’s purpose for your life?
When we’re considering our future and where God might be leading us, it’s important to consider our finances too, says Jon Cobb.
It’s ironic that many of the major decisions which we make in life come about from unplanned events. Some of these have turned out to be great blessings, (a chance meeting at a Christian conference, and now an adorable husband!) others, maybe not so: (An impulsive response to an employment agency e-mail, and now in a job with limited prospects and little satisfaction)
However, I think that we would all agree that when it comes to making sure we get the most out of our lives, and achieve the things we want to achieve, time spent setting goals and working out how best to achieve them is a profitable use of our time. To put it another way, we are simply planning ahead.
But so much of what we can, or cannot do is limited by our finances (or lack of them!) Yet we believe in a God who “will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Is it our faith which is actually prohibiting our finances? (Please do not stop reading at this point, believing that this is a Prosperity Gospel article, it isn’t!)
God will provide us with what we need to achieve his purpose and plan for our lives. So the first stage of planning is to determine what he has called us individually to do. In Proverbs it says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”
Practically, as with so much in our Christian lives, this requires us setting aside time alone with God. You may even need to start right now by praying for some free time to be able to begin this process!
Goals are based on faith and following God’s leading, and not on past accomplishments or current resources. Acknowledge that he may want to do a “new thing” in your life (Isaiah 43: 19) and that he can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3: 20).
Keep hold of these truths. Many of us fail to set goals through lack of time, fear of failure, a lack of self-discipline, or a tendency to be overwhelmed with detail.
We would suggest that you start by picking a specific time and place where you can have uninterrupted time with God. Allow him to speak to you through a Scripture or heartfelt prayer. Ponder on your perceived strengths, gifts or abilities.
Here are some key questions you need to be asking:
* Do I have peace of mind in my financial decision making?
* What am I most concerned about in the next six to 12 months?
* What am I most concerned about in the next one to five years?
* Am I comfortable with my level of charitable giving?
* Am I paying too much tax?
* What am I most concerned about in the long-term?
* Are there some potential financial events that cause me fear?
* Am I comfortable with my debt level?
* Am I making progress towards my financial goals?
* Should I reposition my investment portfolio?
Whatever you feel God is saying, make sure you write it down!
As you can see, this is quite an involved process, but in spending time asking these questions it will actually help you to identify and articulate the specific goals which you are to set.
It is our experience that certain themes do re-occur when setting our God- given goals. Although in no way exclusive, an alternative way of setting goals is to seek his will in the following areas:
1. Giving: It is a wonderful blessing to have set goals with regards to your regular giving, a target annual level of giving, or even a target lifetime amount. (We know of one small business which has set a goal of giving away £1,000,000 during the owner’s life.) God may also be challenging us with regards to the legacy we will leave when we die. Of course, in addition to this, it is important to listen to him with regards to what you should be giving to. However, this isn’t an imperative at the start. God will reveal in his own time where your finances are to be used, what he seeks from you is a commitment to give, and to give cheerfully and generously!
2. Budgeting/Spending: If any of our plans are to succeed, we need to build in a discipline of spending less than we earn. Does our spending reflect the areas of our life which are most important to us? Are we making the most of the resources God has blessed us with? Setting budgets, and sticking to them, will allow God to use us powerfully.
3. Pay off Debt: Proverbs 22:7 says “ . . .The borrower is a slave to the lender”. Although Scripture does not forbid debt, Solomon’s wise words do show how debt can hinder our calling. If you are struggling with debt, we would strongly urge you to make addressing this issue a priority as soon as possible. There are wonderful Christian organisations (such as Christians against Poverty) that can help facilitate a plan for you to be free from this prohibitive burden.
4. Savings and Financial independence: The perceived wisdom of this world is to “build bigger barns” and certainty to do nothing in this area is an abrogation of responsibility. However, if we make the accumulation of wealth our priority, even if our reasons seem honourable, we may well be getting our work/life balance out of kilter. This is not honouring to God. Is God actually calling you to earn less, and increase your time away from work?
5. Providing for dependents: In 1 Timothy we read “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” and this should not be taken lightly. However, we believe that identifying what constitutes provision is very important. For example, providing a PlayStation for our children, instead of providing them with individual attention, is not justified. We would encourage setting goals that would include the provision of quality time with your husband (romantic city breaks!) and your children (holidays, family outings) as well as the provision of basic life sustaining requirements.
6. Funding your calling: Some of you reading this article will be potential missionaries to a foreign land (short term family trip or long term commitment) There will be potential future workers in the legal profession, who will fight against injustice and there will be those who are to become generous strategic givers. What is the passion God has laid on your heart? Don’t let that go to waste! Commit your plans to him, work out the cost, demonstrate its level of priority through how it fits into your budgeting and start to save tax efficiently.
It is prudent to seek professional counsel from an independent financial adviser and it makes sense to use one who respects biblical authority. If your adviser is a Christian, why not pray with them, asking God to give them wisdom in the advice that they will give you. To help find a Christian financial adviser, go to the website of the Association of Christian Financial Advisers (www.christianfinancialadvisers.org.uk) and find someone near you who can help you achieve your God-given goals and dreams.