Show Me the Money
Our first “provision” miracle happened with a rental property. After we married, we lived in an apartment we mockingly called “the Palace.” It had slanted walls, one space heater (we lived in Wisconsin’s frozen tundra), and a toilet and tiny shower in the closet. We were paying $90 a month.
Some friends of ours in St. Louis told us how they got a home for $240 a month in a market where similar homes were going for close to $500 a month. They said they looked at their budget and asked God for a home in that price range. Gail and I wondered, if God did it for our friends, why wouldn’t He do it for us?
We examined our budget and decided that, though it would be a stretch, we could probably afford $125 a month. We prayed: “Lord, we wouldn’t even ask about this if we hadn’t run into Bible promises that say you care about such things. We ask you to give us a home for $125 a month. We trust you to do it.” Then we watched the paper.
We had already been perusing the paper for about a month, but there were no rental homes for less than $300. But three days after we prayed, an ad appeared for a two-bedroom home—for $125 a month. We went to see it, did a Jericho march around it (if you don’t know what that is, that’s probably a good thing), and thanked God that it was ours.
When we called, an elderly lady answered and said, “I’m probably asking too little for the house. I have had so many calls about it.”
We went to meet with her, and as we were talking, a professor from the local junior college called and offered her more money for the property. Gail and I just bowed our heads and said, “We thank You, Father, for our $125 house.” We knew it might not be this one, but we suspected that it would.
“Thank you for the offer,” she said on the phone, “but I want to give it to this nice young couple.”
It’s hard to describe the potpourri of feelings we had. We were elated. It humbled us. We felt loved and cared for. We felt undone, broken by the fact that almighty God cared about something so domestic, so common. This wasn’t a missionary house or a home for wayward teens—it was where Ed and Gail Gungor lived. And God moved to make it so. We knew this answered prayer wasn’t proof of our spirituality or a badge of maturity; it was a simple God-story. And we felt kissed—it was our first “provision kiss” from God.
When you see God provide for you, it impacts you spiritually. The Bible says one spiritual result of God’s supernatural provision is joy (Deuteronomy 16:15). But there is more. You feel His love and embrace. It breeds hope for the future. God’s provision fosters wonder and awe—this is the wonderful side of money. Jesus said if we know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will our Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11)!
I wish I could tell you that every prayer I have prayed for provision has been answered as dramatically as my story above, but that would not be true. There have been many tough financial times when it seemed like God wasn’t taking any prayer requests and I was on my own. I later realized God really was at work; I just didn’t recognize Him. I think that’s because I was looking for Him to work on my circumstances but He was working on me. Hmmm. Anyway, over the years I have found some things that seem to get me to the other side of the rough and tumble of economic hardship pretty effectively. Here are four.
Trust God to provide.
God wants us to trust Him in every part of our lives, not just the spiritual parts. Jesus was the one who said that entry-level faith embraces the idea that God is a provider. He told His followers that God provides for the birds and flowers, and since we matter more to God than birds and flowers, He has our back (Matthew 6). Trusting God in this way simply means we are willing to take the leap into the hope that comes when we imagine this to be true. The promises of God in Scripture are given to us to help us with our “imaginings.” Faith dares to chase the hope fostered by the promises, and to rely on it. Not easy stuff. The Bible claims that we all need to “grow” in our faith, which means it takes us a while to get good at doing the “leaping” thing.
Don’t get too “more”-oriented.
Success is good; affluence is good. But that does not mean God wants us to focus on getting more and more. Nor does God guarantee everyone on the planet a place among the rich and famous. Most preachers who overemphasize prosperity believe the more money and stuff we get, the better. Some even go so far as to say that prosperity is a sign of spiritual health and strong faith. Crudely stated, the message is, “If you love Jesus, you’ll get rich.”
However, equivocating success with godliness is a scriptural no-no. Jesus said the Kingdom of God belongs to poor people (Matthew 5:3). Some individuals in Scripture “joyfully accepted the confiscation” of their property, because they were godly (Hebrews 10:34). In other words, they were poor—poor and godly. Others, called heroes of faith, “went about in sheepskins and goatskins.” They were “destitute” and “mistreated” (Hebrews 11:37). And they didn’t have nice homes: “They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” And the Bible says these folks were so holy that “the world was not worthy of them” (v. 38). Wealth is not a symbol of spirituality, which is good news for those wonderful souls who have chosen humble work like teaching, public service, being an at-home-parent, etc.
Recognize the dark side of money.
Money can be wonderful, but it also can be deadly. And the warnings given about money in the Bible are severe. Jesus said, “Woe to you who are rich” (Luke 6:24). He warned: “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In some cases, Jesus went so far as to command, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”
What do you do with texts like these?
First, we simply listen. No rationale. No explanations. Just listen. Something begins to emerge when we get still and let these texts speak for themselves. It’s a little terrifying to listen, but we all need a good scare now and again—especially in this business of money.
One thing pops up loud and clear: money, like power and our sexuality, can be a threat to our faith. It is a threat because it’s not just a neutral thing that we possess, like a car or a pet; it is something that vies for our adoration. Jesus claimed: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Luke 16:13).
The possibility of joy, worship, obedience, adventure and influence are all wrapped around the wonder of God’s provision in our lives. But this wonder is only possible when we possess money and things without being possessed by them. It’s being possessed by money and things that turns this subject dark.
Finally, do what you can do.
Though we trust God to help us, that doesn’t mean we are not to do all we can to make sure our financial lives are in order. When talking about God’s provision, Jesus said we are to seek God’s Kingdom (His influence) and God’s righteousness—which is doing things “right” or God’s way.
Though Israel was told to trust God during their battles and not in their swords and spears, or in their horses and army, they still had to have sharp spears and swords, along with well-trained horses and armies. Their trust did not replace their responsibilities. Trust never fosters indolence or laziness. When we trust God, we still have to work hard at doing what is right.
I think the most important “right” thing to do is cultivate personal contentment. Paul wrote: “I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am” (Philippians 4:11–13, MSG).
Unless we are content with what we have, we have no grounds for asking for more. That would be evidence of greed, lust or an inordinate love for this world. The psalmist warned about “men of this world whose reward is in this life” (Psalms 17:14).
But doing what’s right also includes things like committing to spend less than you make (learning to budget). It means if you get behind on your bills, you contact those you owe money to before they contact you. It means working on improving yourself so you bring more value to the marketplace. So, you work to sharpen your skills; you’re more diligent on the job; you grow as a problem solver; you work on being more creative; you cultivate humility, service, kindness and so on.
Though you might be going through some tough financial times in this economy, don’t forget God wants to help. Jesus’ words are still true in 2009 (read this Jesus quote carefully … it’s incredible!):
"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes” (Matthew 6:30-34, MSG).