Blue dust-specked light streamed down from the side screens covered with lyrics to one of my favorite songs. Unintentionally, I drew my shoulders in and slouched down in the purple upholstered wooden chairs.
I loved our church (and still do). I love the community of people who gather there on a weekly basis and the leaders who provide direction. However, January brought with it a new sermon series about money, a topic certain to unsettle my soul.
At the time, our young family had accrued over $100K in debt. To say we needed hope and direction was an obvious gross understatement. With the opening words of the sermon, guilt and shame racked my heart, followed quickly by a dark cloud of hopelessness and despair.
No one needed to tell me that the financial path we were traveling was far from ideal. No one needed to tell me that I should be giving. No one needed to tell me that managing the resources God had blessed us with was important. I knew all of the above. But there were words that I did need to hear that morning.
You are not alone.
Especially in communities of faith, we rarely bare our financial souls. In the closest of company, we might share our struggles with marriage and family, maybe even sexual temptation or doubt. But when it comes to the dollars in our bank accounts (or the lack thereof), suddenly everyone becomes suspiciously silent.
Finance is personal, reserved for private discussions between spouses only or knowledge stored in complete isolation. I needed to know that someone else had seriously blown it when it came to managing money. Outwardly, it appeared that everyone else loved Jesus and had their junk together. Whether a current struggle or a story of victory over past transgressions, my soul longed to know we were not alone.
There are practical tools to help.
If I taught my 6-year-old to tie her shoes by simply saying “Do a better job of tying your shoes,” it’s doubtful she’d ever master the task. Without practical resources or specific explanations, none can gain skills for success.
While calling individuals to change is incredibly important, it’s never enough. Specifics—whether a plain language, line-by-line explanation of budgeting or an honest conversation about how money and marriage can be challenging—instead of a general message of “doing a better job managing our resources” would have provided a balm for my soul.
Buying stuff doesn’t equate to following Christ.
T-shirts, wall art, concert tickets, children’s books, greeting cards, movies—there’s an incredibly huge market available to each of us as faith-based consumers. However, purchasing those items on credit (i.e. money you don’t have) always becomes a curse instead of a blessing.
Consumerism within Christianity is still an uncomfortable conversation for me, even on the other side of debt. Certainly, each of the items named above can be used to guide us on our journey; however, there is a fine line between allowing stuff to define our faith instead of enhancing it.
There is always hope.
No matter how far we had fallen short, no matter how desperate the situation seemed, I needed to know that there was a reason to have hope. If the God of the universe counts the hair on my head, then He already knew how little was in our bank account and how far stretched we were.
Soon, He would provide rescue and with divine math allowed us to pay off $127,482.30 in four years. What once seemed impossible fell to the wayside.
“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around, but by working within us, His Spirit deeply and gently within us” (Ephesians 3:20, The Message).
More Than Anything, Jesus Loves You.
Like it or not, many of us subconsciously equate how much we give to the local church with how much Jesus loves us. This heresy leads down a graceless path where if we don’t tithe, we feel like at best, we’ve disappointed God, and at worst, we’ve angered Him. I longed to hear that Jesus loved me, whether or not I dropped a dime into the passing plate, that giving didn’t determine the inclination of His heart toward me.
Messages like these bear repeating over and over again in churches. In fact, repetition, especially outside the month of January, might be the key. I’ll be the first to admit that it is incredibly possible these very words were spoken over me, but my heavy-laden, clogged soul needed its spiritual ears cleaned out.
To break through the chains of debt, we must commit to speaking specific and vulnerable truths into the lives of people whose souls long for financial hope. Use these sayings and others like them, then rinse and repeat.