Financial planning is the broccoli of personal growth. It’s not fun. It takes time, discipline and attention, and the results usually don’t show up for a long time. Plus, a lot of us are already struggling financially here in the present — the last thing we want to do is plan for how we’re going to struggle in the future.
But for Christians, there is a huge extra dimension to all this. We’re called to live differently with our finances. To be generous and give freely. To avoid the love of money and hold everything God’s given us in an open palm. This is so counterintuitive to most financial planning that it looks downright foolish but, then, maybe that’s the point. “You cannot serve both God and money,” as Jesus says in Matthew 6:24.
This article is part of our New You series, produced in partnership with Unite Health Share Ministries.
That’s something Art Rainer is trying to convince Christians. He’s the author of books like The Money Challenge, and he believes it’s time for Christians to model a transformative mindset about money — one built around generosity instead of wealth accumulation. He says that financial health is going to look different for people who take the Bible seriously, but that might just be the healthiest way of all to live.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Tell me a little about work.
What I do now is I help people, not only with practical financial issues, but also help people understand the why. What does God’s scripture say about this topic of money? How do we flesh this out practically? What does this look like in our day-to-day lives? My hope is that I am able to be a part of a generation that gets financially healthy — not so that they can spend money on whatever they want, but so that they can live and give generously as God has designed us to do. There’s a reason He gives us these resources.
My hope is that I can help people get out of debt. Help people save for retirement. Help people have an emergency fund. All these good things, but not as an end in and of themself, because that’s ultimately going to disappoint. That’s not where our hope should be. But to have the freedom to be able to use these resources to advance God’s kingdom in our own community, and also around the world. I believe that God’s given us a tremendous opportunity and significant resources that we can leverage for His sake and for His glory.
What do you think is the fundamental disconnect between how the Bible talks about money and how we Christians in America think about money?
I believe that we are putting our hope in money and we’re seeing the consequences of that. We’re putting our hope for security, our hope for a better future, a hope for a sense of satisfaction, contentment — all those things we’re placing on money. But it was never meant to do that. Money in and of itself is not a bad thing. God didn’t just dump money to make us miserable, to draw us away from Him. We can use those things for His purpose and for His glory.
I look to 1 Timothy 6:17-19, where Paul is telling Timothy to tell the people in his church, specifically the rich, to not place their hope in wealth and the uncertainty of wealth, but into God. And then with our wealth, Paul goes on to say, to be generous with others. Be willing to share. And then by doing that, in verse 19, he says that, we will find true life or real life, depending on the translation that you read.
He’s not talking about eternal life, because he’s already talking to believers at this point. What he’s referring to is the contentment that we get when we start to align ourselves with God’s design for our lives.
So, where do we get it wrong? I think that we’re actually putting our hope into money and possessions. And it gets us into a lot of financial trouble. We get into cycles of discontentment and dissatisfaction. And then of course, we continue to try to get more. And it just never works out.
I think one of the reasons it’s so easy to slip into these cycles that you’re talking about is because we live in a world that does not see any spiritual element to our finances. How do we retrain our minds to see our finances as having a spiritual component?
Let me answer your question, by asking a question: “Why does God give us all of these resources?” And then, “Why does He talk about money throughout scripture?”
Money, possession, stewardship, there’s over two thousand verses about that very topic. So, why does He so frequently address this topic? Why does it seem to be such a very important topic to God? As you read scripture, what you see is that He’s not necessarily concerned about if you’re setting aside enough in your 529 plan for your kids in order to save for college. What He’s most concerned about is our heart management. And what we see is that money management reflects heart management.
He’s trying to help us understand that what we do with our finances demonstrates where we’re putting our hope in a very real, tangible way. We talk about making sure that we’re giving God our first and our best. That’s a difficult teaching, especially if you’re in financially tight times. He’s saying, “Hey, you need to trust me with this.” God talks about finances all the time because He’s passionate about our hearts. And money management reflects heart management.
The Bible warns about the love of money a lot. There’s the famous story, of course, of the rich young ruler who went away from Jesus, very sad, because he would not sell what he had and give to the poor. It’s easy for us to excuse ourselves from that — “Well, I don’t love money, I don’t think. I don’t feel like I love money.” — but obviously, it can creep into our lives in some very sly ways.
Yeah. So, back to the story of the rich young ruler. What’s fascinating about that story is that the rich young ruler is basically saying, “What do I need to have eternal life?” And Jesus says to give away everything.
We know that’s not what leads to salvation, but what Jesus was getting at was that this was where he was putting his hope. He was saying, “You’ve got to set this stuff aside. You can’t put your hope in this. You have to put your hope in me. That is how you get eternal life.”
He was asking him to give everything so that he could get everything. There’s a paradox that we see there.
A red flag would be regular disappointment, when something that you wanted to achieve doesn’t happen. Maybe you find yourself scrolling through Instagram and TikTok seeing these images of people on vacations and cars and all, and you find yourself jealous. There’s a sense of envy there. That shows that, one, you’re falling for a facade, because a lot of those things are fake to begin with. But two, you are placing your hope in something other than Christ.
A lot of people hear financial advisors talk about things like putting money aside and investing and just have to laugh because they’re living paycheck to paycheck — the idea of setting money aside just isn’t feasible. A lot of people are there. I’ve definitely been there. What does financial wisdom look like for them?
My encouragement to them is to start somewhere. I have something I put together called the 8 Money Milestones, and you can go into my website and find that under the resource tab. What you’ll find is that the very first milestone, number one, is to start giving. The reason you want to start there is because that’s where Scripture starts. Some of them will say, “Well, I can’t give anything because just everything’s too tight for me.” But once again, just start somewhere. Trust God. This is what God tells you to do.
Why do you think giving is prioritized in the Bible?
We see four different principles that the Bible hits on as relates to our generosity. Number one is that giving is to be a priority. That’s Proverbs 3:9, meaning that we are to give our first and our best.
Principle number two is that giving is to be done proportionately, meaning that we give according to what God has given us. So that’s percentage-based giving.
Number three is that giving is to be sacrificial. Giving is not always comfortable.
You look at the examples that we find in scripture with the widow’s mite, the Macedonians; this was not comfortable giving. They were not giving out of surplus. It was a real sacrifice for them to give.
Now, what I love about God is that He doesn’t just put this in the Bible and say, “Go do.” He leads us in this. God tells us that we’re to make giving a priority. How does He lead us in that? Well, Jesus. He gives us His first and His best. His one and His only.
Giving is to be done proportionally. How does He lead us in that? Well, God owns everything. Everything is already His. So He gives us the greatest gift known to man, Jesus. Giving has to be done sacrificially. You already know where I’m going with this. The answer is Jesus.
There are a lot of great causes out there, thanks to the internet, we know about them all. But we can’t give to them all. How do we prioritize where and how to be generous?
My recommendation based on what I’ve seen in the Bible, is to make the church your first place of giving. That is your priority, because it’s God’s priority. The local church is God’s plan to advance His kingdom around the world.
Now, you also said that there are a lot of great nonprofits that are out there, kingdom-advancing nonprofits, and there are. My encouragement is to start with the local church, but don’t ignore all of the other nonprofits. They’re doing some really good work. After you give to your local church, start considering some other great kingdom-advancing nonprofits that resonate with who you are and what you’re passionate about. Give according to how God has wired you and the passions that you have given, but start with the local church.