Oh God, Please Send Me Money!
One of the most significant and puzzling discoveries of my Christian life has been this: spiritual does not equal successful. They are associated, but not equivalent.
Discern the subtle wording of Scripture. It does not say the fear of the Lord is the entirety of wisdom, only the beginning of it. Psalm 111:10: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom...
See also Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10.
Being spiritual--a humble, submissive relationship with the Lord--is the beginning or foundation of wisdom. Being successful, though, is found in the middle and outer realms of wisdom. Reflect on this. You can be spiritual, but not have relational wisdom and struggle in your relationships. You can be spiritual, but not have health and nutritional wisdom and self-create health problems. You can be spiritual, but not have work-related wisdom and fail to flourish in your vocational life. And relevant to our subject, you can be spiritual, but not have financial wisdom and remain in poverty or barely enough living. Spiritual does not equal successful.
Think about names and faces. How many Christians do we know have a genuine daily relationship with Jesus, yet fail or stagnate perpetually in certain areas of life? How many faithful intercessors continue, year after year, to have health problems, low finances, and severe bouts of loneliness? How many God-loving, Bible-believing pastors can barely pay their bills, or keep the sheep from killin' each other? Spiritual does not equal successful. Spiritual is merely the beginning, the foundation, of wisdom.
Psalms vs Proverbs
The distinction between spirituality and success is as distinct as Psalms and Proverbs. The location and order of these two books in our Bible is impeccably providential.
Psalms: How to be Spiritual
Psalms, the largest book in Scripture, perfectly in the middle, teaches us how to be spiritual, the beginning or foundation of all life. There we learn to worship, sing, give thanks, pray, intercede, pour out our souls to God, perceive His presence and voice, and interface with God's reality.
Proverbs: How to be Successful
Immediately following Psalms is the book of Proverbs, a writing that teaches us how to be successful in life's practical arenas: relationships, economics, leadership, work ethic, business, perspectives, and so on. Proverbs guides our interface with earthly reality.
Practical success eludes many Christians because they have "settled in Psalms", so to speak. Our head is in the clouds of spiritual reality, in a good way, but never fully present on earth and its reality. Consequently, we have verdant spiritual lives and nice communion with God, but continue to fail or stagnate in practical, earthly arenas that require specialized wisdom.
You may not believe it because it is pretty rare, but there are Christians who are spiritual and who also have quality relationships, healthy bodies, calling-based careers they love, and financial bounty. This does not mean they are entirely suffering-free or inoculated from the occasional tribulations all faithful Christians face. Rather, these comprehensive overcomers have discerned, balanced, and maximized the duality of life. Like Ezekiel, they are masterfully suspended between heaven and earth (Eze 8:3). They are both heavenly-minded and earthly-relevant. They walk in both Psalms and Proverbs simultaneously. They are both spiritual and successful.
We cannot settle in a Psalms reality that was intended to be only the beginning, the foundation. We must advance into Proverbs and also succeed in practical arenas. And just to be clarion, this is not success for vainglorious or selfish or superficial reasons. Our success reflects a dominant Lord Jesus Christ who is competent at more than just saving people from hell (2Co 9:8, Eph 1:23, 3Jn 1:2).
Three Roadblocks that Divert Financial Traffic
Financial success does not mean joining the hyperprosperity materialists, those hustling Christianity and its gullible donors. There is a Biblical, healthy, ethical, Jesus-centered, conscientious prosperity we can embrace. That begins with identifying the attitudinal roadbloacks of financial traffic.
Financial traffic and vehicular traffic are analogous. They both can be diverted through roadblocks. Just as roadblocks force cars to detour and delay their arrival at a desired destination, so also financial roadblocks detour money and delay its arrival into our life. Though several roadblocks could be mentioned, I will highlight three I see often among Christians struggling financially.
Money cannot be a preoccupation. If money is an obsession or idol or even a worry (Mt 6:25-34), we incur God's displeasure and roadblock financial traffic away. Ever notice how the more we obsess over something the more it escapes us? The Lord Himself is the only crazed obsession we are permitted to have. Everything else must be downgraded to a healthy passion.
1Timothy 6:10 (NIV): For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 (NIV): Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.
Money cannot be solipsistic. If money is approached selfishly, with My Wants as the compulsive center, we incur God's displeasure and roadblock financial traffic away. James 4:3 (NIV): When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
James is not condemning pleasure as a whole, nor is he condemning all pleasure-oriented expenditures. Scripture often blesses and encourages the enjoyment of non-sinful pleasures (Ps 16:11, Deu 20:6, Neh 8:10, Ps 37:11, Ecc 2:24-26, 5:18-20, 9:9, Jer 33:6). Paul says God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment (1Ti 6:17). James is addressing a contextualized audience with more sinister and hedonistic habits, indicated by the aggressive language he uses in James 4:1-10 (NIV): ...fights...quarrels...desires battling within...kill...covet...you do not ask God...wrong motives...adulterous people...friendship with the world...enmity against God...wash your hands you sinners, purify your hearts you double-minded...
He was telling these particular Christians they would roadblock their own wishes and prayers by being so narcissistic. Search your heart! On the surface we may seem selfless and benevolent, but deeper within we may conceal mud puddles of financial narcissism.
Money cannot be approached sloppily or randomly. There is a method to money. There are roads and highways that finances travel on. In Biblical language we call this wisdom, or more specifically, financial wisdom. Proverbs 8:18,21 say (NIV): With me [Wisdom] are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity...bestowing a rich inheritance on those who love me and making their treasuries full.
Jumpstarting Financial Literacy
Many Christians are not economically empowered because they do not understand money. Here are four simple preliminary truths to jumpstart financial literacy. The fourth and final truth will be our focus for the rest of the article.
Money is not a mystery.
It is not impossible to understand financial traffic or how to influence it. It does require wisdom, but it is not a sophisticated mystery decrypted only by the highly educated or financially talented.
Money is not a miracle.
If money were a miracle, only faith-filled Christians who persevere in prayer could produce it. Since all types of people possess money, and lots of it, we know money cannot be a miracle inherently or only. Moreover, it is well-established that some of the most spiritual saints are also some of the most financially floundering.
To clarify, at times the people of God truly need a financial miracle and He will supply it. Understand, though, it is not His plan that we live on miracle manna forever. That is protocol only for the desert. His plan is that we graduate into the self-perpetuating abundance of a promise land.
Money is not a mercy gift.
If money were an act of mercy from God, then He is the cruelest person I know, because many of His people are languishing financially, not to mention impoverished children across many nations. But He is not cruel, and money is not emotional. Financial traffic does not respond to feelings or conditions. If it did, tears, pain, hunger, nakedness, even a good sob story, could produce it freely.
Money is a trade for something of value.
Money follows value. Money is a trade for something valuable and desirable--a good, a service, a skill, a rarity, a novelty, information, counsel, beauty--literally anything valued and wanted by people. The greater the value, the greater the monetary trade.
Influencing Financial Traffic through Value
Money is a trade for something of value. The concept is omnipresent, true for Christians and atheists, true for individuals, organizations, and nations. Financial betterment is simpler than some Christians think, yet more complex than other Christians think. Attitudinal roadblocks out of the way or minimized, flourishing financially requires influencing financial traffic by increasing your value.
If you have struggled financially for significant periods of time, it is because you have not developed sufficient value in one or more of four dimensions. Enough rebuking spirits...pretty sure you got 'em all. Gain financial wisdom, and add Proverbs-action to your Psalms-spirituality.
(1) Increase Your Economic Value to Christ's Kingdom
The Lord knows how much you are worth--not existentially, but economically. If He cannot trust you with little, you will not be entrusted with much (Lk 16:10-13). The enemy also knows your financial worth. He knows if you are financially dangerous to his agenda--or not. Money is unequivocally important in the spiritual world, and both sides of the front recognize financial pivot-people who can further their cause.
To draw financial traffic, then, you must increase your economic value to the Lord and His kingdom agenda. This will pique the Lord's attention to want to trust you with more, to force the wealth of the wicked to change sides (Ecc 2:26).
Contribute financially to kingdom purposes. When we consistently support kingdom expenses, we increase our economic value to the Lord. We quite literally become His financial ally and helper. Consequently, He redirects more financial traffic our way. Paul said much about this in 2Corinthians 9:6-13.
Show benevolence to the poor. When we consistently show kindness to the poor around us, we increase our economic value to God even more. We comfort those He is grieved for (Ps 146:7, Mt 25:35-40). More financial traffic is redirected our way. Proverbs 28:8 says straightforwardly (NIV), "Whoever increases wealth by taking interest or profit from the poor amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor."
Discover and grow into your calling. Our God-given calling reveals the glory of Christ on earth (2Co 2:14). Therefore, it is bountifully funded by Him (Ecc 5:18-20). If we research, discover, and grow into that calling, we increase our economic value to God yet again. He traffics more funding our way.
(2) Increase Your Economic Value through Personal Abilities
Proverbs 22:29 (NASB): Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before obscure men.
Ecclesiastes 10:10 (NIV): If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success.
An NFL quarterback makes money for the same reason a church planter does. A supermodel makes money for the same reason a bank manager does. People always have and always will give money to someone useful. How useful are you? What do you do that is so visceral and consistent that you do not have to try hard to do it? What do you have or do that increases your value to individuals, groups, or systems?
Moses said God gives His people "power to get wealth" (Deu 8:18 NKJV). The Hebrew word here for "power" is koach, and in this context it more specifically means "ability or strength." The more exact functional sense of the phrase, then, is that God gives us abilities through which we can create personal economy. And no one is left out. You have something(s) or can do something(s) that, when well-developed, can be valuable enough to create bounty. You might have to pinpoint it, develop it, or make other adjustments to accommodate it, but God cannot lie. The Hebrew root system, of which Deuteronomy 8:18 is a part, cannot and will not fail to nourish and support the branches (Ro 11:17,18). You and I, Gentile believers, are the branches.
Abandon your worry over what you cannot do. Resist focusing on others and their particular powers. With prayer, inventory yourself. Research your destiny design. Find the signature strengths immanent to your calling. Develop them to a high level of skill as a service to God's purposes. Increase your economic value through personal abilities.