Do not worry! But do plan!
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Matthew 6:34 Take therefore no thought for tomorrow: for tomorrow shall take thought of the things for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Over the last few weeks my wife and I had some discussions about our future. Every now and then we all need to ask ourselves (and if we're married, also our spouse) questions like: Where are we going? What's our purpose? Are we heading in the right direction?
One of the questions that we now start to seriously consider is: How are we going to finance our old age? What kind of retirement plan will we set in place over the next 3+ decades to make sure we can live once we're old?
We had some great discussions and have taken some first steps in this direction. Obviously, we want to follow Biblical principles here. And as we discussed Biblical principles on money, saving, future, etc. we realized how many people in the church do not follow God's principles. Because there are basically two extremes, and many Christians lean towards one of the two:
- Don't worry, God will provide. Some people take a verse like Matt. 6:34 (the verse I quoted at the beginning of this blog) to the extreme. And they simply spend whatever they have. They argue: "God told us to not worry about tomorrow. So we'll simply spend everything we have today, we'll eat a really nice (and expensive) dinner every other night, we'll travel quite a bit, we'll just enjoy life. The money we currently have will be gone around a week from now. But don't worry, God will provide!" We don't believe this extreme is Biblical.
- Provide for yourself. The other extreme is when people rely on their money more than they do rely on God. It's when people feel that "If I don't have at least in my bank account, then I don't feel safe!". And then they reach there, and they still don't feel safe. So they increase their saving goal, thinking that the first saving goal was simply not high enough. So once they reach the "real goal" they'll feel safe. Just to realize that they will always need more. We don't believe that this approach is Biblical either.
Many Christians lean towards one of these two extremes. But both are wrong!
First of all, the Bible does tell us to plan and to save. For example:
Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he has enough to finish it?
Jesus is not talking about a command. He is talking about common sense. If we're making any kind of investment, we first need to figure out whether we can afford it. And that goes with all financial matters, not just with "big things", not just with major investments. God wants us to plan out our finances, to budget, and to make sure that we live within our means. When we buy a pair of shoes, a new smart phone or go out for a nice dinner, then God wants us to make sure first that we have the money to do that. Not just having the money in our pocket today. But also making sure that we have enough money for our necessities to live the rest of the month, until the next paycheck is coming in.
There's another story that doesn't speak directly about money, but about "facing worldly realities": The story of Caleb, when the Israelites tried to enter the promised land the first time.
Numbers 13:2 Send men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall you send a man, every one a leader among them.
God gives them very detailed instructions.
Numbers 13:18-20 And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwell there, whether they are strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it is good or bad; and what cities there are that they dwell in, whether in camps, or in strongholds; And what the land is, whether it is rich or poor, whether there be wood in it, or not. And be of good courage, and bring some of the fruit of the land. Now the time was the time of the first ripe grapes.
God wanted the nation of Israel to know EXACTLY what was waiting for them. He didn't just say "Go up, and then whatever comes against you, I'll deal with it!" God wanted them to know EXACTLY what it would take for them to take the land.
In the same way, it is not Faith to not face financial realities, to not think about them. Budgeting, living within ones means, is essential, and it's an expression of Faith. Planning for the future (Moving, Kids education, emergency funds, retirement, etc.) is a step of faith.
Many people quote Matt. 6:34 and simply say "God told us not to worry! So let's just not think about it!" But they forget the verse before that:
Matthew 6:33 But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
We don't have to worry IF we seek God first and do what God says! And God tells us to plan, to budget, to face financial realities, and to know exactly "where we are at" and "what we need in the future" financially. Faith without acknowledging these financial realities isn't Faith. It's ignorance!
But the other extreme is equally dangerous. Maybe even more dangerous. It's when we start putting our trust in money rather than putting our trust in God. It's when we trust the income of our job more than we trust that God will provide. It's when we think that "once I own that house, then I'll be fine" rather than trusting in God's promises. Anytime we put our trust in anything other than God, it's an idol. We are often tempted to laugh at what the Israelites did, aren't we? I mean, building a Golden Calf in the desert, calling it "the God who brought us out of Egypt"? Hello! Are these guys stupid?
Well, it's easy to say that from the outside. But how often do we do something like this in our hearts too? God provides for all our needs, everything looks great. But then we start thinking "You know, something might happen. I still need to come up with a way to make more money, so I have more savings, just in case!" Let's be honest, we do these kinds of things. We experience how God miraculously provides for us. But then we still don't trust Him, and feel the need to provide more for ourselves. So with some part of our hearts, we start worshipping money as our God. And we follow what money tells us to do (get another job, to make more money), rather than following God.
People with such attitudes can also do crazy things. Maybe they work crazy jobs, maybe they don't dare to spend the smallest amount on themselves, simply because they are afraid that "maybe one day I'll need this money for something more important". Such fears can paralyze people, and leave them in lifelong bondage.
Actually, Jesus in the same passage also warns of this danger
Matthew 6:19-21 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
If we think that we have to provide for ourselves, then we are not exercising Faith either. Then we don't trust in God's provisions. And we simply live like the rest of the world, chasing money.
Both extremes are very dangerous. Not saving, having no sense of financial needs for now or the future, simply trusting that "God will provide" is not Faith. But putting our trust in our money or posessions (e.g. our house) is even more displeasing to God.
So where do we draw the line? Where's the right "middle ground"? Well, that's where we have to ask God. Because everybody has a different life story, and God has different callings for all of us. I believe that for some people, God calls them to go towards one side. There are many people who live with very little financial resources. They feel that God has called them to just "go and God will provide". For others, God has a different calling. For some people, God is telling them: "Have this stable job, make a plan for the next 40 years to earn much, tithe and give faithfully, and plan and budget well."
Paul in the New Testament gave up all his riches for the sake of Christ. He didn't plan financially any longer, he just went wherever God called him to go, without any financial security (One extreme). King David and King Solomon were called to live with great riches and great financial security (The other extreme).
I don't know where you fall within this spectrum. That's something only you and God can find out, nobody can do that for anybody else. But I do want to encourage all of us (including myself) to not fall into either of these extremes.
Don't worry about your future. God will provide! But do plan! And be realistic. And be faithful in the way you manage what God has given you today. And He will take care of your needs tomorrow!
Father, thank you for being faithful in providing for all our needs. Help us to be faithful to you as well. Help us to manage well, tithe, give, save, budget well and plan well. And as we do our part, we know that you will give us whatever we need.
In Jesus' name, Amen!
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