Money: How much is enough?

money_enough_1Rejoice: Limits help us make choices.

by Frank Stirk

I figure it’ll take me two or three days to write this article. Maybe I could finish it in a day, but my body wouldn’t thank me for it. There are only so many hours I can put into one session without my eyes and my hands and my brain starting to ache from being too long on the computer. So I’ll set myself a limit for the day and pick it up again tomorrow. But neither can I take all the time in the world to write this. I’m limited by a deadline. There are others involved in producing this magazine who need me to get it done on time.

All our lives are like that. They’re full of limits, those that we place on ourselves and those that others place on us. When we try to live without limits, things like greed, self-indulgence and lust overtake us—and we end up harming ourselves and those around us.

The Bible is full of limits, too. Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not envy, do not live as the pagans do, do not worry, don’t be afraid, and so on. The only limitless activity we’re commanded to do is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. Everything else about living a godly life flows from that.

One of the biggest problems our world faces today is we’ve exchanged a limitless love of God with a limitless love of wealth— an insatiable appetite for more and more possessions and all the money it takes to buy them. It’s so powerful that just about everyone can get caught up in it.

“You don’t mess with money”

“You get a homeless person who gets into a fight with someone and there’s an assault charge, it’s no big deal. They get some community hours,” says Salvation Army Major Geoff Ryan, who ministers among Toronto’s underprivileged. “But if they try to pass a bad $5 bill, then they’re going to be crucified. You don’t mess with money, basically.”

“Money is sort of the last taboo. We talk so little about it,” says Tim Ernst with The Navigators in downtown Vancouver. “I think it’s a huge blind spot in our culture generally. We have a 12-step program for every possible conceivable form of addiction—except for money. We just accept our culture’s veneration of people with money.

“Maybe Donald Trump should be in a 12-step program.”

Jesus understood our craving for wealth and its power to corrupt everything else, most importantly our relationship with the Father. We cannot worship God and money at the same time, he said. It has to be one or the other.

For the Christian, the choice is obvious— or it should be. But choosing God means being willing to “store up treasures in Heaven” while radically trusting in Him to meet our most basic needs here on Earth.

“I would say our daily bread is enough,” says Russell Corben, co-author of a new Bible study on wealth, Your Money or Your Life. “Jesus says that we are to pray, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ If we really needed more than that, then I think the Lord’s Prayer would be different—‘Give me enough for tomorrow.’ But Christ doesn’t say that.”

The pleasure or the glory

Some years ago, the Spirit convicted Lorne Jackson, a successful Ontario businessman, that everything he had belonged to God. “When you realize that God owns 100 per cent, then you begin to look at things differently,” he says. Because when we view our wealth as actually God’s, it makes us realize that it’s not right to ask, “how can I best use my wealth for my pleasure?” Instead, we should ask, “how would He want me to use it for His purposes and for His glory?”

As Jackson discovered, every other path leads to a dead end. “One of the reasons we’re often tempted to get so focused on how much we make is because for a man, it’s so we can feel ‘successful,’” he says. “But we may lose our family and everything else in the bargain. Well, then are we successful? No, not even in the world’s eyes.”

God, on the other hand, measures financial “success” not by how much we earn but by our willingness to part with it, if that’s His will. What Jackson did was figure out prayerfully how much he needed—and then promise God he would give away the rest. The result was a contentment he had never known before.

“That was a turning point for me, not only in my understanding of money but in my relationship with the Lord,” he says.

“Those I know who have done that say things like this: ‘Lorne, the more I give, the more I have. I just can’t give it away fast enough.’ Had they not figured out what the answer is to how much is enough, they never would’ve had that blessing.”

Ernst tells a similar story about an insurance broker he led to Christ. “As a result of his faith, he took on a new emphasis,” he says. “That is helping high net-worth clients learn how to give to charity. His whole thing is, ‘Give it away, so that you can make the world a better place.’ He doesn’t describe it in more Christian terms than that, but that’s the impulse that really drives him professionally now.”

Voluntary lifestyle limits

“My dad basically made the decision to freeze his assets,” says Mark Petersen, executive director of the Bridgeway Foundation. “He decided that a certain amount was enough and that 100 per cent of profit after that amount would be channeled into this foundation.”

It provides grants in support of projects and charities that express Christian love. Like Jackson, Petersen encourages families to budget according to their needs and give away the rest. But he also goes a step further by urging them to “try to live under that level,” since it’s probably still more than we really need, anyway.

“For example,” he says, “when my wife and I tried to figure out where we were going to live, we could’ve bought a big, four-bedroom house out in the country, but we intentionally chose a three-bedroom town house. It was smaller space, so we didn’t have to fill all these extra rooms.”

As for deciding where the money we don’t need should go, Petersen advises some personal “soul-searching to assess why God has put you on this Earth.” “I think it’s helpful for those that are trying to be philanthropic to determine what area you really want to make a difference in,” he says. “That way, you can really channel your energy and your funding into that particular area.”

Ryan thinks what these men are doing is “great”—and yet he doubts it will have much impact on most people in the pews.

Vast middle class

“The upper economic elite of Christendom don’t really set the tone for the culture,” he says. “The problem is the vast middle-class, which make up the majority of evangelicals, who use their resources for themselves as opposed to creating opportunities, economic and otherwise, for other folks—the last, the lost and the least.”

In fact, the silence from the pulpit on topics such as wealth and stewardship can be deafening. “I find that pastors seldom talk about it, because they don’t really get out and connect with the businessperson in the business world,” says Jackson.

“A pastor,” he suggests, “could order 10 copies of SEVEN and personally hand-deliver them to 10men in his church in their offices. It gives the pastor an excuse to be there, to connect with the min their business environment— and he drops off a magazine that has input into their lives.”

Still, Jackson hopes the current global financial meltdown might cause some to reconsider who they can trust to see them through this crisis, and that “they’ll realize God is in control.”

So far, Ernst hasn’t met many people who are responding to the crisis on that basic level. But as with any crisis, it’s giving him a unique window of opportunity to talk about Jesus.

“When the disciples were going through the storm, Jesus was present,” he says. “And whether the storm lasts a long time or a short time, this is a great time to experiment and see if He won’t come through and honour the trust that you give to Him. Just take a proportion of the trust that you’ve been investing in your wealth and add that trust to your relationship with Jesus— and watch what happens.”

Frank Stirk is a freelance writer based in North Vancouver. He is the B.C. regional correspondent for ChristianWeek.

The article above was featured in the January 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.