There are many in today's church who hear the word stewardship and think it has to do with making good financial decisions. However, there is more to stewardship than finances. A basic definition of stewardship is, "the management of property and/or affairs". When one is a good steward he has learned how to effectively manage his property AND his affairs.
I have noticed that many folks behave in ways that indicate that they believe the words stewardship, management, budget, balance, etc. are defined as restrictions, limitations, confinements, etc. On the contrary, stewardship, management, budgeting, balance, etc. are nothing more or less than planning and prioritizing. It is vital to today's Christian church that we learn how to plan and work our plans so we can be a successful and a shining light that the rest of the world would want to emulate. I have never found any biblical scripture that tells the church to emulate the world. Time and time again we are warned that the ways of this world lead to destruction and we are reminded that the following of Jesus leads us to abundance. Jesus says in John 10:10-11, "The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy; I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep." Jesus gave His life so that we could have life AND have it more abundantly than the un-saved world.
Abundant life. It is something we all seem to want. As a matter of fact, I've never met anyone, Christian or non-Christian, who didn't want an abundant life as described in the Bible. The problem is that most folks do not seem to have an understanding of Biblical abundance and thus, they are being misguided by the false light of materialism. Biblical abundance is a life lived to it's best and to it's fullest. It is a lifestyle lived in safety, reward, love, blessing, charity, health, purity, grace, contentment, honor, excitement. It does not contain regret, remorse, guilt, discourse, strife, loneliness, anger, bitterness, etc. The Bible is literally an instruction manual on how to avoid the pitfalls of life and how to gain an abundant life. If only we'd begin reading it with an open mind and heart. If only we'd apply it's life giving words with repentance and thankfulness.
What good is it for a person to have an abundance of money or property if he does not have healthy relationships or time to enjoy it? What good is all the time in the world if one does not have anyone to share it with or is suffering from a lack of food? How is one to obtain strong healthy relationships with others if he is never available to cultivate those relationships? When learning to be a good steward we must learn how to prioritize our finances, time and relationships.
As of today, America as a whole is facing tremendous financial uncertainty. Our average household debt is more than any previous generation could ever imagine. Our corporate debt is leading us into ownership by foreign entities. Our national debt is leading us into slavery by foreign governments. Our democratic government is considering and implementing measures that are quickly leading us from a capitalist economy into a full-blown socialist economy. How did we get into this situation? Well, when one looks beyond all the excuses, name calling and finger pointing the answer is poor fiscal management. The wheelers, dealers and powers that be had/have skewed priorities and poor planing. It is obvious to anyone who's ever opened a Bible, that these guys have not been looking to the Bible for principals when it comes to fiscal management, ("the thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy..."). Unfortunately, American citizens also stopped following the Bible with regard to fiscal management and began following the wheelers and dealers who have lead us down a path of destruction.
The average American seems to have forgotten that the cornerstone of our nation's wealth lies within it's foundation. The foundation of our nation is not our government or corporations. The corporations are the walls/support beams and the government is the roof. The foundation is each and every single individual family. It is Joe and Mary Smith's savings account. It is Ben and Sue Jone's retirement investments. It is old man Martin's 2 bedroom, 1 bath home where he and late Mrs. Martin trained up 5 children. Looking at the savings rates vs. credit/loan debt, American families are in the negative. Looking at retirement investments vs. inflation, future retirees are in the red. Looking at home ownership vs. home mortgages, mortgage brokers and attorneys are the only ones seeing black in their ledgers. The financial foundation of our nation is faulted. When the foundation of a house cracks the rest of the structure becomes unsound and unsafe. In time, if that foundation is not shored up and repaired, the entire structure will collapse. American families seem to be looking at our government for a fix to our nation's financial problems. Unfortunately, repairing the roof on this structure will not prevent it's demise because the foundation is faulted.
I do not personally know anyone or group of people, for that matter,who can repair the financial trouble of our nation's corporations and government. However, I do know that the average American citizen is in the position to shore up and repair the financial foundation of our nation. It all begins with each individual family. We can return to Biblical principals and learn how to effectively manage our finances. By paying off our individual debt and funneling those loan payments into savings accounts and retirement investments, we have the ability inject a tremendous amount of cash into our nation's financial base. Not to mention, debt-free is equal to a whole lota stress elimination.
Now, becoming debt free is not an easy task to undertake, especially when we are currently looking at a 5+% inflation rate. But, hey, it could be worse - I remember the 70's when the inflation rate was hovering around 14%. However, do you really need that Starbucks coffee, and you currently have 23 pair of shoes - do you really need another pair? Do you find yourself complaining about the amount of time your children spend on the X-Box - then why are you buying them another game for it? Are you going out to supper and movies each and every week because you're bored or maybe you're uncomfortable spending one-on-one time with your husband and children? How many days during the past year has your family actually spent in that RV, 3, 5, how about 10 - how much are those payments every month? Most families are in debt because they've developed some very poor spending habits. Most have fallen prey to the lies of materialism, the lies of, "well, after all, you work so hard - you deserve a few toys.", "The Bible does say that Christ came to give life and give it more abundantly." Yes, we all work hard and deserve some reward AND Christ did come to give us an abundant life, BUT when one has to go into debt to have these things, is it really abundant living OR is it slavery to the credit card and loan companies? If one has to borrow against future earnings for anything other than a home (they generally appreciate in value AND it gains equity), they are enslaving themselves to that lender. Luke 16:13 says, "No servant 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. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." It is not God's will for any of His children to be enslaved by anything of this world.
Financial stewardship. Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me."
1. We must accept personal responsibility for our financial situations. No one forced us to purchase that 4 bedroom/3 bath house, the new furniture and big screen T.V. for the living room OR that $40K car. Realistically, we could have gotten by without them and many other "extras".
2. It is time we sit down and identify our poor financial habits. Begin to carry a small notebook and record ALL purchases for an entire month - even that vending machine cola. At the end of the month, what did you find? Is Wal-Mart an impulse buying trap for you? If so, shop else where - you'll save money. Do you go out to supper frequently because you're too tired to cook? If so, consider "Once A Month Cooking", "Shared Cooking" with another family, "Assignment Cooking" for your teenagers - brainstorm and try various ideas until you find one that works for your family. Are you embarrassed that you drive the oldest car on the block? Reality check yourself and get over it.
3. We must seek forgiveness from God for our poor stewardship. Yes, failing to be a good steward of the blessings God gives us is a sin and we must repent of that sin. James 4:17, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." Apologizing and continuing in the sin is only remorse. Apologizing and choosing to change is repentance.
4. Look at the consequences of refusing to change. No changes equals continued financial stress in your marriage and family. (My Aunt J always said that if a husband and wife have financial troubles they will have every other sort of problem too. During the years that I've talked with and advised families with regard to debt, I've found she was right.) No changes equals one more step towards bankruptcy, repossessions and foreclosure. No changes equals an ever expanding gap in the foundational fault of our nation's economy.
5. We must devise a financial plan and set goals. Call it budgeting, balancing, managing or whatever else makes you feel comfortable. Just make sure you get out a pencil, pad and calculator and DO IT. Be honest and realistic. Dave Ramsey and Larry Burkett have terrific budgeting tools - free to you. Just check out the Internet and your local library. (No I'm not going to give these to you - I've found that if you are not willing to do this yourself, then you are not willing to change.)
6. Implement the plan. Many years ago when I worked in the advertising industry, we had a sales manager who told her sales staff, "Make a plan and work the plan - you will be successful." She was right. Those who took her advise made very high commissions, those who ignored her advise got pink slips. Her sales force was one of the top in the nation for our company. There are times when your plan will have some kinks in it - that's O.K. Kinks just mean that you need to improve, expound upon, take away from or add to your plan.
Get Out Of Debt Strategy:
Luke 6:38, "Give and it shall be given unto you: good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." Continue to tithe and give offerings. Every American should be able to give 10% of his income to tithes and offerings, 10% to himself for savings (retirement, purchase of new home, college funds, replacement vehicle, etc.), and live on the remaining 80% with a little breathing room left over. If your family is not able to do this comfortably, then your family is in financial trouble and there needs to be some serious changes.
Pay off smallest credit card/loan first. Pay the minimum payment on all debts except for your smallest one, pay all the extra money you can toward it. (yeah, I know there are math guru's out there who will try to convince you and me that the loan with the highest interest rate should be paid off first. In a perfect world that is great, but we ain't perfect and if we had learned sound Biblical fiscal management to begin with, we wouldn't be in this situation today. You will need the emotional momentum that will come from paying off that smallest debt to motivate you to continue pressing forward.)
When that smallest debt is paid off move on up to the next smallest. Apply 100% of whatever you were paying with the last debt PLUS the minimum payment for this one.
Progress to next debts adding amounts paid on smaller debts. example:
Currently, you owe the following:
visa - $130 / payment $15
master card - $300 / payment $30
auto - $6,500 / payment $150
mortgage - $25,000 / payment $350
You can afford to pay an extra $20 per month towards your debt:
visa - $130 / you pay $35
master card - $300 / you pay $30
auto - $6,500 / you pay $150
mortgage - $25,000 / you pay $350
When visa is paid off:
master card - $300 / pay $65 (= $35 visa payment + $30 master card payment)
auto - $6,500 / you pay $150
mortgage - $25,000 / you pay $350
When master card is paid off:
auto - $6,500 / you pay $215 (= $65 from master card + $150 car payment)
mortgage - $25,000 / you pay $350
When auto is paid off:
mortgage - $25,000 / you pay $565 (= $215 from auto payment + mortgage)
When you pay off a debt DO NOT acquire more debt to replace it. By doing so you are only prolonging the agony. "If you can't pay cash you can't afford it so, you'll just have to survive without it."
I know my words may seem harsh to some folks. I do not write them to be harsh or critical, I write them to illuminate a path to financial freedom. It is God's desire that we have an abundant life in Him. I pray these suggestions will help you begin that journey toward the abundant financial freedom He desires all His children to have. I occasionally have reason to drive into the city. For the past year I've noticed that Dave Ramsey has billboard ads that read, "Act Your Wage". This is a simple concept that seems to elude many. It has been far too long since the majority of American families acted their wage. I see most families struggling to maintain a lifestyles consistent with the the folks next door, their brother-in-law or even the pretend families shown on T.V. sitcoms. These families are not happy or content. They are miserably chasing more and more stuff or recreation that, in time, will rot, rust and wither away. God wants to bless us with a peace that the rest of the world longs for and desires. If we Christians have peace with whatever financial situation God blesses us with, then the rest of the world will desire that too. The lost and dying of this world only look for more of the material because they don't see peace and contentment within us. How can they when we are chasing the same lies they are? In order to find that peace, some may need to downsize, some may need to cut back a lot, while others may simply need to cut a few small corners. Where ever you are please know that if your family is struggling financially, God wants to deliver you from that struggle. However, please realize that the deliverance comes through repentance and a change of habits. Although it is not easy to change years of ingrained habits, it is so worth it. When we are in a position to take our focus off financial stresses and instead reposition our focus on growing the Kingdom of God through our giving (financially and through volunteering) and growing our savings for future needs, we then have the freedom to enjoy the two other most important aspects of good stewardship, our time and our relationships.