When I say we are to give enough that it matters, I mean that we should give enough that it makes a difference to our lives, to our lifestyles. Erwin Lutzer says it well: “Those who give much without sacrifice are reckoned as having given little.” We are meant to give enough that there are things we cannot do and cannot have because of our dedication to the Lord’s work…
For some people, giving away 10% may mean they are giving enough that it matters. Maybe they cannot have quite the vacation they would otherwise have; maybe they are buying a used car instead of a new one; maybe they are saving for an extra couple of years before fixing up the kitchen or putting the down payment on that home. For other people this may come when they are giving 2% of their income. For others it may come when they are giving 75%. My encouragement is to keep raising the amount you give until you feel it, until it matters.
“If a man knows to make use of present abundance in a sober and temperate manner, with thanksgiving, prepared to part with everything whenever it may be the good pleasure of the Lord, giving also a share to his brother, according to the measure of his ability, and is also not puffed up, that man has learned to excel, and to abound. This is a peculiarly excellent and rare virtue, and much superior to the endurance of poverty.” – Calvin, Commentary on Philippians 4:10-13.
The Bible is clear that money issues are very closely connected to heart issues. Money has the ability to expose all kinds of idols of the heart. This is true whether a person is a miser or a spendthrift. Money can be an idol in want and in plenty; frugality can be done wrong and done right. When we discuss frugality, we must realize that we are talking about the heart more than the home.
The actual definition of frugality can differ from person-to-person. Some see it as meaning little more than economical so that a frugal person is a person who buys things at lower prices than another person might. I think this is what most people mean by the term and how most people live out their attempts at frugality. They feel they are being frugal when they buy things using coupons rather than paying full price and when they purchase clothes or other necessities at thrift stores instead of buying them at regular stores.
Of course there is certainly nothing wrong with saving money on life’s necessities and if such a thing is possible, it is usually wise. The problem with this kind of frugality, though, is that a person can still have an irrational or unbiblical love of “stuff” while trying to be frugal. Saving money can be a good thing, but it doesn’t matter much if we are saving money in one area so we can just spend it in another. By saving money on groceries a person may then just use his savings to buy more of other things—more than is unnecessary. Is it really frugal to save fifteen cents on a box of macaroni but to have a house stuffed to the rafters with things purchased at the local Goodwill?
I think the greater ideal with frugality, and something a lot of people miss, is the ideal of not just paying less, but buying less and thus avoiding waste and avoiding becoming captive to stuff. True frugality is not spending less but having less. A truly frugal person doesn’t buy just as much stuff at lower prices, but learns to live with less of it. If you find that your efforts in frugality help you spend less but leave you with a house that is equally filled with stuff, you are not being frugal. A kind of frugality that really hits the mark is this one: “It’s about a simpler, less complicated lifestyle, not about being cheap. While those who put a frugal lifestyle into practice do tend to be thrifty, there is a method to their madness” (source). It goes on to say “People who practice frugal living tend to look for ways to save time as well as money, and generally prefer a slower, more laid back pace instead of the hectic ‘rat race’ life so many others lead.” Now we’re talking.
So in this article when I discuss frugality, I am talking about it as I believe many live it—involving a great emphasis on saving money, not necessarily on living with less stuff. It’s about the deals and bargains, about the thrill of saving a few pennies here and a few dollars there. It is something that can go from a minor distraction to a passion to a lifestyle and almost to a way people define themselves.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably struggled with what God wants you to do with your money before. Should I sell all my possessions, live under a bridge with rice and beans and give away my entire paycheck? How do my kids fit into that picture? What about planning for retirement? For Christians who are serious about their faith these can be heart wrenching / guilt inducing questions that can truly torment our consciences.
I’ve found this post by J.D. Greear to be very helpful in thinking about giving, generosity, and possessions.
He begins by identifying two different extremes that Christians often hold with regard to possessions. Either:
God wants you to give 10%, and after that you can do whatever you want with your money.
Whatever you give, you should be giving more.
The second position, he says, is much better, but it’s imbalanced and leads to despair and constant guilt. He gives three problems with it:
It never ends.
It’s out of sync with what the Bible says elsewhere about possessions.
It ends up as a spiritualized sense of “compulsory” giving (contra 2 Corinthians 8-9).
Greear goes on to provide a scriptural matrix on this issue. “Any one of these principles, taken alone, will lead you out of balance and into error. You are to hold all 6 of these principles in a reverent tension. . . . We like rules, formulas, and black and white prescriptions. Instead, the Bible gives complementary principles we are to hold in tension.”
It is the joyful duty of those who have to share with those who have not.
We live with radical generosity to others in response to Jesus’ radical generosity to us.
The Holy Spirit must guide us as to which sacrifices we are to make.
God provides for His people richly and delights in our enjoyment of His material gifts.
Don’t trust in riches and don’t define your life by the abundance of your possessions.
Matt Perman from Wha’ts Best Next recently wrote an outstanding article on why spending alone does not stimulate the economy. Here’s an excerpt.
…it is pretty easy to see the fallacy in the idea that consumer spending stimulates the economy. Here’s a short example to show why.
Let’s say that the “economy” of my family is in bad shape. Do my wife and I conclude that it’s “time to go spend more money” so that we can get things back on track? Clearly not. That would be a devastating course of action. Instead, we would embark on two strategies: (1) save more and (2) earn more money (= produce more goods and services of value).
The same holds true when we think of the economy as a whole. Nothing changes simply by increasing the number of people in the predicament.
To illustrate this, let’s say that there were 300 people in my family and we were running out of food. Would that change anything about the need for our fundamental strategy of saving more and producing more? No. We’d have more people to produce things, which would be a benefit, but nobody would say “hey, we’re short on food, so let’s start eating more!”
Does anything change if we extend this out to 3,000 people? Or 300,000? Or 300,000,000? Not at all. The reason is that there is still a finite amount of resources. We cannot invent economic goods out of thin air.
I’m not saying that there is no role for spending in the economy. I’m saying that saving and earning must come first. You cannot spend unless you have something to spend.
I haven’t written much about the economic crisis, mainly because it seems like more than enough has been said about it already. It’s apparent that America’s God of money is dead (for the time being) and everyone is in a panic wondering who will save them now. So far it looks like government is the front runner for our new messiah, I guess we’ll see how that works out for us.
While I haven’t written much about the economy I know that finances have been on many people’s minds, including mine. I just finished redoing our families budget and thought that I’d pass along a couple of resources that I found particularly helpful.
One really good tool that I used was a Budget Worksheet that I found on About.com, which gave me some good categories to start thinking in and breaking down my budget into.
Another very helpful tool that our church administrator recommended to me was the financial calculator from Crown Financial ministries. This calculator takes your income and tells you exactly how much you should be spending on each of the fundamental categories of a budget.
The two best pieces of advice that I’ve ever gotten on budgeting are:
It’s critical that you take the time to account for every single penny in your budget, at least when you are first starting one. There’s no way to know how to manage your money, if you don’t know where your money is going in the first place. This is also extremely freeing as it allows you to see the many ways that God already provides for you and builds faith that he will continue to do so as you get a stronger grasp on what he’s already done.
Make sure that your budget makes sense to you. Don’t try and cram categories or finances into unnatural places. Whatever you do, make sure that it makes sense to you and your way of thinking and obviously that it balances against your checkbook, since that’s the point