I was thinking recently about areas in my life that God has worked on and brought me forward. Prophet Graham challenged us a few weeks ago that our testimonies shouldn’t just be about the victory – otherwise they make others feel condemned that they haven’t “made it” – but should also include the struggle we went through first. One area that I really struggled in was finances. Since leaving school I’ve had a series of jobs, and for a single person living at home I earnt a decent amount, given that my expenses were low. On the outside, I would try and maintain the appearance that I was doing fine, that I was saving my money and putting it aside for a bigger goal.
The reality was very different. I struggled with low self-worth, and didn’t believe in who God had called me to be. When I would feel particularly low or bad about myself, I would try and spend my way to feeling better. This never worked. And, invariably, I would end up in a cycle of spending, debt, more spending, more debt. I’ve sat down and calculated how much money that I essentially wasted, and it’s a scary figure, well into the thousands. I hit rock bottom more than once, and know how scary the letters and calls of debt collectors can be.
So, what changed? Let me stress – there was no way “I” could get myself out of this. In my own strength I could, at best, paper over the cracks and keep the wolf from the door (barely). God let me get to a place of having to absolutely rely on Him because there was nothing left of me before things started to turn around. And, even then, it’s easy to think that with the smallest of victories you’re doing fine and don’t need help any more.
God obviously had to deal with how I saw myself and show me that my identity is in Christ. That’s a whole other testimony, and is still something I’m walking out by spending time reading what God says about me, letting the members of the body affirm and correct, and by being honest with myself and God when things aren’t going well. But God is also incredibly practical and, through guidance of those more experienced than me, has taught me some simple lessons to help in areas like this.
Firstly, I had to let others in to my finances. As a male in the culture we live in, that’s a hard thing to do. Why should I, as an adult, let my parents or my wife know in depth what I’m spending my money on? This wasn’t easy, and I tried numerous ways to hide how I was spending money to make it look like I was doing well. But, eventually, I’ve come to know the wonderful release of not bearing a financial burden on my own. Mary and I do all things jointly when it comes to money. We have a joint bank account, we sit and go through our spending regularly, and plan and budget together.
Secondly, as well as sharing I had to be able to give up control. The money we earn is ultimately not ours, but God’s, and we need to be good stewards of that. In my natural ability I struggle to do this – which is why I’m pleased God has blessed me with a wife who has a head for figures and loves to plan and save. Mary has oversight of our finances and, if she says it can’t be done or we need to wait until next month, I submit to her. This isn’t to say that I don’t make decisions, I do, and Mary often defers big spending questions to me. But the key is that we mutually submit, recognising the areas in which God has equipped the other and submitting to that.
Finally, God has taught me that it’s ok to spend money on myself! One of my big problems was that I didn’t believe that I deserved nice things and so when I did buy something I’d feel guilty about it. One of the things my dad has taught me is that you have to have some enjoyment from the money you earn, otherwise you begin to resent work. Now, instead of splurging randomly when I feel like it, I treat myself within reason to something that I really look forward to – a new game, a book, a nice dessert from our favourite café – and I’m free to enjoy it without feeling ashamed. It helps that I have a fun-loving wife who wants to enjoy life with me too.
God wants to bless us as His children, and gives us “all things richly to enjoy.” When we have true humility – a sane estimation of who we are in Christ – we can truly be generous with others, spend on ourselves, save as directed, and make decisions that are both informed and in faith that God will provide. There are plenty of good habits we can develop to help with our finances – tithing, for example – and the ones I’ve mentioned are just a few. I hope my testimony of overcoming in one area can inspire you to give over your financial burdens to the One for whom they’re not burdens at all.