Majoring in Life
Practical advice on handling money. Money isn't the problem—it's loving money that will twist your soul.
Scripture passages in this lesson are linked to this page for easy access.
Lesson 18: Money Under My Mattress
(And other ways of staying financially free)
Text written and copyrighted © 2002 by Manfred Koehler. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
The idea seemed strange to me, but I couldn't wait to try it out. I was in my senior year at Bible school, and most days I was as poor as a church mouse on a long vacation. But right then, with 150 bucks worth of small bills in my hands, I felt mildly rich.
The married students whose trailer I was about to visit weren't home. I knew that. That's why I was going. The only person present was their twelve-year-old son, Alan. He knew what was happening, so he let me inside.
Swearing Alan to secrecy, I searched for good places to hide the money. Nothing too hard—I wanted it all to be found. Slipping each bill into its hiding spot, I smiled. This was so much fun. They'd be finding this stuff for weeks. They sure needed it.
And it didn't seem to matter that I was giving away every thing I had.
Two months later my friend John slapped me on the back, his wife smiling beside him. "We found another five bucks today. It just keeps coming and coming, you rascal."
I cracked a grin. I was still poor, but I'd learned a big lesson: Happiness can be mine without a lot of money.
Crashing on Their Cash
In Turkey, where banks aren't a trusted institution, it's rumored that people have a total of sixty billion dollars squirreled away under their mattresses. When it comes to money, people in that country think about the future.
Most students in North America, however, are blithely wandering into a future of debt. The average law graduate leaves university with an $80,000 student loan debt. Nineteen out of twenty students use credit cards, carrying an average balance of $3,000. More than 85 percent of students are concerned about their money situation, most claiming that financial worries adversely affect academic performance. Big debt means bad grades.
That doesn't need to describe you.
God and Money
Understand that money, in itself, is not evil. Jesus freely used it while he walked among us (Matthew 17:25-27). He even recommended using money in order to make friends (Luke 16:9). No, money isn't the problem. It's loving money that will twist your soul (1 Timothy 6:10).
The Bible is full of practical advice on dealing with dollars. It's one of God's favorite subjects, because he knows you desperately need help managing your finances. Heed his advice and you'll save yourself major stress. Ignore God's tips at the risk of your sanity.
Money is a Bible study you'll want to pursue now because money is a subject that will chase you throughout life. A handful of biblical pointers have served me well in the twenty years since I graduated from high school. As a missionary I'm still comparatively poor—but I also have zero debt, which makes me richer, in a way, than almost everyone I know.
For what they're worth, I'll pass my ideas along.
I take no shame in working for money.
Work is good, and good work deserves to be paid (1 Timothy 5:18). As a missionary I depend on other people's generosity, but I also do whatever possible to supplement that income.
Paul, a fellow missionary and my #2 hero (Jesus is my #1), serves as a great example of the healthy work ethic I long to imitate:
We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10)
Do you see the positive attitude Paul had toward work as he slaved away with a smile sewing tents after the sun went down? In a lazy world that increasingly hates work, a love for honest labor is an attitude I want to cultivate.
I am in no rush to get rich.
Proverbs 28:20 makes it plain: "A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished." Life is not about getting rich; money is a means to maintain life, no more. If God provides extra cash, great—I'll have more to serve him with. If I have to get by on less, that's fine—I can still be richly content (1 Timothy 6:6).
My goal shouldn't be to get rich but to fulfill God's perfect plan for my life. With that thought occupying my mind, I'll easily ignore temptations to play the lottery or to sign up for the latest pyramid sales scheme. The vast majority of people who go down get-rich-quick paths, like the above Proverb says, take a beating.
I am allergic to debt.
The very thought of it makes me break out in goose pimples. If I don't have the money to spend, I don't spend it. I appreciate brainless choices like that—there are too many other decisions in life I actually have to think about. Again, Paul has great input on this point:
"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another" (Romans 13:8).
For those in the awkward situation of having to secure student loans, I encourage you: Manage those debts well. Make it your goal and prayer to pay them off ASAP.
And don't add to your burden by carrying unreasonable credit card debt. If you have a problem that way, use your Visa to buy a sharp pair of scissors, then cut the card into tiny pieces.
I don't buy without my wife's consent.
Even when money's available, I still need help with my buying decisions. Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” Was Solomon thinking about money there?
Not every possible purchase that pops into my brain is a good idea. Seeking out the counsel of my wife and closest earthly friend, I save all kinds of money by not making dumb deals. And Beth comes to me for the same input. Often we simply decide to hold off on a purchase, only to discover a month later that we never really needed it.
I have fallen in love with generosity.
I find that with a giving attitude, I am much less inclined to spend money on myself. Instead I find little ways to save so there's more to share. Then, in giving away, I free myself from always having to have. And giving money away is as much fun as ever. Generosity really is a more blessed way to live (Acts 20:35).
Since my calling has me living in a poor part of Mexico, that makes me a rich gringo in the minds of my neighbors. And compared to 98 percent of the world, I am rich. Paul has specific counsel for rich people like you and me:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
Wow! Lots to chew on there. One thing is certain: With all the good deeds and generous sharing my money could accomplish, it probably isn't a good idea to hide it under my mattress.