Financial Challenges, Worry and Giving
Recently I was interviewed for a segment that aired on the Coral Ridge Hour, called "How now should Christians live in today's current economy?"
(Click here if you're unable to view the video.)
I'm speaking next week at a Generous Giving conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. As I'm working hard to finish up final revisions of my book If God is Good... Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil, I'm also thinking about giving and stewardship in light of the financial challenges so many people are facing. Many people find themselves worrying.
Worry has a way of chasing after us. It tries to grab hold of us, bleed off our energy, and rob us of joy by limiting our vision to a short-sighted perspective of this life's circumstances. That's why one of my favorite passages is Matthew 6:19-34, where Jesus unveils an investment formula for a secure future and a worry-free present.
In this great sermon, Jesus doesn't tell us not to store up treasures. On the contrary, he commands us to store up treasures (v. 20). He's saying, "Stop storing them up in the wrong place (earth), and start storing them up in the right place (Heaven)." He also says "store up treasures for yourselves." When we follow Jesus, we act not only in His best interests but in ours. No matter how difficult the challenges of the moment, we can be assured that "they are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
This was Paul's consuming motivation throughout his life—the prospect of eternal reward from his Master's hand (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), and it was his greatest anticipation at his death (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Most of us see no further than the horizons of this world. To correct our shortsightedness, God prescribes a vision correction that allows us to see through the lens of eternity. Suddenly we realize this present life is but a brief window of opportunity to invest in what will last for eternity.
In Matthew 6, Jesus says there is only one safe place to invest, and that is in the Kingdom of God. He says, in essence, "You can't take it with you," but he adds a life-changing corollary: "but you can send it on ahead."
As Christ's disciples, we have inside knowledge of a major change in the worldwide social and economic situation. There is a coming holocaust during which no earthly possession will survive (2 Peter 3:10). The currency of this world—its money, possessions, values, fashions, and whims—will be worthless at our death or at Christ's return, both of which are imminent. This "insider's tip" should radically affect our investment strategy. To accumulate vast earthly treasures in the face of this knowledge is equivalent to stockpiling Confederate money in a Union economy.
Financial planners have a hard time convincing people to look down the road instead of just focusing on today, this week, or this year. "Don't think one year," they'll tell you, "think thirty years from now." Then they'll share ways to prepare for thirty years from now by budgeting, saving so much a month, contributing to an IRA, investing in this mutual fund or that real estate partnership.
But it's only slightly less short-sighted to think thirty years down the road than to think thirty days. The wise man does indeed think thirty years ahead, but far more—he thinks an eternity ahead. He thinks not just to his retirement years, not merely to the end of his earthly life, but far beyond. He plans for the day that he will stand before the Lord, and he prepares for the eternity that will follow.
Following Christ doesn't always improve our circumstances—some of my circumstances (including my income) would be better if I hadn't followed the Lord. But better for what? Better for accumulating earthly possessions, but not better for laying up treasures in Heaven and experiencing the exhilaration of trusting God to provide.
What following Christ does change is our perspective. The unbeliever's vision is restricted to the horizons of this world. But we have the big picture. We know this life is the preface to the book, the tune-up to the concert. If we are wise investors, we will spend our lives buying up shares in the world to come.