There is pressure on Christians to give. We have to pay taxes, give to our local church, donate to community projects, give to the poor and then we have to live as well. If you buckle under the pressure you are asked questions like, “Don’t you trust God?”, or “Do you not care?” The need in the world always outstrips your available resources and it is therefore no wonder that most Christians has begun to close their hearts and wallets, because the pressure to give can become overwhelming. We close our hearts and our hearts, because we know that we are supposed to be generous, but we just can’t give to every request and therefore we feel guilty. We can get rid of the guilt when we get clarity on what generosity means. For most people generosity means that you give to whoever asks, but that is not generosity. When it comes to money the Bible is very clear that we are to enjoy money, but that everything ultimately belongs to God and we just manage it on His behalf. Being a manager of God’s resources means that we cannot do whatever we want with the money what we have, or give to just anyone who asks, because it is not our money, it belongs to God. Being a manager requires a plan, a budget where you prayerfully consider where the money will be allocated. Generosity forms part of such a budget, but it requires intentionality, the intention to give and to be intentional as to where that money is going and why. I would therefore propose that we cannot be truly generous if we are not intentional and that intentionality frees us up. We cannot give what we cannot have and if the portion set aside in our budget for giving is depleted, then we cannot give. Creating an intentional, consistent giving budget item frees us from guilt and pressure. We are called to be generous, but be consistent, be intentional and if that means giving to the person standing at the robot, do so, but use God’s money to His glory.
Talking about money is always hard, because unwittingly it reveals the deepest part of our hearts. Someone has once said to me that he can identify exactly what I value by way of my spending and the more I think about it, the more I realise the truth in that statement. My money and my heart are connected and where the one goes, the other follows. It is therefore very important to prioritise how we spend money. Money has a number of uses; we live from it, we can enjoy it, give it, or save it. We need money to buy food. Buying a gift, or going on a holiday costs money. Being generous requires money and then we cannot prepare for the unexpected without money, because we have to save it. Most people I know knowingly or unknowingly prioritise money according to its uses and normally it lines up like this: living, enjoyment, saving and lastly giving. Even as you read this, you might wonder, what is wrong with that? The Bible calls us to have different priorities as Jesus followers. It says that as believers we have to take a portion and set it aside for God. The Bible is also clear that if we save and Proverbs says that if we do, we are wise. Then obviously we are called to live and enjoy life. None of these priorities has any clear percentages to it, but if you ask the question, how should I spend my money then the sequence according to the Bible is as follows: first give, second save, third live, lastly enjoy. If you combine these priorities into a plan, a budget you will discover freedom that will set your future up, give you the joy of generosity. So align your priorities and see how God’s plan changes your life.
There is probably nothing more divisive in the church than the topic of money and then the tithe. To understand the meaning of the tithe, let me give you some background history and purpose. Unlike our society today that has developed over centuries, Israel as a nation was born in day. One day they were working as slaves and literally the next day the left Egypt with gold and silver, free, but having no idea how to handle that freedom. God therefore gave them some rules to govern their everyday lives, teaching them how to be a nation, how to live as neighbours and one of the rules He instituted was simple: take the first tenth of your harvest and give it to God. It is where the word tithe comes from, it simply means a tenth. The world was very different back then. Unlike today a tithe was not just an internet banking transaction, but a tithe was the first ten percent of the harvest kept aside from the time of the harvest until the appointed time of the festival where it had to be taken to the place of worship. The tithe just lay there as a visible reminder that you had to trust God. Imagine going through a tough time financially and you just had to look at that tithe, knowing that God gave the promise that if you trusted Him, as displayed through you setting that portion aside, that He would take care of all your needs. That is why tithing or giving always has an element of trust to it, or what we call faith. Tithing is a display that I choose to trust God. But the second aspect of the tithe was generosity. When God called the Levites to serve Him as priests He gave all the eleven other tribes land to work, except to the priests. They had wait for the tithes of the other eleven tribes and out of that tithe they had to live, but also take care of the poor. To keep people from sidestepping the feelings of resentment towards the priest, God made the attitude He expected from them very clear; tithing is done it as if you are giving it to God, but practically, you bring that tithe to the priests and levites, because they would live from the tithe and take care of the poor. So when you consider this background, it becomes clear that tithing or giving had a twofold function; firstly it forced you to trust God. Secondly it reminded you to be generous; if you did not give it, the priests could not live and take care of the poor. When we read the Old Testament and its laws, we have to remind ourselves that we no longer live under those laws. When the Israelites did not tithe there was a threat connected to tithing. So in Malachi 3:8-9 God warns the Israelites, “If you do not tithe, you will be cursed!” In Jesus we know that we have been redeemed from the curse of the law, but it does not remove the purpose of giving and the tithe; trust and generosity. So do have to tithe? The short answer is ‘no’. The real question is how you can establish trust and generosity in your life? The New Testament invites us to change our motivation, doing things not because of fear, but because of love. That means that we don’t have to give, but we get too. You don’t have to give a tenth of your income, but I have never seen anyone grow in faith and generosity without consistently giving a percentage of their income. If you want to grow in faith and generosity, become practical and decide whether you can take a percentage of your income and give it to God. It would mean practically that you give it to a person, or an organisation, or a church, but it is the heart behind the act of giving that is the secret sauce. Stretch yourself and give.
One of the biggest changes I had to make in my thinking about money was the idea of control. I used to feel as though I had no control, that I just had to helplessly look at how all the money disappears as soon as it was paid into account. This victim mentality was challenged by Dave Ramsey when I read his book, The Total Money Makeover. In the book he proposes a different way of looking at money, that instead of me just letting it helplessly pass through my bank account, that I take control of money and begin to tell it where to go. The tool he proposed to achieve this level of control was a zero-sum budget. Most people think that a budget is a record of where you have spent your money, but such a reactive approach is not a zero sum budget. A zero sum budget plainly means that at the beginning of the month you take your income, regular and irregular and add together in one column. In another column you take all your regular and fluctuating expenses and add that together. If you subtract your total expenses from your total income it should always lead to a zero. Dave’s proposed strategy only work is you tell your money where it should go, based on your financial plan. So some money you will tell to go off towards debt, some for clothes, some for food, some for giving and so you go through list. The moment you start allocating money, telling it where to go, it does a couple of things. Firstly it forces you to say ‘no’ to a bunch of stuff. If you do not have the money to pay for it, the zero sum budget will force you to say ‘no, I can’t have it now, but secondly, it also gives you permission to spend. If there is money allocated in the budgets for clothes, then you can buy the clothes, guilt free. If you want to escape the feeling that money just disappears, feeling helpless, feeling afraid, then change your mind. Start telling your money where to go, instead of just seeing it disappear. Get on a zero sum budget; it change my life and my family, it will change yours as well.
Research shows a sad reality, up to 80% of households are in debts and around 70% of household lives from pay check to pay check. We have become so used to the idea of debt that words like financial freedom, or debt free are frowned upon as unachievable goals. If you do not know how to work with money then the first step is to get on a plan, a plan that is helping me and my family become financially free. It is not my plan, it is Dave Ramsey's plan, but he got it from his grandmother. Here is a proposed plan to become totally debt free and able to live and give like no one you know. Step 1: Set up an emergency fund. Life is full of emergencies, a fridge breaks, or the car breaks and usually have to use debt to cover the emergency. The first step is to save up an amount (In our case R10,000.00) to cover any unforeseen emergency. You set that money aside, you don't touch it, but it must be reachable in case of an emergency. Step 2: List all your debts smallest to the largest, except your home. Pay the minimum payment of each debt, except for the smallest debt. You put all your excess cash towards paying off the debt as quickly as possible. This means no eating out, going on holiday, or treating yourself; all your money and energy goes towards paying off the debt as quickly as possible. Once the debt is payed off, you take the amount that you paid towards the smallest debt and add it to the minimum payment to the second smallest debt. Repeat these steps and create a snowball effect to pay off your debts as quickly as possible. Step 3: Save up three to six months' worth of expenses for a full emergency fund. At this step you would have momentum, being used to setting money apart towards debt and now you create a buffer. Imagine if you loose your job, but you have six months' worth of money set aside to cover all your expenses. That would change the way you work and give you a buffer to negotiate life's knocks. Step 4: Increase your retirement contribution to 15% of the income. If you have no debt other than your house, you have a fully funded emergency fund, then you start investing in your retirement. This is where you need a trusted financial advisor to help you increase your retirement contribution to 15% of your incomes. Step 5: Begin to save towards your children's education. If your children plan to go to university then at this stage you begin to save to put them through university debt free. Step 6: Pay off your home. At this stage you would have changed your lifestyle and you would have excess cash. Use this to pay off your home loan. The average time for people who follow this plan is seven years to fully pay off their house. Step 7: With no debt, a fully funded emergency fund, a paid off home, enjoy life and being generous like no-one you know. This plan take commitment and even if you don't want to follow it, get a plan that gets you out of debt, builds a buffer and help you to live free from financial uncertainty.
Cars are nice, but they are not investments. The problem is that they are so expensive that most of the time we have to borrow money to buy a car. So if you do not have the cash available to buy a car, how do you know you can afford a car? Here is the rule of thumb; the worth of all your vehicles should not exceed half of your annual income. If you earn R100,000.00 per year, all you vehicles should not be worth more than R50,000.00. This rule of thumb allows you to own a car and not to let car own you.
Owning a house is amazing, but it comes as a cost. Geysers break, rates and taxes, repairs and maintenance costs money and if you do not have the money cover these expenses, which will come, a house becomes a curse and not a blessing. How do you know you can avoid your house become a curse? A rule of thumb is that your monthly instalment on your house should not be more than 25% of your take home pay. If you can have the instalment on a 20 years fixed interest rate plan, you are in a good space. The temptation is go over this rule of thumb, to buy a bit nicer house, but the moment you do, the house owns you and you don't own the house.
There was a stage in recent times where people were advocating against life insurance, asking the question, "Don't you trust God?" The problem with the question was that life insurance is not for you, but for the ones you leave behind. Life insurance is supposed to replace your income for the ones that survives you, should they need your income replaced. If your family won't need your income replaced then you don't need to take out life insurance. Should they need your income replaced then this is the rule, take out life insurance that will pay 10 to 12 times your annual income. Should you die and your family invest the money, on average the interest they earn should be enough to replace your annual income. Be sure to use a trusted financial advisor when deciding to take out life insurance.
This question is part of a much bigger picture as the economic system of Bible times differs vastly from today's economic system. There is however certain pieces of wisdom that transcends economic systems. The Bible is extremely clear that the borrower is slave to the lender and that is true no matter what economic system you function in. Borrowing money puts you in a position of vulnerability, because you give up a some freedom to the lender. If you have a home loan and God calls you to become a missionary the first thing you will have to consider would be your loan. It is a simple example, but it illustrates the principle that debt takes away freedom. So if you want to be free, avoid debt, or attack it as aggressively as you possible can.