I think that in a very broad and over-generalized way, every one of us becomes one of three kinds of people. It’s probably more accurate that we’re a mix of all three of these than just one of them, but by the end of my life, I think it’s true that people will be able to look back at the things I did and place me into one of the three of these categories:
Either we become
- a big spender,
- an over-saver,
- or someone that lives in contentment and generosity.
If I don’t intentionally make the decision to let the ways of the kingdom of God shape my finances, rather than letting my finances shape me, then I will most likely end up being either a big spender or an over-saver. In an average day, you and I receive 600 advertising messages, and almost all of them are trying to get us to be one of these two kinds of people. I mean, how often have you seen a commercial whose point was, “be content with what you have”? No, the tactic they take is by telling us that if we don’t spend in big quantities or save everything we have, then bad things are going to happen to us. Again, in one of the books from James Bryan Smith's Apprentice Series, The Good and Beautiful Life, it says,
“Advertisers know how to play on our fears and desires. By the age of sixty we will have seen over two million commercials, which is the equivalent of watching nothing but those ads for eight hours a day, seven days a week, for six straight years. While they appeal to desire, more ads tapping into our fears get us to buy their products."
Then it has this quote from Martin Lindstrom that explains:
"Practically every brand category I can think of plays on fear, either directly or indirectly. We’re sold medicines to ward off depression, diet pills and gym memberships to prevent obesity, creams and ointments to quiet fears of aging, and even computer software to ward off the terrors of our hard drive crashing. I predict that in the near future advertising will be based more and more on fear-driven somatic markers, as advertisers attempt to scare us into believing that not buying their product will make us feel less safe, less happy, less free, and less in control of our lives.” (pp. 164-165)
So for the big spenders, the messages are presented in different words, but they go something like this:
- “You’ve got to have these clothes so that people will think of you the right way.”
- “You have to buy your wife this big diamond or she may not kiss you anymore.”
- “You need this new kind of phone or computer, or you won’t be able to get anything accomplished.”
- “You’ve got to drive this kind of car, with a great stereo and GPS and all of these safety features, or you’ll likely get into an accident you and all of your loved ones will probably die.”
I guess it’s harder to advertise to the over-savers, because by definition one is less likely to make money off of them, but the professionals find ways to do it. For the over-savers, the advertisements are something like these:
- “You need to invest now in gold, because the entire economy could collapse around us, and at least when it does, then you would own some gold.” (Recently I was using a site that I use often to look up scripture and there was an ad there encouraging me to buy gold that said, “It was given to Jesus by the wise men; wise men still own it today.” So, according to them, an important way to let my life be shaped by the scriptures is by investing in gold???)
- Or the ads might be pushing insurance policies, sure-thing investments for retirement. Or how about the car that can get you better gas mileage by 10 miles per gallon?
This is a bit of a tangent- from me, not the Bible, but that last one gets to me, because let’s say that what I drive right now gets 20 miles per gallon. I know that I spend a lot on gas, and I’m a big saver, so when the commercial comes on for the new thing that will get me 30 miles per gallon, I start thinking of all of that money I’ll save on gas. But, they’re counting on us not doing the math. If a gallon of gas costs $2.75, and even if I average driving 25,000 miles in a year, and the new car costs $20,000, it would take 17 1/2 years for me to break even on the money I save on gas with my new gas saver versus the money I had to spend to get it. And that’s if I paid cash... if I take out a loan for that new gas saver, it would likely take me at two decades to break even on the deal.
Now, I’ve got a lot of saver in me, so for all of you fellow savers, I don’t have anything against good gas mileage, or retirement plans, or insurance policies, or investments. And for you spenders, I don’t have anything against computers or diamonds or clothes. All I’m trying to do is to get us to ask ourselves: in what or in whom do we hope, trust, and believe? Paul said it very well in 1 Timothy 6:17-19; we either hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, or we hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. I’m trying to help us see that when we do not decide to let the ways of the kingdom of God shape our finances, our finances easily come to rule us by making us into a big spender or an over-saver.
Part of the reason this is true is because apart from the kingdom of God, it becomes so easy to be motivated by fear- either (for the big spenders) fear that we aren’t valuable without more stuff, or (for the over-savers) fear that we have to save all we can to try to protect our own futures. And these fears always stay a few steps ahead of our finances. Our finances will never quite be able to catch up to those things we’re afraid of. The big spenders will never have quite enough things and the over-savers will never have quite enough stored away.
John D. Rockefeller was born in 1839 and died 98 years later in 1937. He was the wealthiest man in the world, and was the first American to be worth more than a billion dollars. At his death, he was worth $1.4 billion, and that was a long time ago... adjusting for inflation, he is regarded as the richest man in history. What was $1.4 billion then would be $20.7 billion today. (Based on the first salary I had out of college, it would take me 1500 years to make that much money!) ... One day a reporter asked him how much money it would take to make him happy, and Rockefeller’s famous reply was, “Just a little bit more.”
Apart from the kingdom of God, we always need “just a little bit more,” and we work to satisfy our fears through spending to make ourselves feel happy or saving to make ourselves feel secure. But our finances never quite reach far enough, we never become the content and generous people that we wanted to be.
So what’s the other option? If we hope that at the end of our lives we it will have been obvious to others that we were neither big spenders, nor over-savers, but joyful men and women who lived with contentment and generosity, how do we make that happen? I'm no financial counselor, and won't pretend to be. Plenty of great information on the how-to of this is available from folks like Dave Ramsey or Crown Ministries. The only point I'm attempting to establish is that there’s a decision that we have to make intentionally, a decision about which will be placed in that central place in our hearts: will it be the kingdom of God, or will it be our own resources?