"Money won't make you happy... but everybody wants to find out for themselves." - Zig Ziglar
"There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men." - Billy Graham
Ken was making a six-figure income as a sales rep for a manufacturing company. A top performer in his company; he had won numerous awards and trips as bonuses for his sales figures. The fact that everyone saw him as a "success" made him even more conflicted about his growing dissatisfaction with his job and his life. Inside he felt miserable and was becoming increasingly depressed.
No longer satisfied with just earning money; he wanted to do something with his life that mattered. "I want to find God's will for my life and career. I just fell into being a sales rep out of college, and although I'm good at it, it just feels empty," he confessed. "I don't want to waste any more time doing something other than what God wants me to do." He wondered, though, if he really would be willing to follow a different career path if it meant earning less money.
Money's Seductive Power
We can empathize with Ken's struggles, can't we? Whether you earn a little or a lot, if you are like most people you wrestle with money's hold on your heart and mind. Money is not a neutral thing; it has intrinsic power with potential for being used for good or for evil. There is nothing inherently wrong with making a lot of money. God has chosen to bless many of His people with substantial wealth.
God knows, however, that making prosperity your life's goal will never bring true fulfillment or satisfaction. "Accumulating money or stuff is a vision of sorts," acknowledges Andy Stanley (pastor and author). "But it is the kind of vision that leaves men and women wondering what they could have done-should have done-with their brief stay on this little ball of dirt." Stanley exhorts us, "Without God's vision, you may find yourself in the all too common position of looking back on a life that was given to accumulating green pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents on them." Hmmm...that's a different way of viewing money, isn't it?
Which Master are You Serving?
Living your calling may not require a reduction in your income or major changes in your lifestyle. In fact, when your work aligns with your God-given design of skills and interests, you may find that you earn more money, not less because you have both the ability and the motivation to pursue excellence. The key issue, however, is that God wants you to come to the place where you are willing to live on less money if doing what He wants you to do requires it. He wants you to value obedience to Him more than money and material possessions.
Money-perhaps more than any other enticement-has the power to lure us away from becoming who God created us to be and doing what He designed us to do. Jesus knew that a life focused on money could not be focused on God. He knew how easily money can become an idol in our lives, which is why he said things like, "No one can serve two masters....You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matthew 6:24). Sixteen of his 38 parables were about how to handle money and possessions. Howard Dayton pointed out that "in the Gospels, an amazing one out of 10 verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions."
Money is a "Calling Blocker"
A "calling blocker" is something that gets in the way of your discovering and/or doing the things God is calling you to do with your life. Money is a calling blocker for you if it dulls your sensitivity to God's voice; entices you to compromise morally, ethically or spiritually; or entraps you by imprisoning you in your lifestyle and/or your debt. Sadly, money has ensnared many of God's people, their lives illustrating the truth of God's Word: "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
Learning to manage money wisely is an essential skill in discipleship, because it directly impacts your relationship with God. We are free to serve God and others fully only when we have put money in its proper place in our heart, mind and lives. One of the greatest rewards of our career counseling work has been watching Christian men and women find their callings within work and then make a successful transition into living them. Conversely, one of the most discouraging things is seeing clients hindered from living their calling by their dreams of wealth and material success, their poor money management or their excessive debt-or often, all three.
"Calling Catalysts" for Keeping Money in its Place
Money is powerful, easily becoming a god in our lives. It is not benign. We must work hard to keep money in its proper place in our lives. Here are two "calling catalysts" that can help ensure that money will not be a calling blocker for you:
• Develop an "attitude of gratitude" about the material and non-material blessings you already have in your life. Contentment is an antidote for greed. Make a list of all the blessings in your life, and add to it daily. Thank God for his rich provision for you and ask him to give you wisdom to distinguish between "needs" and "wants."
Let us heed the counsel of Timothy's words (they precede his warning about dangers of loving money): "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that" (1 Tim 6:6-8).
• Practice biblical stewardship of your money. We cannot overstate the importance of managing your money well according to God's principles. Your money-all of it-belongs to God. He entrusts it to you to manage. Most of us will have more than a million dollars pass through our hands during our lifetimes and yet a high percentage of us will never learn how to manage that money. Your ability to discern and live your calling will be directly impacted by your ability to handle money.
If you are shackled by money problems or simply want to improve your financial management skills, Christian programs such as Financial Peace University (http://www.daveramsey.com/fpu/home/) or those offered by Crown Financial Ministries (http://www.crown.org) offer many types of resources for handling money in accordance with kingdom living. Money has the power to obstruct us in living our calling or to be used for God's purposes in our lives and the lives of others. The choice is ours.
A "Kingdom Vision" is Bigger than the American Dream
The American dream of prosperity and material accumulation is so pervasive in our culture and thinking that even those of us who profess to follow Jesus Christ seldom question its "rightness." Fresh out of school, we set out to acquire a well-paying job, a nice car and eventually a house and lifestyle with all the trimmings. Unthinkingly, we seek to emulate our society instead of Jesus.
Followers of Jesus Christ need to develop a "kingdom vision" for life, which is infinitely more fulfilling and exciting than a life spent accumulating stuff and "green pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents on them." In their book Living on Purpose, Christine and Tom Sine encourage us that
we will find the best that God has for us not by pursuing happiness but by losing our lives in service to God and others. Then and only then can we discover the rich, satisfying life that God intends for us....
[The good life of God] begins with our willingness to lose our lives in a vision that calls us beyond ourselves, seeking first the purposes of God's kingdom in response to the urgent needs in our world.... Jesus' call to whole-life discipleship was clear. He didn't invite his disciples to a private pietism they could work in around the edges of lives largely shaped by the dominant culture....The call to follow Christ was an invitation to a whole-life faith that was profoundly countercultural both then and now.
A right relationship with money is possible only when we have a right relationship with God. We must believe that God truly loves us and that he will, indeed, give us what we need when we seek his kingdom above all else. We must be compelled by a vision of true riches so that we keep earthly treasures in their proper place in our lives. And, we must trust that by giving up the life we know we will receive the life for which we have always longed.
Excerpts from Live Your Calling (2005) by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck. Used by permission of Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint.