by Preslaysa Williams
Materialism may be the church’s unspoken sin, ensnaring many American Christians. Research shows consumer spending will grow to $91.1 billion in 2011 from $79.7 billion in 2006. Family spending will grow to $117.6 billion from $100 billion in the same period. Many Christians are plagued by an endless cycle of consumption, but they don’t know how to free themselves from its trap. With the increase in foreclosures, bankruptcies, and marriages torn apart by “stuff,” we cannot afford to ignore this plague.
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Some people pledge their allegiance to Christ but dethrone him by their actions. Homes, cars, bank accounts, and bills consume the lives of many. We spend the majority of our time working to pay for things we have yet to own, sacrificing valuable time and energy in our pursuit of material things. Love of material objects eventually corrupts the heart.
Jesus warned, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (v. 19). Today Jesus’ admonition may be easier said than done. Developing an eternal mindset, rather than a temporal mindset, would mean cloistering ourselves from the world. Right?
The Right Heart
The heart is a most precious treasure. Jesus says our treasure lies in our hearts: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). Proverbs 4:23 warns us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Getting our hearts right about wealth protects us from the sorrows associated with chasing after possessions.
Ancient Israelites viewed the heart as the real person—the seat of one’s motives, feelings, affections, desires, will, aims, principles, thoughts, and intellect. They embraced the heart as the whole inner being. This stands in contrast to the Western view that glorifies reason as the seat of our being.
Since the heart is at the center of all thought and feeling, it is receptive to influences from the outer world and from God himself. The heart can be influenced by commercials, Internet ads, news media, billboards, or by God’s inerrant Word. Hence the admonition to guard what enters our hearts. It’s the place where treasures are found.
An unguarded heart exposes itself to many vices. However, in American culture, materialism isn’t necessarily viewed as a vice. The average American unconsciously hyper-consumes on credit. Many buy larger homes than they can afford and clutter them with items they seldom use. Such actions are not inherently sinful, but they can lead to a vicious cycle of living from paycheck to paycheck. Believers who are fiancially strapped may be prevented from following God’s true call for their lives. And that is a sin.
The Right Mindset
We live in a no-wait society. With instant credit, why save up for a big purchase? With instant weight loss, why torture yourself by following a healthful diet plan and exercising regularly?
But God prizes patience and self-control. In fact, they are listed among the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23). Patience and self-control are also keys to financial success. Yet we cannot develop these traits by constantly subjecting our minds to outside messages and ignoring God’s message.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I received my first credit card during my freshman year of college. After naively signing up for a $500 credit limit, I gradually weaned myself from using cash and charged everything under the sun, including meals, groceries, and gas. Soon I was using the card to make extra purchases: outfits, gadgets, online subscription services, and books. Before I knew it, I had amassed over $3,000 in credit card debt. And I was only 18 years old.
I had little knowledge of economics. I was a Christian, but I was ignorant of God’s view of money. “Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts” (Proverbs 22:26). I was ignorant of this timeless precept when I signed my name on the dotted line for a brand new credit card.
As I grew older, the debt snowballed into mortgages, car loans, and student loans. Like many Americans, I worked for my creditors and fretted every month when the bills came in the mail. I had lost sight of my peace and God’s purpose for my life. Desperate, I started searching for resources that could help me break free me from my mountain of debt. I first turned to God’s Word.
Paul stated in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” As I renewed my mind with what God says concerning stewardship, I gradually changed my heart and replaced the messages I received from the world with the messages I received from God’s Word.
If you have spent years on a debt roller coaster, swiping your credit cards at the first impulse and working like crazy to pay the monthly bills, patience and self-control seem like a distant dream. An unguarded heart exposes itself to many vices.
The Right Action
While working on changing the messages I received on stewardship and finances, my desires changed. I didn’t want to eat out every night. I spent less. I didn’t care about the Joneses. Here are some additional things you can do to control the urge to consume.
Reduce the amount of new debt you acquire by lowering your credit limit or limiting access to your credit cards. Credit cards, along with the stuff they acquire, are a trap.
Accrue a cash fund for emergencies. Instead of using credit, this fund will be your safety net. Start by adding a small dollar amount to a savings account and gradually build its balance to an amount that can cover emergencies like house and car repairs.
For your everyday spending, use cash or a debit card that links directly to your checking account. This simple decision can drastically reduce the money you spend on incidental purchases. If the money is gone as soon as you spend it, you are less likely to spend.
Don’t browse shopping Web sites. Limit your time at tempting stores. If you have an addiction, why go to the source?
While you are working to spend less, see what you can do to increase your income. If possible, sell the items in your house that caused the debt. If you are really bold, downsize your car or your home.
Understand that late payments and interest charges can cost you. If you were making a minimum payment on a $1,000 credit card balance with 19 percent interest, it would take seven years to repay and cost you an extra $730.
Curb your spending. Many good books and online resources provide ways to curb spending and save thousands of dollars every year. Incorporate the ideas that work for you.
Create a reasonable budget for your income and expenses.
God has given us the ability and freedom to decide what to do with the resources he has placed in our hands. Sometimes it’s tough to view a paycheck with an eternal perspective, especially when there’s an advertisement for a new gadget staring you in the face. Resisting the urge to spend money on frivolous things requires great courage, but it also brings a peace of mind that is priceless.
Preslaysa Williams is a freelance writer in Norfolk, Virginia.
More About Money Management
Teaching Your Kids About Money:
Begin early in guiding the next generation toward the right perspective about money:
I Want to Teach My Child About Money
by Kathie & Doug Rechkemmer
I Want to Talk with My Teen About Money Management
by Lisa Crayton
Find out more: www.standardpub.com
Other Helpful Resources:
The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness
by Dave Ramsey
(Thomas Nelson, 2009)
The Complete Cheapskate: How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out, and Break Free from Money Worries Forever
by Mary Hunt
(St. Martin’s Press, 2003)
Living Rich for Less
by Ellie Kay
(WaterBrook Press, 2008)