This month we are asking what makes for a good life and where does this good life come from? The world has all kinds of ideas about what makes a good life and last week we looked at how some people look for the good life in the accumulation of more possessions. In the Old Testament, King Solomon pursued this path and once he had everything he could ever want or need, he realized it was all empty and the pursuit of more was a chasing after the wind. Getting more stuff is a counterfeit path to the good life – the real way to get the good life is through gratitude living with purpose, the greatest purpose being to love God and to love others.
Today we are going to look at another counterfeit path to the good life and then two roads that can get us there. Similar to the accumulation of more stuff – the accumulation of more money is often seen as the road to a good life. If we just had more money we would be happy, secure, and fulfilled. If we had more money than we wouldn’t have the stress we have now, we wouldn’t have the problems we have now and life would be good. We hear this message all around us and at some level we believe it to be true – but it is not. Money can’t buy us happiness, it can’t buy us security and it can’t buy us the good life.
Now it is important to understand that money is important in our lives. We need money to live and we need money to support and sustain our families and an increase in salary or getting more money from a second job or good investments is not a bad thing – those can be good things. What we have to guard against is thinking that more money will make us happy and make things good. It won’t and once again studies show us that this to be true.
Over the past 10 years, Median Income has increased 28%. This is good. It means we are all earning more and taking more home at the end of the week. But during the same 10 years the Cost of Living has increased 30%. What this means is that many of us are supporting our lifestyles with increased debt. We are living beyond our means and sustaining our lifestyles buy purchasing things now and paying for them over time and with interest.
The average credit card debt per household is $6,662 but if you take out all the people who have no debt, the average credit card debt per household with debt is $16,748. We can add to this the average car loan is $30,000, the average mortgage is $106,132 and now they are keeping statistics on medical debt and 44% of the population has medical debt over $5,000.
So you can see that while we are earning more money – we are also spending more money and our debt continues to grow. What this tells us is that more money doesn’t always bring financial security and if we think more money will solve our problems and make us happy – it won’t. When we turn to money to solve our problems we always think that more will be needed. When you ask people at every income level what they need to be happy and financially secure they will tell you that they need more money. People can have millions of dollars but then say that in order to feel secure they will need millions more.
More money doesn’t bring financial security and more money doesn’t bring less stress. Studies have shown that the #1 stress people experience in life comes from financial issues and the third leading cause of divorce are financial issues. The problem isn’t that people need more because people are getting more, the problem is that we are trusting in our money to solve our problems and bring us a good life when it can’t. More money doesn’t bring stability and security and as the Beatles told us a long time ago – Money can’t buy you love. So if more money doesn’t bring us the good life – what does? The good life doesn’t come with more money, it comes when we learn how to manage what we have and the answer to how to manage our money is really very simple.
Seriously, the answer is simple, it is to simplify our lives. If we can create a standard of living that is below what we earn, we create financial margins in our life and it is these margins that bring us peace and security. The answer isn’t to try and get more money the answer is to simplify our lives and live below our means. Jesus said that we can’t serve both God and money which means that we can’t allow money to be our focus. We can’t give our lives to getting more, instead what we need to do is set a standard of living that frees us from thinking that more is the answer.
One way to learn to live below our means is to create a budget and spending plan for our family. What are the basic needs we have? ]Have we set aside resources for emergencies? Do we have financial goals that we are working toward? Without some clear financial goals, our money will disappear. When I first started working with a financial planner, he asked me some hard questions about where my money was going and what I wanted to do with my money. The truth was that I wasn’t sure where my money was going and I had no goals and so at the end of every month I had no money. Together we created a plan that has helped me do things with my money that I wanted to do and he helped me set aside money every month for emergencies and the future. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has been helpful and it has created margins in my life that provide stability and peace.
Money itself won’t bring us a good life but how we manage our money can and how we spend our money also makes a difference. If we use all our money to buy more stuff we will end up like Solomon, empty and disillusioned, but if we spend our money on experiences that support and care for our loved ones, we will develop deeper relationships and cultivate healthier families. If we spend our money on things that support our values and help others then we will experience a greater sense of purpose. Studies have shown that people who don’t amass all their money to give to their families after they die but give that money away while they are still alive and can see their family and friends use it and enjoy it are happier and more fulfilled. So how we use our money can also help us experience more of the good life.
This leads us to the second key to a good life when it comes to money and that is to give it away. Giving leads to the good life. If we can create margins in our life and live below our means we then have money and resources to give and the act of giving is a key to a good life. We hear this in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, 17-19.
This is often one of the most misquoted passages in the Bible, in fact, I was just reading an article this week about a Christian athlete and either he or the magazine said, money is the root of all evil, but that is not what it says here. What it says is that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. As I said earlier, money is not bad, it is not evil, in fact it is a necessity for life and can be used for good and for God but a love of money, or greed, is a source of all kinds of evil and it does not lead us to a good life. What Paul tells us is that a good life is found when we have hope in God, do good deeds and when we are generous and willing to share. Giving what we have leads us to the life that God wants for us.
And what God wants for us is to experience that good life. Paul says that God provides all things for our enjoyment which means that God wants us to enjoy life but he is also clear that there is one path to this good life. When Paul tells us that giving helps us take hold of the life that truly is life he is saying that there are other ways of living that don’t lead to life. The life God wants for us comes when we are willing to give and share what we have. The good life comes when we simplify our lives and create margins so that we are able to give both our time and money to others.
What is interesting is that the only teaching of Jesus which is quoted outside of the gospel is this idea about giving. In Acts 20:35b Paul quote Jesus and says, It is more blessed to give than to receive. And the reality is that we know this is true. For everyone over maybe 10 or 11 years old, we know that there is more joy in seeing people open the gifts we give on Christmas than in opening gifts ourselves. There is more joy in giving, there is more satisfaction and fulfillment in giving and the good feeling that giving brings lasts longer than the feelings we get when we receive. Not that receiving isn’t special and meaningful, but we all know we are more blessed when we give than when we receive. The good life is found when we are willing to give.
Let me close by sharing a few ways that we can explore giving in this season of the year. We can start right now by giving a shoebox. This simple act of giving can encourage and inspire us as we hear about the difference this gift makes in the lives of children. We can also give to the food bank that always sees an increase need this time of year and we can give toys to the toys for tots drive.
We can also explore healthy ways to give to our families at Christmas. There is a great book called The Advent Conspiracy which invites us to spend less and yet give more. Can we spend less money on stuff for our family and give more of our time and more of our presence and more of our love. A gift of an hour playing games as a family every week for a year doesn’t cost a dime but provides a priceless gift to our children. I don’t remember the gifts I got as a child but I remember the times I played cards with my grandmother and checkers with my Dad.
We also cultivate the good life by looking at how we give to God and the work of God in the world. From the very beginning, our giving to God have been a key part of faith. Cain and Able weren’t told to give an offering to God but they realized all they had came from God so they returned a portion of their lives to God. Their offering was not just a means of giving thanks – it was their worship. They didn’t sing songs or listen to sermons or read scripture, they gave. Worship was an act of giving to God and our giving to God is also a form of worship and it is worship that shapes our hearts and lives. So giving to God can help us learn to give and be generous and lead us to the good life.
Many people ask what we should give to God and the biblical example is the tithe – or 10%. When Abraham was victorious in battle he gave a tenth of what he received to King Melchizedek for the work of God in the city of Jerusalem. That was the beginning of what we know as the tithe. Generations later, Jacob made a vow to give God 10% of all that God was going to give to him and then this idea of a tithe was written into the law. Leviticus 27:30.
What’s interesting is that 10% belongs to God whether or not we give it to him. If we don’t give, it is like we are robbing God of what is rightfully his and for generations this is what Israel did. In response to their lack of giving, God issued this challenge: Malachi 3:10-12.
Did you hear the promise of a good life in there? If we give to God, God will give back to us so much blessing that nothing will be able to hold it all. When we learn to give freely and generously and faithfully, we will get all we need for a good life.
So the good life isn’t found in getting more money, it is found in how we use our money. When we simplify our lives so that we are living below our means we create margins that bring peace and security. And in time those margins help us give more. The good life is not found in our money or in getting more money but in how we use our money and how give to God and others.
The Good Life – Simplicity and Giving
1. Take some time to evaluate your financial situation.
- What are you earning? What are you spending?
- What is your debt?
- What have you saved for emergencies?
- What is your current giving to the church?
- What are you financial plans for the future?
- What financial goals have you set for yourself?
2. How can you create financial margins in your life?
- Where can you save money in your monthly budget?
- What could you do without for a few months to create more financial margins?
- How can you decrease your debt or the interest on your debt?
3. Create a budget
- Work with a financial planner to set financial goals.
- Get help from agencies that specialize in financial planning.
- Consult resources from money management experts like Larry Burkett and Dave Ramsey. (see selected books in the library)
- What percentage are you giving to the church and the work of God in the world?
- Take a step of faith and commit to a church tithe in 2018.
- If you are tithing, consider increasing the percentage you give to God and the work of God.
- Give to Operation Christmas Child and/or the food bank.