By Benjamin C. Maxson, Director, General Conference Stewardship
Summary: The problem is not a lack of money but a lack of dependency on God. The moment we say ?We don’t have enough money? we are really saying ?God is not big enough for us.?
Dressed and speaking like common, country folk, a couple asked to see the President of Harvard University. Because they looked common and unimportant, they were made to wait for hours. Finally, realizing they wouldn’t leave, the secretary went to get the president. Confident that he could take care of the situation, the president walked out, briskly greeted the couple, and asked how he could help them. They began to speak of their deceased son who had once attended Harvard University. We would like to erect a monument in our son’s honor, they said. The president responded, If we allowed every family to erect a monument, this place would look like a cemetery. The parents quickly explained We don’t want a grave marker. We want to erect a building in his honor. Sensing that they obviously did not understand the financial implication of their intentions, the president said, Do you realize how much this would cost you? The buildings on this campus are worth more than seven million dollars. The wife turned to the husband and said, Do you mean that is all it takes to build a university? Why don’t we just build one of our own. So Mr. and Mrs. Stanford walked out of Harvard University to establish, in California, Stanford University.
Money is important because it impacts the way we see ourselves. If we don’t have much money we see ourselves not just as financially poor, but also as helpless and unimportant. Money is important because it affects how we see one another. We tend to treat people with money differently and give them favoritism (James 2). Money affects the way we look at God. Money is life. Money is a combination of time, talent and energy turned into a medium of exchange. We put our time, our talent and our energy together and we are rewarded or paid for services provided or products produced with money. And when we have enough money, we begin to think we don’t need God. It is rather significant that God’s diagnosis of his church at the end of time is that they are lukewarm and materialistically satisfied. And the conundrum is that God has blessed this church so abundantly.
The many syndromes
The problem is not a lack of money but a lack of dependency on God. The moment we say, We don’t have enough money we are really saying God is not big enough for us. Let us explore some syndromes in our lives
The owner syndrome. We tend to think of everything as ours. This is my house, my church, my suit, my car, etc. With this kind of thinking, there is the worry about what is going to happen to what I own. When you don’t have enough, you worry; and when you do have enough, you worry from fear of losing it. When we begin to fall into that ownership trap, we are actually taking God’s place.
The recognition syndrome. Bill Gates is well-recognized. But how happy is he with his 30 or 40 billion dollars. Would you like to have the commerce department looking over your shoulder examining everything you do? Do you think he is at peace and happy to be recognized as one of the wealthiest men on earth? There are times when not being recognized is an advantage--Then why do we seek to be recognized by what we wear, what we do, or how much we have?
The confidence syndrome. Sometimes we begin to have confidence in what we own, forgetting that all belongs to God. How much money would it take to have full confidence that you could handle everything?
The power syndrome. There is danger when we begin to look for power in money instead of in God. His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3). Paul says you can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Ephesians 2:6 tells us that if we are in Christ we are raised and seated with Him in heavenly places. How much more power do you want?
The control syndrome. Have you heard someone express thoughts like, Until I see things changed, I am withholding my tithe and local budget support. How can financial blackmail change the church if the Holy Spirit is not going to do it? John Maxwell tells of a personal experience. In one of his early pastoring jobs, he had just a handful of people attending church regularly. A few months later there were 60 to 65. Many changes had taken place and the congregation was growing. One day, just as he was getting ready to go on the platform, one of the major donors in his congregation stopped him and said, You have been here six months and a lot of things have changed in this church. And unless certain things are changed back to the way they were, I am not going to give any more tithe. John responded, What are you telling me this for. Why don’t you tell this to the One you ought to. With that, he grabbed the church member by the arm, pulled him to his knees and said Repeat after me, ?Dear God I have chosen to rob you.’ The man exploded, Don’t say that! John Maxwell walked on to the platform to preach, knowing that might be his last sermon in that church because of what he did to the man who gave more than 50 percent of the church budget. However, the man returned the following week and said Thank you, Pastor. All this time I thought this was my church because I paid more than half of the budget. I thought it was mine to control. I have finally realized this is God’s church, and never again will you have to struggle with me trying to control the church with my money.
The if-only syndrome. Our excuse is sometimes If only we had this or if only we had that, we would follow God’s will for this church if only we had.
The Hezekiah syndrome. Hezekiah, wanting assurance, asked God to move the sundial back 10 degrees. Think of all the laws of physics that God had to balance to stop the earth on its rotation, move it back 10 degrees and restart it. By all the laws of physics and all the laws of the universe, that movement should have caused massive earthquakes and tidal waves to destroy this earth. Yet God, with one little finger, simply adjusted all--merely to strengthen the weak faith of one man. However, when people from Babylon arrived, inquiring about this power that could reverse all laws of nature, King Hezekiah responded by showing them all his riches. Consider how history might have changed had he shown them, not his wealth, but a glimpse of God Almighty. But we know the result of his folly: A few years later, they returned to take away all his wealth.
The Three principles of Matthew 6
It all comes down to whom is in control of our lives and everything we have. Matt 6:24 says No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. There are three principles.
- Do not store up earthly treasures (Matt 6:19). Make sure your priorities are correct. Where do you put the focus? Advertisements today talk about needing a lot of money and a long life. We hear about the importance of retiring to enjoy the same, if not better, lifestyle you have now. God’s idea, however, is that when we pass away, we would have administered God’s resources so well that there is nothing left to corrupt or to destroy, but it is left in His hands to manage as He wills.
- Put first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt 6:25-32). If I worry, I am saying I am God and I can take care of myself. Mel Reese tells a story of a wealthy man who owned a large farm. He always had the best crops in the neighborhood. He was known to say, This property belongs to God. I’m just managing it for God. I am faithful with my tithes and He blesses. One day the locusts came eating every grain in the field. They reached his property line and ate his wheat too. His neighbors and friends came to him, saying, Where was your God when the locusts came? His response was If God wants to pasture His locusts on His wheat fields, that is His business.
- Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The problem is not with money, but with you and me. In Matthew 19 a rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to be saved. Jesus replies Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother and love your neighbors as yourself. In exasperation, the man claims to have kept all these commands and asks what he still lacks. Jesus says to him, If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.
We often use this story to encourage people to give more in offering. That is not the point of this story. The problem was not the wealth in itself but the fact that the wealth stood between God and him. The only way money will not own us is if we recognize that everything we have belongs to Him.