Jean-Luc Lézeau, Associate Director, General Conference Stewardship Ministries

Contentment in scarcity. For more than thirty years of family life, I lived in a ?nirvana? that I call a ?financially, worry-free world.? Don’t misunderstand me, my father was not a Rockefeller and I am not related to Bill Gates. For income we only had my pastor’s salary, and my wife’s, which she received for working part-time as a secretary for the church.

As missionaries in Africa for more than eleven years, we were blessed. And here I really should say I was blessed—to be stationed in places where the nearest town was a three-hour drive on a dirt road, and where the mission truck would only go once a week. But seating was so limited that my wife Eileen only managed to go into town once in eighteen months! Talk about saving! We did not need to read Hebrews 13:5 ??be content with such things as you have?.? There was nothing to spend our money on!

We had all of the basic goods we needed, and our children say it was the best time they remember in our African experience. It is surprising how very little you can do with when you are not tempted to spend!

Contentment in a world of limitations.When we went on permanent return from the mission field, the only ?plastic money? that was used in Europe was a deferred debit card. It gave us just enough leeway to see us through to the next month. It was a blessed time when I was sure to go straight into the kingdom, because it was impossible for us to belong to the group depicted in Matthew 19:23 ??it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven?.? The glitch is that we knew we didn’t have much to live on and we managed our expenses accordingly. It did happen a couple times that our checking account was ?in the red,? but that was the exception.

Contentment in a world of plenty. A radical change came when we moved to the United States. Contrary to common belief, the wages we now earn in the States are not higher than what we earned in Switzerland where we came from. Our first encounter with the US economy is that you don’t exist here unless you have a credit history—which in fact is a ?debt? history. To get your first credit card is like going through boot camp, but once you have one, you can’t stop the flow. It seems we get at least one credit card offer in the mail every day!

The danger was apparent to us: the norm is to live on credit. Just about everybody pays with a credit card. Some even use a second credit card to pay for the first and a third to pay for the second and so on. At first it is quite tempting. And we can understand that some can’t resist credit, despite the strong warning we have in Proverbs 22:7: ??the borrower is servant to the lender.?

Where is the limit? The trouble in a consumerist society is the confusion we have distinguishing between our needs and our wants and desires. We often believe that a little more money would solve our problems. But, in fact, the end of our worries will only come when we are able to say that nothing belongs to us. I am not saying that we won’t have anything but that we need to say, ?Nothing belongs to us.? We need to recognize that everything belongs to our God. Sooner or later we will acknowledge that He is Lord of all—now—or at the end time.

In this world, it is quite a challenge when we are judged and accepted according to what we have. The more stuff—the more consideration. Whether we recognize it or not, we are caught up to a certain degree in this ?spinning? wheel. In family matters, it is relatively easy as long as you and your spouse agree to this practice and try to live by it. Although, it is funny that what my wife’s needs seems futile in my eyes, and what I consider to be absolutely necessary seems a waste of money to her. Still you can manage if you let the Spirit guide you.

Shared contentment within the family. It gets more difficult when children come into the family. Do you know of any parents who don’t want the best for their children? And when children are with their peers, there are always new ?gadgets? that they have to have in order to be part of the group. We wouldn’t want them to be ostracized, would we?

But where is the limit? How much is enough? We must learn for ourselves and teach our children what the difference is between having needs and wants and desires. We need to teach the value of money—how to give, how to save, how to spend. How to view things with an eternal perspective.

What do we need our house for? To shelter our family and entertain visitors or to show our neighbor how much we make? What do we need our car for? To go from point A to B or to show our neighbors that we can have the latest model? (Which really means that we can have as much credit as they can!)

Contentment in a financial framework. In order to live within our means we have to budget. This is a family affair—not a personal one. Why do we need a budget?

?To have guidelines to help us distinguish between our wants and needs

?To discipline us in our Christian experience

?To guide us in our planned giving and

?To help us to be good stewards of God’s provisions

At the start, we need to ask ourselves two pointed questions: 1) What is our actual situation? 2) What are our goals as a family? After this, list your earnings and your expenses—including fixed expenses and variable expenses. Then compare the two. Are your earnings enough to cover your expenses? If not, can you increase your income? If you can’t, the only solution is to reduce your expenses. Always remember where your priorities should be: faithfulness to the Lord, saving, paying your bills, and living within your remaining income while being thankful to the Lord for what you have.

As you contemplate your spending, here are several probing

questions to help you evaluate future purchases:

1. Do I really need it? Php 4:19

2. Do I let God answer my needs? Mt 7:7

3. Will this purchase help me in my relationship with God? 1Cor 6:12

4. Is my motivation only the desire to possess? 1J 2:6

5. Am I ready to accept God’s will in all areas of my life? Php 4:12-13

6. Do I doubt the wisdom that God wants me to have? Jm 1:6

7. Is this purchase an investment? Mt 25:14-30

8. Do I have the money to buy it or do I need credit?

9. How is my family going to benefit from it?

10. Are my choices in harmony with God’s will? 1Cor 10:31

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July–September, 2003

Family Finance