I often find my relationship to money similar to my relationship to physical fitness. For a long time I’ll be mindful and disciplined, I’ll save carefully and give with generosity, I’ll eat modest portions and exercise regularly. But if I’m not careful, I can inadvertently slip into bad habits and wasteful patterns. Self-control can give way to spending that extra dollar or eating that extra donut. In both areas, I need to maintain vigilance and, even better, to retain a biblical awareness of why both physical and financial discipline matter so much.
It’s for that reason that I make books on finance part of my regular reading diet. It’s not that I don’t have a well-developed theology of stewardship and money, but that I can slowly slide away from it. I was glad, then, to spot The Money Challenge, a new book from Art Rainer that offers “30 Days of Discovering God’s Design For You and Your Money.” The book is not framed around thirty daily readings, but it does break its application points into thirty parts, one of which can be completed each day for a month. The big point Rainer means to communicate is this: “You and your money are designed for something much bigger than wealth accumulation. We are wired to use our money for something far more significant than ourselves. God has designed us (and any resources we have) to make a difference in this world.” Money is designed to bring joy, but not in the way we tend to think. The joy we get from money is the joy we get from using it in the ways God intends.
So what’s the purpose of the book? It’s not to work you through the process of eliminating debt or saving for retirement. It’s not to help you avoid some of the too-common traps and temptations like credit card debt and high-interest car loans. All of those things are important and all come up along the way. But each of them is actually just a means to the greater end of living a life of God-glorifying generosity. This involves following a three-step formula: Give generously, save wisely, and live appropriately.
The book falls into these three parts. Giving generously must come first, for the ultimate goal is to use money to carry out God’s mission on earth. “In everything we do and with everything we own, our focus should be to use the resources God has given to make an eternal difference.” God created us to live generously and to find great joy and satisfaction in doing so. We are to make giving a high priority, and to do it proportionally, sacrificially, and cheerfully.
To be able to maximize our giving, we must save wisely, ensuring that we have money set aside to deal with the unexpected emergencies and for the expected days when we can no longer earn. For this reason we need to think far into the future and do our best to set aside some of our wealth and invest it with wisdom.
To be able to maximize our giving and save wisely, we must live appropriately. This is a life-long process of living within our means, not necessarily with frugality but with wisdom. “Living appropriately is managing your resources in a way that is both financially healthy and Kingdom-advancing. It is having the right perspective on the resources you have and the resources you will purchase.” Again, the great trick is that money and possessions really are related to our joy, just not in the way we think. In the end, accumulating them is far less satisfying than giving them away.
In this way, the book builds toward a life that is disciplined and structured around the great goal of generous living. It is framed around a bit of narrative—the story of a young lady who has an all-too-typical relationship to her money and has found herself deeply in debt. It’s a bit cheesy, but it serves its purpose well. And, in fact, I think the cheesiness is what makes it effective. Such stories are often used in books on money, so it’s not at all out of place.
The Money Challenge is an excellent, short, readable introduction to a biblical view of financial management. It may be an excellent first choice for those who have never read a book on money, and it may be an excellent refresher for those who have. In either case, you’ll learn that God “does not provide wealth for hoarding. He gives wealth to share. He gives wealth for generosity. He gives wealth to invest in eternal treasures. He gives wealth to advance His mission.” Ultimately, he gives money for our joy and his glory.