One of my favorite books is Dangerous Journey: The Story of Pilgrim’s Progress (Oliver Hunkin, Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1985). The cover illustration of Christian as he trudges toward Celestial City perfectly depicts James’ and my life when we were first married (see www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Journey-Story-Pilgrims-Progress/dp/0802836194for image). By grace, through faith, the penalty for our sin was paid. We no longer carried that burden, yet the consequences of our sin remained strapped to our backs. As God began to instruct us in His ways, He gave us understanding that His guidelines are for our own good, to put us in a place to receive all He has for us. He moved on our hearts to desire Him and His ways and opened our eyes to the individual boulders nestled in the net.
The heftiest weight? Tens of thousands of dollars of debt. We both worked sixty to seventy hours a week outside the home. We lived paycheck to paycheck, making no forward progress. I desperately wanted to stay home with our children, but our debts demanded my income. We were slaves of our own poor choices.
“The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender”(Proverbs 22:7).
Because our commitments exceeded our income, we didn’t tithe. While I had been trained by my parents to give ten percent of everything, and would do so while charging other expenses on credit cards, James, as a new believer, had a harder time with giving money to the church when we owed so much to creditors. I feel a future blog stirring on this topic, so I won’t go into detail about giving today. I am also not making any theological claims with my story. Only sharing the conviction of the Holy Spirit on our hearts, and the incredible blessings we experienced as He empowered us to obey. We prayed about our debt and withholding our tithe, and we felt the Lord was leading us to deal with both at once. It was time to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve Godand mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
We enrolled with Consumer Credit Counseling for debt consolidation services, and we cut up every credit card we owned. If we couldn’t pay cash for it, we didn’t buy it. Period. We paid a hefty monthly debt payment, and started giving two percent as a tithe to the Lord. Every time we paid a credit card off, we took the amount of that monthly payment and divided it between increasing our tithe and increasing our payment to the next lowest credit card balance.
God changed our mindset. He broke the bonds of borrowing for instant gratification, and obeying Him became more important than the things we thought we had to have or do. The satisfaction of living free of the affliction of sin was greater than the temporary pleasures of that sin.
“For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”Philippians 2:13
He taught us that what we had was enough, and then He met every one of our needs, every time, even when we couldn’t see any possible way. We learned that God’s way of meeting needs is always abundant, always right on time, and always just what we need, but we had to be willing for God to do it His way. Like a boss who let me bring my newborn to work with me the first eight and a half months of her life, allowing me to be with her full time and nurse her. Or when a mom would call and offer garbage bags full of used clothes for our kids, and sometimes for me. Other times, my dad and his wife would visit, and she would take me shopping for a “happy” – new clothes for work, just because. A garage sale became a gold mine. Grandparents would buy clothes and supplies at the beginning of the new school year. God even provided with unexpected bonuses, extra overtime pay, and even a surprise check from the estate of a precious elderly neighbor who had been a foster grandmother to my sister and I growing up. In the midst of paying off our debts, when no mortgage lender would touch us because we were active with Consumer Credit Counseling, God opened doors for us to buy our first home. He made a way when there was no other way.
At the end of three and a half years, all glory to God, all our consumer debt was paid, including our cars. We were giving our goal of ten percent of our gross income, and that included every gift we received, every bonus, every penny that came into our household. We continued to live frugally, buying only what we could afford with cash, and we saved. We were financially free.
“For My yoke is easy and My burdenis light.” Matthew 11:30
Slowly, even though the numbers never made sense on paper, God opened doors for me to cut my hours to half time, and my employer agreed to let me work from home, an unusual arrangement at the time. We knew it was God’s desire that I be home with our kids, and He gave us the faith to trust Him. Shortly after that, I started a home-based business on the side that eventually replaced the income from my job. I was finally able to stay home with my kids – the desire of my heart met by an almighty, all-powerful God who can cause anything to happen.
Lining our finances up with the word of God can be one of our most faith-challenging areas of obedience. God shows us what to do, and He gives us the power to do it, but it falls squarely on our shoulders to take the action. We have to do the obeying. God’s deliverance came through the complete submission of our finances to Him. We had to stop the sinful behavior – no more charging. We had to pay those we owed. We had to do what His word says and give our firstfruits to Him.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we askor think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be gloryin the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
That first house – an impossible possession made possible by a mighty God – four years later in a declining market, sold for $65,000 more than what we paid, enabling us to build a custom home in a small town outside the Houston area. If we could have concocted the most incredible scenario possible based on our wildest dreams at the time, we never could have come close to the unbelievable plans God had for us starting with that house. Plans to turn a truck driver into a CEO. That story next Thursday.
Lord, money can be such a stronghold and stumbling block for us. Move in our hearts to obey you in all ways with our finances as we become more wholly Yours today.