Saturday, November 17, 2007

God's blessings and a broken heart

DR: We got to talking about money recently. For a moment during our conversation, I thought back to the path God has had us on financially in our lives, and what a blessing it has been.

I think God has given us enough first-hand credibility as a family to be able to speak forth frankly and empathetically about money and material possessions, particularly in regards to what the Bible has to say about it.

I would like to share with you our story as a married couple and family:

From 2001-2004, Stacye and I together as a household were among the top 1% of wage earners in Kern County, CA. Plainly stated, we made a lot of money.

In March 2004, being 7 months pregnant, Stacye resigned her job in anticipation of becoming a full-time stay at home mom. In late April 2004, I was unexpectedly fired for sharing my faith in the workplace. Nearly overnight, we went from being in the top 1% of money-makers in our county to both of us being unemployed. That is, both unemployed with a mortgage to pay and a baby due literally any day.

Thanks be to God, a position opened up at our church at nearly the same time I lost my job. I went to work for St. John's for three years, before enrolling at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis this past July.

And now, I am a full-time student and Stacye works only minimally part-time to ensure she can continue to be at home with our daughters. Thus, our current annual household income ranks us among the poorest in the nation.

And, in the 6 years since we've been married, our giving as a percentage of our gross income has consistently and intentionally risen year over year, and God has blessed us to be able to be debt-free (we had between the two of us over $100,000 in non-mortgage debt when we got married). During that same time, our savings increased, we never missed a mortgage payment--not one--and we never had a single late payment to any of our creditors. Thanks be to God, our credit scores are among the highest in the country.

We've been financially wealthy...a "middle class" family...and now--by the government's definition--poor. We've been in debt beyond (not just up to) our eyeballs, and we've struggled with the temptations that having lots of disposable cash on hand can bring. We've given away more than we think we can afford and we've seen God's hand guide, bless, and protect us all along the way.

Were it not for Him, we would not be where we are today. And thanks to Him, we are content. Truly.

In many ways, we can identify intimately with the Apostle Paul when he says, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:12-13).

It grieves me--indeed it breaks my heart--to see just how deeply people struggle with money issues in life. Because I've been there. We've been there. It particularly makes my heart heavy to see souls who place too great a value on their financial wealth and material possessions. Stacye and I confess that we used to define ourselves in our heart by how much money we were making, even by how much we were giving away. But God doesn't define us that way; that is the way of the world!

The Apostle Paul urges us in Romans 12:2, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

What does that mean? It means that we shouldn't seek after the things of this world to define who we are. We should not devote our lives to the pursuit of material wealth and status, but rather to the Lord and what God genuinely desires for us. We are to seek God's will, not our fleshly desires. We are to use our resources in accordance with God's will, not what the world tells us we should do. The two, indeed, are often in direct contradiction to each other. God's will leads us to glory, the world's will to death.

Oh, God, the burden I have for doing the Lord's will and helping people overcome the inestimable and worldly attraction of material wealth and possessions. Oh, my Lord, my heart is heavy. I pray. I pray...

I do believe, indeed, that this is one of the greatest challenges for American Christians today: learning how to use our money and our material possessions in accordance with God's will, and not in the ways of this world. The battle is fierce, the enemy is powerful, but thanks be to God that the Lord has already won.

Let us walk forth in this confidence, looking only to Him--not to our money and our material possessions--to derive our sense of self-worth and purpose in life.

With God's love and richest blessings,
Don Ray

1 comment:

  1. Hello Don and Stacy,
    I especially appreciated this post Don, as you know the struggles I have had. Although, I must admit I have "eyed" the bigger house, etc., my struggle has been being able to trust God absolutely in providing for all of our needs. He, indeed, has remained more than ever faithful, but I was putting much more importance and security in the balance in my checkbook. In looking back over the years that we have been at St. John's, I can see God's hand in every detail of our lives, most assuredly our financial situations. We came to St. John's not tithing anything to any specific church, leaping (thanks to your analogy)out in faith to give back to God what is most assuredly His in the first place. As we continue to seek Him first in all things, He answers the cries of our hearts even before uttering a word. I just realized something the other day. . .as I was writing out our check for tithe, the amount was far greater. . .we have been giving more as He has been providing more. We certainly are not debt free, but in spite of where we are, God has remained ever faithful to continue to provide. We try to be good stewards of what He has given us and sometimes we fail, but PRAISE GOD, HE NEVER FAILS!! Thank you, again, Don for being an instrument through which God used to bring Anthony and I to a place of "leaping". Look forward to seeing you all in February. Lynda Merante