Leaning into Jesus
by Shane Enete
I still remember how I felt when I received my first paycheck on a cool spring day during my sophomore year of high school.
I was a 15-year-old Taco Bell "team member" at the time. I quickly tore open the letter that contained a check for $219. As I stared at such a huge sum, various emotions flooded my wide-eyed teenage heart, including worry ("What if I regret what I am going to do with my money?"), craving ("Man, I want more of this money") and pride ("This is my hard-earned money"). I'm pretty sure I didn't experience what you might call a spiritual emotion.
This is because God was not really in the picture. I had earned this paycheck through mopping floors and making outstanding bean burritos, and so this moment was all about me.
God should have been a part of my paycheck experience. However, I was without God on that cool, spring day, and so my paycheck ushered me into a world of emotions devoid of God's promises and truth, which was a heavy burden to bear.
There is a better way. We can all radically change how we feel about money by living out the hope of Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds and responding with joyful generosity. When we consider our paychecks from a spiritual vantage point, we transform our worry into worship, craving into contentment, and pride into humility.
From worry to worship
Worry is the most common emotion associated with money. It is fueled by our belief in a world where we, not God, own everything. The more we believe that we are the true owner of our money, the more we are responsible to protect it from the world we live in, where resources are scarce. Treasure can be stolen. Private property is not secure. These thoughts cause worry.
For many years after college, I was basically unemployed. I'd take on a temp job for a few weeks and then go back to searching for real work. I lived from one temp check to the next and worried about money constantly, not knowing if I could pay my rent the next month.
One day, as I was going over my pathetic "budget," trying desperately to see if I could exercise some control over my unpredictable situation, it dawned on me that there was something I could do. The words of 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 were ringing in my ear:
He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift!
I responded to my confession of the gospel of Christ by being generous, and that turned my worry over money into joyful worship of God. It was an extraordinary moment when I realized that simply giving back to God was the key to transforming my worry over money into worship.
When we give in response to the gospel of Christ, we turn our eyes from the gifts of God to God's self. As we stretch out our hands to give, our eyes are forced to look past the gift, up into the eyes of the Giver. And the more we do this, the more we will want the Giver more than the gifts.
From craving to contentment
How is the following quote even possible? "'People think we make $3 million or $4 million a year,' explained Texas Ranger outfielder Pete Incaviglia. 'They don't realize that most of us only make $500,000'" (quoted in The Pursuit of Happiness by David G. Myers).
Perhaps King Solomon, who was the wisest and richest person to ever live, might have some answers: "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity" (Eccles. 5:10).
If we do not consider the great abundance of God, we will crave things. We will want more. Our world will be defined by unlimited wants and limited means (scarcity), so we will always want just a little bit more. We might think that we will stop wanting more the moment we reach a certain level, but rest assured there is no ceiling. We will never be satisfied with money by getting more money. Money only creates cravings for more money.
Many people think that getting $10 million is the key to not wanting more money. But the problem lies in human psychology: No matter what amount we get, we will get used to it. This is called adaptability. No matter how high a level of wealth we reach, we will adapt to it.
Money loses its happiness-giving effects shortly after one climbs out of poverty. This effect on us is very similar to that of alcohol. The initial buzz of the first beer loses its potency as we consume more beers. To put it in economic terms, money has a diminishing marginal utility. And if we are only in the world with our money, then our cravings will cause our stomach to groan.
For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world (1 John 2:16).
The woman at the well in John 4 is a story about Jesus walking into the life of a woman and asking something from her. This woman is drawing water because she is thirsty. Jesus then asks her for a drink of water. Why does he do that? It is the woman who is in need. Why is Jesus demanding something from her?
The answer is found in Jesus' words to the woman: "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." Jesus wanted the woman to give him her small portion so that he could exchange it with his giant portion.
In another example, Mark 6 describes a crowd of dedicated people following Jesus to hear his words. They grow hungry, and when his disciples present the problem of no money and lots of hungry people, Jesus simply says, "You give them something to eat."
How can they? They do not have enough money to pay for all the food that is needed. Why does Jesus ask them to give what they have—just five loaves of bread and two fish? It is not going to be enough for 5,000 people! How ridiculous!
But Jesus asks us to give to him what we have so that he can take our sorry little loaf of bread and exchange it for something magnificent. Jesus exchanges our scarcity for abundance. Abundance infers that you have more than you need, and you are content.
But we must first give him what we have. We give God our small cup of water from the well, and God gives us an everlasting fountain, complete and whole:
Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-15).
Giving is the boundary that helps us replace our craving with contentment:
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail (Isa. 58:10-11).
This prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled by the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus asks that we give him all of our self, and he responds by giving all of himself to us. And getting all of Christ is what it means to be whole. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).
Through giving in response to the gospel, we are able to transform our bottomless craving into a delightful feeling of contentment every time we manage money.
From pride to humility
Pride is in our blood. If we think we are earning our money, this pride of ownership will fuel our natural disposition to think that the world revolves around us. If we think that we are independent of our neighbor and that everything is governed by the law (without grace), then our pride will swell to dangerous levels:
Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God" (Deut. 8:11-14).
Money has a way of allowing people to believe that they are in full control. Just like the Israelites of old, if we forget God in our giving, our pride will prevent us from ever thinking that our money is God's money.
If we have received grace, we understand that we could never deserve it, and this breaks our pride. As we receive money looking at the cross of Christ, we will feel humbled. We are humble because we realize that everything we are receiving is undeserved—our breath, our time, even our money.
King David, when generously giving towards the building of the temple, showed a humble attitude about his received possessions: "'But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand"' (1 Chron. 29:14).
Through giving in response to the gospel, we are able to transform our destructive feeling of pride over money into a healthy feeling of humility every time we manage money.
So, let's pay attention to our feelings when we receive our paychecks. If money causes worry, cravings, or pride to creep into our hearts, then there is a strong possibility that the antidote for us is to first experience the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ in our heart and mind and then respond by giving generously. In doing this over time, our feelings about money will radically change.
Shane Enete is a chartered financial analyst based in Southern California, an adjunct finance professor at Biola University, and the author of Practical Generosity: How to Choose Between Spending, Saving, and Giving (2012).