A couple of years ago, challenged by the story of John Wesley, who refused to adjust his lifestyle as his salary increased but instead gave huge portions of his income away to help people in poverty, I decided to go through my bank statements. I looked at how much I’d spent over a two-month period on luxuries, essentials, giving away, and ‘grey areas’.
I was kind to myself – every supermarket purchase was marked as ‘essential’, despite the fact that items such as wine would have been included. (Heads up: I’m told wine is not essential!) I counted my broadband and mobile phone bills as ‘essentials’, along with petrol. I refused to put life insurance in the ‘luxuries’ category, even though it probably should go there. Instead I created ‘grey areas’ to cover such expenditure.
I’ll be honest with you, I expected to emerge from this exercise feeling pretty good about myself. I was preparing a talk on the dangers of materialism, and I often speak and write on being merciful and generous. More importantly, I try to practise what I preach.
Yet I found that even at a conservative estimate, I was spending about 27 per cent of my income on luxuries. This made it hard to exclude myself from the category of those living “in luxury and in self-indulgence” that James 5:5 warns against.
A nagging, somewhat unwelcome question lodged in my mind: “Is God ever ok with me having way more than I need, when there are people around me who don’t have the basics?”
If I’m not careful, I know that left to my own devices I easily become more committed to my own comfort than I am to the needs of others. Most of us, if we’re really honest, can instantly come up with half a dozen reasons not to give generously to others.
So over the last few years in particular, I’ve been trying to lean hard in the opposite direction. It’s difficult. Our society, and even many of the Christians around us, will tell us that we need to be wise. We need to save for a rainy day. We need to think about our futures, and our children’s futures. Truthfully, I don’t know where we are supposed to draw the line here, but what I do know is that if we have enough money in the bank for any eventuality, then we never have to live by faith.
I’ve learnt that the best way to ensure that money doesn’t have a grip on my heart is to give it away. I’ve also found – often to my dismay – that the more I offer of my resources to God, the more he wants!
But when we bless others with what we have – whether that’s our neighbours or our enemies, whether it’s one-off sponsorship to that old acquaintance we barely remember but just saw on Facebook is running a marathon in memory of their father, or a child in Kenya we support every month throughout their entire education – we end up blessed ourselves. Blessed with great joy, blessed with knowing our Father’s pleasure and, of course, blessed with freedom from the love of money.
Natalie Williams is co-author of The myth of the underserving poor (Grosvenor House). To read more from Natalie on the topic of money, see the forthcoming March issue of Premier Christianity magazine.
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