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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Much is Enough?

A few weeks ago, Barack Obama said he believes that “at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” Many conservatives were (somewhat) rightly aghast. Hearing this from the President of the United States makes me very nervous. I certainly do not want our government empowered to decide how much money that anyone can make. However, hearing this from an individual, and looking at it from a biblical and spiritual perspective, I think Barack Obama, the man, made a good point.

Many times over, my wife and I have led the How to Manage Your Money Bible study, developed by the late Larry Burkett of Christian Financial Concepts (now Crown Financial Ministries). About 12 years ago, very early in our marriage, this study was key in helping Michelle and me get on the right path financially.

One of the sessions of the Bible study is entitled, “How Much is Enough?” The overriding theme of the session is that you will never have enough money until you decide that you are going to live on what you have. Also, chapter nine in Larry’s best seller Your Finances In Changing Times (over 1 million sold) is entitled “How Much is Enough?”

Clearly, Mr. Burkett, who dedicated decades of his life to teaching the biblical principles of finance, saw the concept of “how much is enough” as an important one for Christians (and anyone else willing) to grasp. Early in his private counseling there was a common question that Larry generally asked: what do you think the problem is? Almost always, the answer was: we (or I) don’t make enough money.

In nearly every situation—whether it was a $25,000 annual income, $50,000, or $100,000 —the solution was never simply more money. For example, Larry noted that if you took the family with the $25,000 income and replaced it with the $100,000 one, with everything else remaining the same, in one year—two at the max—he guaranteed that they would be back with the same problems.

Generally speaking, when it comes to financial discipline, the amount of income one has is largely irrelevant. Those who struggle financially when they have little money will almost certainly struggle in very much the same ways if they have a lot of money.

Those who are stingy with a little will be stingy with a lot. Those who are generous with a little will be generous with a lot. Those who are foolish with a little will be foolish with a lot. Jesus illustrated this when he said, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

Being content with what you have and trusting God is the real lesson here. As the Apostle Paul tells us, “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.” In other words, what you have or don’t have at any given moment is not the most important thing. What is important is your relationship with Him who gives all good things.

In Luke 12:13-21, the parable of The Rich Fool also helps us gain the proper perspective on wealth and money. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus warned. “A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Christ then revealed in the parable a certain rich man who had become even wealthier.

Never considering that perhaps God had other plans for this increase, the rich man decided to hoard it. He then said to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” Then God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” The parable concluded, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Notice that God never condemned the man’s wealth; only his attitude toward it. Until we come to grips with the fact that none of us really “owns” anything, we will never have the proper perspective on money and wealth. As I have noted often before, we are merely stewards or managers of God’s property. He owns “the heavens and the earth and everything in it.” Until we accept and acknowledge this, all the wealth in the world will not truly free us, financially or otherwise.

Of course, the concept of “how much is enough” applies not only to individuals and families. If President Obama thinks that, “at a certain point you’ve made enough money,” shouldn’t it follow that, at a certain point the government has enough of our money to do the things it is supposed to do? As U.S. Senate candidate, Rand Paul, (Congressman Ron Paul’s son) put it, “People think that there is a different logic for an economy than there is for an individual.” In other words, what makes sense in a family or business budget should also make sense for the government.

Until the United States, Greece, Italy, France, you, I, and so on, decide that we are going to operate within some reasonable budget (live off what we have), no amount of money in the world will be enough.

Copyright 2010, Trevor Grant Thomas

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