Monthly Archives: April 2014

How to Pray About Money, Luke 18:1-8

judgeThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 18:1-8. In these verses Jesus shows us how to pray for our troubles, especially financial ones. However, there are two parts of this parable–one speaks to those who are suffering, and the other speaks to those who have the means to relieve suffering. This blog post will close with some tips on how to pray for our finances, even if we are doing pretty well with money.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”  6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In this example of a widow, Jesus is talking about those who suffer financially because of their situation, and not because of what they brought upon themselves (I will get to that toward the end of this article).  Millions of Americans, including hundreds that I have worked with in the last 5 years, have gone through all kinds of financial hardship. What financial difficulty are you having?  Maybe you recently lost your job, or you are back to work earning significantly less than you were used to. Many people are drowning in medical bills, paying high costs for hospitalization, doctor’s visits and prescriptions. Health bills are a large source of financial difficulty for many people. Deductibles and co-insurance amounts are higher than ever, and so are the premiums for many group and individuals plans as well as for new policies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare). Millions of people have gone without health insurance either because the cost was too high or because they were not insurable. Health care and job loss are one of the big reasons people are suffering financially, but there are other reasons, such as a self-employed business not doing well, divorce, fraud, abusive lending practices, or death of a breadwinner.

If we are suffering because of unfortunate circumstances or are able to help those in poverty, how are we to pray?  Jesus encourages us in this example to pray for everything persistently, for help and relief, and for justice. Jesus commands us to pray with vigor, urgency, and desperation. We are to pray with faith and expectation that he will provide for us, because he is much better than the unjust corrupt judge who does not help the widow against her adversary (in today’s scripture). Jesus is the exact opposite of this judge. Jesus is compassionate and patient; he cares for us and hates to see us suffer. He helps us both when we don’t deserve it and when we are doing all the right things. Furthermore, Jesus hates injustice (Isaiah 10:1-3); he will answer its victims and will punish the unjust.

The A list of things we should pray for:

  • “Daily bread” as in the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:10). Bread can represent basic needs of food, shelter, clothes, transportation, and utilities. Bread also means spiritual food to sustain us emotionally and spiritually during suffering. Pray for Jesus to lift us up, keep us going, and give us patience and endurance (John 6:35).
  • Possessions, such as our cars, houses and clothes, so that things don’t wear out, break, or need costly repairs (Deuteronomy 8:4). My car has over 300,000 miles on it, and at one time the tires had over 100,000 on them. I have prayed for this car and its tires, and my maintenance and repair expenses have been very minimal during our financial difficulty.
  • God to carry us, so that we are not totally consumed by our situation (Psalm 23:1-6 and Psalm 91:10).
  • Justice. If we have been taken advantage of, such as by predatory lenders, fraud, an ex-spouse, or age or race discrimination, we should ask for Jesus to intervene on our behalf (Psalm 17 and Psalm 10).
  • Enemies.  Pray for those who owe us money but are withholding it. If people are persecuting us and working against us, we should pray for their forgiveness, for heart change, and for Jesus to bless them with good things (Matthew 5:44, Mark 11:25).
  • Miracles (Matthew 13:31-32). I have witnessed and received the benefit of financial miracles during our financial setbacks. People have told me about debt lenders who just forgave for no reason, interest rates lowered on mortgages, and checks in the mail from old jobs or friends.
  • Quick relief, but also perseverance (Romans 5:3-4) since answers don’t often come when we want them.
  • Ask for his help in budgeting, debt repayment, marital financial harmony and spending control. Pray about expenses to eliminate, things to sell, and ways to make extra money.
  • Our jobs, businesses and places we work. Pray for successful companies, good jobs, raises, promotions or better jobs to come our way.
  • For people that are suffering injustice in our society and suffering in our world in societies of oppression.
  • For direction of where to invest our time or money to help others. If we are going through difficulties, not only is it good for those we are helping, but also it will help us a lot.

If you are doing well financially and the heat of your situation is not forcing you to look at your finances, pray for the things on the A list as well as for an increase so that you may bless other people. Pray for discernment about your finances; you may have plenty of money but not Jesus’ heart when it comes to money and materialism.

If your financial difficulty has something to do with your poor financial management, then how are you supposed to pray? It could have been that you borrowed too much money, were a bad worker, gave little, didn’t save anything, and lived a lavish lifestyle beyond your means. Perhaps you didn’t do any of these things, but you just failed to budget and plan well. Whatever camp you were in, if you combine just one of these with an unfortunate financial setback such as a job loss or a health care insurance crisis, you too may find yourself in terrible financial straits.

One of the huge benefits of difficulty is the opportunity to grow. Often God lets difficulty come our way, whether we brought it on ourselves or not, in order to save us. He may be saving us for eternity if our lives were focused on the love of money and not on Jesus. He may be saving us from the path we were on by giving us a better life in the days to come; he ultimately may be refining our faith and teaching us the secrets of being content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12-13, Luke 8:10). He might be testing us (Luke 8:13-14) or teaching us about riches, worrying, and pleasures (Luke 8:15). Jesus may be teaching us about all kinds of things that we need to learn that we wouldn’t have learned if life had just gone really well financially.

The B list of things we should pray for:

  • Jesus to show and teach us things about ourselves that are bringing about unfortunate finances (Psalm 139:23-24).
  • Forgiveness. If we have not obeyed his teachings about money, possessions, work (effort and honesty), integrity, greed, and giving, we should repent and pray for forgiveness and for Jesus to make us whole.
  • Biblical financial wisdom about stewardship, debt, riches, giving, budgeting, and work.
  • Heart change about our attitudes toward money.
  • Ask for God to show us not just negative things, but also positive things about our finances and about just life in general that he is pleased with.
  • For the things on Prayer list A, even if we might have been some of the cause for our poor finances.

There are also lessons in Luke 18:1-8 for people in political positions, those with financial resources, and those who are self-employed or leaders in business. It is easy to point the finger at politicians when there is injustice or there are people suffering from financial difficulty. It’s quite a different matter to try to help.  If you are in positions of influence, you have the responsibility to care for those suffering, including the  poor and the immigrants: Zechariah 7:9-10, “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

  • Contribute money to organizations that help the poor with daily needs and with things that can help people help themselves out of poverty (read the books Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts).
  • Influence politicians to help those suffering from injustice.
  • If your business is doing really well financially, forgo raises for the top people and increase wages for those on the bottom.
  • If you have the means and ideas to start or expand your business, take the risk so that the economy in your area strengthens and more job positions can be opened up.

Summarizing, the list of financial things to pray for is really endless, but don’t forget to pray for abundance and prosperity, wisdom and self -control, and his help to be a good steward over the things he has blessed you to manage. God answers prayers; I’ve seen it countless times. God is generous and he loves to bless us, but in his participatory system, he’s sometimes waiting for us to ask.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fifty-second post in this series.

The 2nd Coming of Christ and Money, Luke 17:28-35

cloudThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 17:28-35. These verses describe the return of Jesus, but almost every teaching about them teaches the wrong things. It is not about rapture but how we live our lives, day-to-day, and where our hearts are focused.

28 “It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. 29 But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

   30 “It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day no one who is on the housetop, with possessions inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one in the field should go back for anything. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. 34 I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. 35 Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

I’ve heard countless sermons by preachers on these verses, mostly on the radio or end-times religious TV fundamentalists, using these verses as a scare tactic to save unbelievers. Some people have made quite a good living doing so, such as the author of the “Left Behind” books. With so much focus on being raptured, I fear that many people may miss the really important messages being conveyed here. Keep in mind, there are many verses about the 2nd coming of Christ, but the word rapture is never used in the Bible.

No one knows for sure how exactly the end of times will happen, or all of the world events that will proceed it. Why is this a mystery? It is a mystery because God chose it to be. Not all mysteries have to be solved; some things are just plain mysteries. This is a challenge for many people to accept, because humans love to solve mysteries and puzzles. Millions of people are captured by mystery novels, soduko, and problem solving video games. We are curious people, for that is the way God made us. However, even Jesus doesn’t know the day or hour (Mark 13:32). There is a reason God keeps this a secret–he wants us to focus on other things instead, such as not waiting to change our lives and prepare our hearts!

The challenge we have when we read 2nd coming types of verses is to think that stewardship doesn’t matter since everything will be destroyed and will be made new (Revelations 21:1-4). This is the error I fear for my fellow believers who have heard too many end-times teachings, and who think nothing material in life has value–only the spiritual life and the coming Kingdom. Luke 17:28-35 addresses this ignorance head on.

There are certain key Bible verses to remember to solve the mystery of how temporal and eternal fit together:

  • Mankind was set up to steward over the earth: Genesis 1:26-30
  • Our stewardship over all things, including materials in our care, has eternal ramifications: Matthew 25:14-28
  • Believers will rule with Christ in the new coming Kingdom: Revelation 20:4
  • People’s eventual rewards may somewhat be affected by their present stewardship, the way they behave with money and possessions, and how they deal with the poor: Matthew 6:19-21, Proverbs 19:17
  • Our lives don’t consist of our material possessions: Luke 12:15

Luke 17:28-35 is a natural extension of these verses. It is telling us that when Jesus returns (“when the son of man is revealed”), it will be a surprise. No one will know the moment before, for we will be going about life “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.”

That will be a strange day; we will leave everything behind, and we can’t take our nice homes and cars with us. We can’t take our careers with us. Our country, country club, and clubwear designer clothes will be left behind. You will not be able to take your present life with you at all (Luke 17:33). We are to be good stewards up until the day we leave, and we will have to give an account, but Jesus is warning us not to put too much value in things. He is warning us today that even though he values our stewardship, budgeting, saving, debt avoidance and generosity (and it has eternal importance), when the trumpet calls, we must not put too much value in the things of our present life. Then we won’t yearn for it “like Lot’s wife,” (v. 33) because we can’t take anything with us when he calls us home (Job 1:21).

Our yearnings instead should be for the coming Kingdom, and we will gladly leave those things behind for we didn’t love our life, money, our possessions and everything else. We will rejoice when we see Jesus coming to us (Revelation 1:7), our first love (Revelation 2:4), our only main focus of our affection and love (Matthew 6:24), and will run joyfully to him, leaving behind our prior lives. No one knows the time of His return, or our death, but with this mindset we live each day with a focus on loving Jesus.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fifty-first post in this series.

The Right Attitude About Work: Servantude, Luke 17:5-10

wash feetThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 17:5-10. These verses seems to indicate how hard work, obedience, and a servant-like attitude are linked to the type of faith that moves trees and mountains.

Jesus was responding to the request of the apostles to increase their faith, but His two responses seem rather bizarre. For me, that is what makes Bible reading fun–trying to solve a puzzle. What really fascinates me is that God has provided words written through man that give us insight about how He thinks and acts. That is quite an amazing thing for the Creator of the universe to do. So when Jesus (God incarnate) speaks in a puzzling way and His words are recorded in scripture, we are encouraged to dig–into the Bible and into our souls–while communing with Him for direction and for explanations. These verses are a great opportunity to do just this.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

When 21st century Americans, and I am sure people from other developed countries, sit down and read the Bible looking for financial guidance, it is difficult to find the answers they want.  That is because they often want to know what they can do to be rich or how they can have people wait on them while they work less, as in today’s scripture passage. When we look for such answers, we will be offered heart-wrenching change.

All kinds of wisdom and guidance about money are in the Old Testament, in particular passages that connect our actions with either wealth or poverty–for example, advice about just being wise, saving and generous, as well as cautions about accumulating wealth. Likewise, we see poverty connected to laziness, spending all income, and spending tomorrow’s paycheck today when we go into debt. We also see many times in the Bible where nations or persons are blessed because they obeyed God, were good stewards, and didn’t worship anything but God.

So there is some cause and effect exemplified in the Bible: reaping and sowing, prospering financially if behaviors and attitudes are right.

There is also grace in the Bible. God is generous towards us, before obedience, wisdom or heart change. For example, God liberated his people from Egypt and gave them everything they needed while they traveled–food literally fell out of the sky every day. Ultimately he gave them a place to live that flowed with milk and honey. It wasn’t because they earned it or behaved well at all, but it was because God loved them.

When Jesus talks about life in general, or more specifically about money, the direction He gives or the answers to questions he provides are usually not to add to what has already been said in the Bible.  Jesus has a different audience. Before Jesus, Biblical instruction was often to a theocratic nation, but it is still applicable today. Jesus is speaking to people from many nations, with all sorts of religious beliefs. In Jesus’ audience, there were multi-god religions, Judaism, and intellectuals schooled in the teachings of Latin and Greek philosophers, as well as individuals worshiping money and power. It was much like America is today, so Jesus taught down to the core heart issues instead.

So back to the Bible verse above. Jesus was responding to the request for people to have more faith and to believe in Him and His teaching.  Jesus challenged people, or more likely blew their minds, by saying that if they had even a little faith in Him, they could command objects like trees and mountains (Matthew 21:21) to be uprooted. However, what is particularly interesting is what follows, where Jesus was saying that we need to be obedient, humble, and faithful followers of Him; to be hard workers; and to have faith.  The example here is of a guy working hard in the fields all day, who then has to prepare someone else’s meal before preparing his own. That is hard work, and Jesus is connecting faith to obedience and hard work. It seems as if in American society today, we want to have more money, higher position, and a good retirement, in many instances, so that we don’t have to work as hard. That is a broken paradigm, and one that Jesus says will diminish your faith. It seems that Jesus is connecting having faith and seeing miracles for the things you are praying for with hard work and an obeying heart. We are not to be living for future days of less work. This is true whether we are an executive in the “C-Suite,”  a worker in a call center, or someone doing day labor.

Do you want to have that faith Jesus talked about, and to see miraculous fruit, maybe in your finances, your small business, or in many other things? Then hard work with a Christ-like (John 5:19) servant’s heart of obeying and serving Him in all things seems to be essential (also read Colossians 3:23). Jesus is telling us this because He is our friend (read John 15:15) and is interested in molding our hearts to emulate his example (Matthew 20:28), and not in having us be His slave-like servants.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the fiftieth post in this series.

The Rich Man and Lazarus, Luke 16:19-31

rich man and lazThis week’s money and stewardship devotional from the four Gospels* is from Luke 16:19-31, a story Jesus told to address the concept of large wealth and its implications to salvation.

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
   22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

   25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

   27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

   29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

   30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

   31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Question #1: What is Jesus warning us about? Jesus is warning us about the extreme danger of having a lot of wealth. Jesus is saying quite clearly in these verses that a life centered on money, possessions and personal comfort is not the plan he would have for our lives. He is saying indirectly that we will live in Hell for eternity if that is how we are. It is quite plain that if our lives are not devoted to Christ, that the place we will live in is called Hades, that it is fiery hot, full of torment and regret. The void between there and heaven is wide and there is no escape from it, no relief, not even a cool drop of water for our tongues. We don’t talk much about Hell in feel-good Americanized Christianity, but it is healthy to do so.

Question #2: What is Jesus encouraging us to do? To repent from a self-centered life and to follow what Moses and the Prophets taught us to do throughout scripture for thousands of years–that is, to follow God, love him only, and serve no others gods. If you read the entire Bible, you will see this theme hundreds of times, in virtually every book–from Genesis to Revelation, and in story upon story, prophecy upon prophecy, and teaching upon teaching. Or you will see the consequences illustrated when people fail to follow, love and serve Him–calamity and destruction, followed by repentance, obeying and blessing.

Question #3: Is this a warning only to wealthy people? I’ll answer this question with a few questions; you be the judge: Do we live in a comfort-, entertainment-, pleasure- and money-obsessed society? Do a majority of people want the best and nicest home, car, vacation, retirement, job, clothes, and church? Is the daily news dominated by stories about the economy, stock market, sports stars and celebrity multimillion dollar contracts? Are casinos and lotteries doing a bang up business? It isn’t just the small minority of very wealthy people in our country that are focused on these things, but it is also those that are not wealthy but are striving either to be wealthy or to have some of the trappings of wealth. Reflecting on this and the entirety of scripture, it seems that the warning is for everyone.

Question #3: If ‘scripture interprets scripture,’ are there other Bible verses where Jesus taught like this? These Bible verses provide conclusive evidence of the connection between wealth and salvation:

  • Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 12:33: not treasures on earth, but in heaven
  • Matthew 6:24: you can’t serve God and money
  • Mark 10:25: it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle than for the rich to enter heaven
  • Luke 12:15: be on guard against greed; life isn’t about material possessions
  • Luke 12:29-31: don’t set your heart on material possessions
  • Mark 10:17-31; Rich Man and the kingdom of God
  • Matthew 22:36-40: love God with all your heart, mind and soul

Question #4: Why is Jesus preoccupied with Money? The Bible contains: 500 verses on prayer and fewer than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions. Jesus talked about money a lot: more about money than Heaven and Hell combined, more than anything else except the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, Jesus is more preoccupied with us and the Kingdom of God. More than anything Jesus wants us to live with him for eternity, so much that he painfully died for us. He loves us and wants the best for us, both today and for eternity.  He knows what will make us really happy, and this is only He, both today and forever. These are his motivations for teaching us this stuff.

Question #5: What are valid questions to ask one’s self about this?  Introspection is always healthy for those considering Christ, or for those who follow him. Examine your own thoughts and beliefs about money, possessions, comfort, and retirement. Do you look to Jesus for hope, joy, happiness, fulfillment and comfort?  Are you happy, content and joyful or are you financially stressed? Is your heart set on Him, His Kingdom, and eternity, or on the things of this world? Are you serving yourself, money or Jesus as you arrange and plan your future? Are you generous with your time and money- giving a lot of it away? Only you and God know the answers to these questions and whether there is need for repentance. Jesus is always standing there with open arms to forgive us and to guide us on our walk with Him–the Good Shepherd.

*A chronological examination of any verse that involves money and stewardship, attempting to see the new light that Jesus shines on money in His ‘for-us’ but selfless, grace filled, Holy Spirit empowered, and Kingdom oriented positions. This is the forty-ninth post in this series.