So what does growing our relationship with God have to do with money? Well, sometimes Christians can feel intimidated by all “the rules” the Bible has about money. For example, we are supposed to tithe 10% of our income plus bring offerings on top of that, right? Pile on top of that the rules about avoiding debt, God owning it all, avoiding ill-gotten gain, etc. and you have a big set of hoops to jump through if you want God to love you, right? (I hope you know I’m being playful to make a point.)
When I was growing up in the church, I remember hearing a lot about all the rules – the many, many things that good Christians do or don’t do. (Many of those rules apply to money management, so I’ll get to the financial piece soon, but humor me for a minute while I paint a bigger picture.) Being a mostly compliant child, I did my best to navigate the dos and don’ts. I’d say I actually got pretty good at this Bible-inspired performance. That is, I was pretty good at it, until…I turned 18 and moved out of the house.
I made it a few painful months on my own before life began to poke holes in my performance-oriented faith and good girl decision making. Without my parents around to reinforce “the rules” through rewards or discipline, I quickly slid into a free-for-all lifestyle that was fueled by years of repressed curiosity.
While my backsliding happened as a teen, adults can have a similar experience if their faith is all about trying to follow the rules. Eventually, they weary of the constant tap dance, recognizing that they’ll never be good enough to keep all of the rules all of the time. Exhausted and frustrated, they may even feel resentment towards the church, or God himself, for assigning them the impossible task of being perfect.
The Good News
But Jesus didn’t actually give us the assignment of being a perfect, or even of being a great rule follower. When questioned about which one of the 613 commandments of the Torah was the greatest, Jesus said we should simply love God and love people (Matthew 22:35-36). He taught that in order to live a fruitful life, we should abide in him and remain in his love (John 15).
While this deep level of connectedness may be difficult to grasp (especially with an invisible, spiritual being) this teaching holds the key to the abundant life that God wants us to experience. And, there are some very simple, practical steps we can take to develop our personal relationship with God.
We can seek him. He promises that when we do, we will find him when we seek him sincerely and diligently. If you’ve been trapped in a shallow or rule-oriented relationship with God, you don’t have to stay there. He promises that when you draw near to him, he will also draw near to you. Resolve to spend a few minutes each day seeking him and drawing near. Here’s how.
We can talk with him. No relationship can survive without communication. God loves it when we spend time just talking to him, in plain English, with an honest and sincere heart. And our communication with him isn’t one way. Jesus said that he’s the Good Shepherd and we are like his sheep, who know his voice. He still speaks to us today in many different ways (through the quiet nudges we feel in our gut, through the Bible, through trusted friends, through dreams and even songs…) there’s no limit to his creative methods of communication.
We can get help understanding the Bible. This book was written in a code that can only be deciphered in the context of relationship with God. Many people have tried reading the Bible and found it complicated, odd, or even boring. But when we humbly ask Holy Spirit to help us understand it, and utilize the many great studies and teachings that are available, we find that this book comes to life and is full of power and wisdom. [Some of my favorite Bible teachers are Chip Ingram and Joyce Meyer if you’re looking for a new study.
We can build our relationships with other Christians. These are vital to the growth of our own relationship with God. The church is referred to as the “body of Christ.” God has deposited part of his nature into every person that he created in his likeness. That means we can learn about God by being connected to other people who are on this amazing journey of faith. We build each other up and encourage each other in many ways.
I’ve been blessed to have Christian friends who have helped me overcome doubt that was holding me back, friends who have brought me meals when I was sick, and friends who graciously held me accountable to complete the assignments they knew God had given me. I know that many people have been hurt by “the church,” but the truth is that none of us grow in isolation. The only way growth happens is in community with other imperfect people. (We must practice forgiveness until we become experts.)
So back to how all this relates to money…
Yes, the Bible provides a lot of wisdom on finances, some of which we will struggle to implement.
I remember the first time my husband and I decided to attempt tithing 10% of our income. We were young and terrified that we would not have enough provision to pay our bills. I remember planning ahead about the I’m-so-sorry prayer I was going to have to pray when we failed at our goal because we ran out of money. But do you know what happened instead? I got a raise that very week!
Now I’m not suggesting that we can manipulate God by giving money to the church, but his word does promise that we will be blessed when we trust him enough to give him back some of the money that he gives to us. And, far more valuable than the small increase in pay was the increase in trust that prospered in my heart. Now, all these years later, with all the miles we’ve walked with Jesus, we have learned to trust him with much greater things than 10% of our income. And everything we’ve entrusted to him, he has faithfully kept and graciously multiplied.
The Good Shepherd
You see, the good thing about the Good Shepherd is that he meets his sheep right where they’re at. He doesn’t stand on top of the mountain and scowl at all the sheep in the valley below, demanding that they climb up to meet him. The blessing of being on the faith journey in relationship with Jesus is that he comes to where we are, takes us by the hand, and helps us each step of the way.
As we follow his lead, we see our financial house come into order (along with every other area of life). As we trust him in small things, he blesses us with his more of his perfect peace. When we stumble and fall, his unfailing love picks us up, reassures us, and encourages us to keep going. He generously gives us many rich rewards along the way.