There’s a danger that Christians can think that God is only interested in what they give to church. It is common for people to give a percentage to God, and then feel and even act like the rest of their money is theirs to do with what they please.
Yet we’re called to steward wisely everything that God gives us — doing so requires us to be good stewards in all our financial decisions, not just giving ones. As most of us spend more than we give or save, it is vital that we put our faith into our spending!
Yet it’s hard. Really hard. Buying decisions are complex, with a number of factors to sift through, and we make these decisions all the time, on the go. Decisions from choices in the supermarket about breakfast cereals to major purchases of cars and houses. Each spending decision reveals something about our priorities and principles.
All the time, messages bombarded us, persuading us to buy on impulse rather than make purchases in a principled or purposeful way. As we watch TV, read a magazine or walk around a shopping centre, advertisements encourage us to make sudden decisions to spend money on something that catches our eye. We must maintain self-control, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives (see Galatians 5:22-23). “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28).
This doesn’t mean we should never make impulse purchases. It is a wonderful blessing to have margin to afford some discretionary spending, as we buy things that we want, rather than need. But knowing the difference between our wants and our needs is vital to maintaining wisdom and self-control in our decision-making.
Below I’ve outlined four pointers to help you reflect on spending decisions, large and small, as both can exhibit our Christian faith.
- Uphold your values.
The best spending decisions will not always result in us buying the cheapest products. There are many factors to consider.
- Does a $10 pair of jeans allow a decent wage to those involved in the manufacture of the clothing?
- Might the higher cost of organic or free-range food be worth the expense in light of creation care?
- What significance do you place on buying recycled or recyclable products?
- What is the environmental impact of your purchases, including for example, flying fruit or toys half way around the world?
The ways that we spend our money can give testimony to our Christian values, and can have as great an impact as our giving. Whilst individually we may feel that we are powerless, caught up in a society where we cannot make a difference, together Christians have the scale to make their influence felt. In the UK, the wider stocking of “Fair Trade” products shows how Christians and others with a passion for justice can initiate change that benefits exploited workers. This not only comes from careful purchasing, where Christians spend their money in line with their values, but also as a result of lobbying retailers to provide such goods.
- Resist unnecessary bargains.
My definition of a bargain is something we won’t use at a price we can’t resist! A fantastic offer is really a very poor deal unless you are going to use it. Stores are full of signs proclaiming “save 20%”, “33% off”, or even “save 50%”, yet we can save 100% if we don’t buy the item. If we buy a $250 camera reduced to $150, we don’t save $100, we spend $150. We have $150 less at our disposal.
- Learn contentment.
Is what we’re considering buying a need or a want? Having room in your budget to afford to buy non-essential items is a blessing. But the more we’re blessed with, the harder the stewardship challenge becomes. Learning contentment helps us remain focused with our spending (see 1 Timothy 6:6-12).
- Pray about major purchases.
Committing to buy a major item is a significant decision as money is no longer available for other purposes. Just as we should pray about other significant decisions in our lives such as jobs or houses, we can pray for wisdom in making large spending decisions.
These principles don’t necessarily make it easy to become a good steward of our spending, but when we practise them regularly, they help us navigate the challenging waters of want, blessing, stewardship, and contentment.
John Preston serves as the Church of England’s National Stewardship Officer, encouraging a wide generosity of all God’s gifts. His background is in marketing — everything from sandwiches to soap-powder. He is married to Jane, with two children.