Obviously God must guide us in a way that will develop spontaneity in us. Suppose a parent would dictate to the child minutely everything he is to do during the day. The child would be stunted under that regime. The parent must guide in such a manner, and to the degree, that autonomous character, capable of making right decisions for itself, is produced. God does the same. – E. Stanley Jones
In this summary of his transcendent book “Boundaries”, Henry Cloud outlines one of the most important principles in human development:
“Simply stated, it is this: people have a need to be in control of their own lives, and they have a need to know that God is behind that idea.”
Managing finances is a litmus test for our values. Understanding Cloud’s principle has implications for how and why we must develop financial skills.
Financially, many people confuse these two:
- God promises to meet all our needs (Philippians 4:19 and Matthew 6:25-34).
- God desires us to take responsibilities for our actions.
I believe the confusion surrounds our fixation with outcomes. It is assumed that an appropriate outcome either signifies appropriate actions or that the ‘ends justified the means’. The Bible goes to great lengths to separate the connection of SITUATION from ACTIONS: “Don’t worry about evil people who prosper”( Ps 37:7 and many others).
Money is a very outcome laden subject. For example, most people don’t realize that you can make good investment decisions that still lose money and BAD decisions that make money. The truth is that the quality of the decision making process is separate from the outcome of the decision.
In that vein, the Bible teaches us to separate our actions from God’s outcomes. We are responsible for our actions; God is responsible for our outcomes. The context is different, but this is the idea behind I Corinthians 3:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
See that the reward is for the LABOR not the growth or harvest. This is a vitally important financial concept because it releases us from the outcome and empowers us to focus on taking responsibility for our actions.
The vast majority of financial messes I see are caused by someone’s head being stuck in the sand. This ostrich mentality results from feeling overwhelmed by either the size or scale of the mess or the inability to navigate the complexity of it, so a person ignores the issue until it intersects with real life. Dallas Willard described this collision: “Sometimes reality is what you run into when you’re wrong.”
The unfortunate truth is that ignoring problems doesn’t lead us to less stress, worry, or increased happiness. The opposite is true – when you know you have a large financial burden, ignoring it creates inner stress and it weighs on our spirits. It ‘enslaves’ us.
Instead, as Dr. Cloud pointed out “freedom and responsibility go hand in hand.” We must take dominion over that which we have personal responsibility. This most certainly includes our finances.
Money is a little confusing for some because a critical Biblical concept of money says that “God owns it all.” This is true – what we are discussing here isn’t money but your and my DECISIONS about how to handle our money. We have to take ownership of our decisions. Again Dr. Cloud:
What ownership basically is about is the possession of what God has entrusted to us. Ownership says, “that is mine, and I am responsible for it.” It is what Jesus was calling us to in the commandment to “take the log out of our own eye first.” (Lk. 6:42) So, in order to take responsibility for our lives, we must own what is ours.
We own control over our financial decisions. When we refuse that control, , we are subjected to a life at the mercy of sales people, shiny stuff, collections callers, ‘rich people’, evil corporations, big government, debt, car payments, student loans, lower salaries, and financial emergencies. Dave Ramsey describes control over our financial decisions as ‘happening to your money’ instead of ‘wondering what happened to your money’.
Many (even those in occupational ministry) don’t understand this division of actions and outcomes and it leads to a couple of unhealthy perspectives:
“Rich people must have done something immoral to gain their wealth”
“Rich people stepped on people on their way to the top”
“I’ll never be wealthy because….”
“The system is set up so the average guy can’t win”
“The little guy can never get ahead”
“I’m not a finances nerd so I won’t ever have enough….”
“You have to have money to make money”
“The love of money is the root of all evil so I won’t ever be rich”
These perspectives connect ACTIONS and RESULTS to create false narratives. “I don’t” so “I won’t”. They have all come about because the situations described can and do occasionally occur. But correlation doesn’t imply causation.
Instead, if we come to the Biblical perspective of separating the actions from the results, we can conclude that there are some poor people whose actions we would LIKE to emulate and many rich people whose actions we would NOT like to emulate. In the same way we don’t need to envy or covet others’ wealth. Why they have it (RESULTS) isn’t our business; it belongs to God. Similarly, if you find yourself with wealth, you don’t need to feel guilty about it. The fact that you have it doesn’t validate you, your decisions, or anything else. It just is. It is the result of providence. What we do with our wealth (ACTIONS) is the more important matter over which we must take ownership.