“You gotta have faith!”
What does this mean?
“God will provide” is another variant of this idea. The idea that “faith” is a fix-all for what we don’t know and understand or a green light to pursue any desire we can dream up.
Where does the role of faith fit into a healthy understanding of my finances?
While I’m not a theologian, I have heard a lot of people using ‘faith’ language around financial matters for a long time. We’ve discussed that some people use ‘faith’ as a reason for pursing a theological education – sometimes used correctly and sometimes used as an argument for non-logical actions. Prosperity gospel teachers have also used ‘faith’ language to create an entire theological worldview where one’s physical blessings and hardships can be the result of their faith or lack thereof.
While there are many definitions of faith, I believe there is one definition of faith that will change your entire financial worldview. Let’s walk through it:
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for…”
One way I believe Paul helped explain the world was dividing it into multiple “realms”. The physical universe (your skin, bones, DNA, cells, etc.), the spiritual world (the heart, the Spirit, Faith, hope, love, peace, etc.), and the mind or your thoughts. There are a number of examples of this (Romans 12:1, Romans 7:21-24, Romans 8:5-15, Galatians 5:16-18).
I believe when the author of Hebrews 11 (probably not Paul) is saying that faith is the SUBSTANCE, what they are saying is that it is physical thing – an action in the physical world. This would echo what James says in the second chapter of his book that faith without deeds isn’t actually a real thing. It’s ‘dead’. Faith is itself an action based on your HOPE. Jesus said calling me “Lord” is pretty worthless if you don’t actually take my teaching and put it into “practice”. Walt Henrichsen says we take risks in the direction of our hope. Where is our hope? Where are we taking risks?
For example, I think this definition works well with understanding salvation itself. Paul in Romans outlines a process: Though sinful (Romans 1-3), we have justification for sins by faith (chapter 4). Hope isn’t a wish, but an eager expectation that doesn’t disappoint (chapter 5). Our hope is in Jesus (Rom 5:1-2) who is the Hope of Glory (Eph 1:11-14 and Col 1:27), saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation comes through the physical actions taken in the direction of our hope. Thus in Romans 10:9 Paul says if you take a physical action in the direction of your hope – confess with your mouth what you believe in your heart – you will be saved. Another way of saying the same thing? Follow Jesus. Believe he is who he says he is and actually do what he teaches (John 14:15-24).
Back to finances….I believe it’s critical to articulate what I’m hoping for. This will greatly clarify my faith statements. It’s really how the scientific process works. I set an eager expectation when I construct a hypothesis. Then I take a step of faith into the unknown and begin testing (“method”) in the direction of my hope. This is quite literally gathering ‘evidence of things not seen’.
What am I hoping for in my finances?
Being a responsible steward of all I’ve been given?
Raising my children without endemic poverty?
Being completely debt free someday?
Going to Seminary without debt?
Paying my student loans off within 5 years?
Sending my children to college without debt?
Allowing my spouse to be able to be a homemaker?
Giving 20% of my income?
Taking a year off of work when I turn 40 to serve the hurting?
This can’t be hope as a ‘wish and a dream’, but rather an eager expectation. What Peter called a “living hope”. Romans 15 calls God the “God of Hope” whom through the Holy Spirit we may “abound in hope”. Peter described hope as something we can “set fully on”. Paul described it as a product of suffering, perseverance, and character. Solomon said without it the heart grows sick.
We need to land on a specific goal, a firmly embedded hope in our heart. Then we can start by taking actions in the direction of our hope. This is an act of faith – a risk in the direction of my hope.
It can be extremely unglamorous. I have a strong hope that raising children in a stable home and remaining married to my wife will be worth it in the long run. The reality is that this isn’t the easiest or most self-gratifying way to go through life. The reality is that I don’t know what life will be like in 20 or 30 years. But I have an ever present earnest hope that my life will be better in the future if I love my wife and serve my children in the present. And so in an ACT OF FAITH, I change diapers and go to work each morning. It is an act of faith – an action believing that it will be worth it.
It’s not an exaggeration to say doing the dishes is an extraordinary act of faithfulness. This is the kind of faith that breaks down generational cycles of fatherlessness, poverty, alcoholism, and abuse.
What is my financial hope? Do I want my spouse to be able to stay home with our children? I understand it isn’t possible right now. Step one: Set my hope on that outcome. Step two: Take a physical step of faith in that direction. What can I sell? Can I work a 2nd job? Can I downsize our house or car? Can I cut our food or entertainment budget in half? Can we payoff a credit card in the next 60 days if we live on nothing?
Do you feel called to go to Seminary without incurring a crushing debt burden? That is a noble goal. Set your hope in that direction. Next, start taking steps in the direction of your hope. Have you applied to Seminary? Have you applied for scholarships? Have you applied to 10 better jobs then you have now? Have you tried doing fundraising? Have you shared your vision with 20 people? They all won’t work, but that’s ok. We don’t know what act of faith will work unless we try. Finding out what will work or watching God reshape our hope in another direction all together – that is the miracle of the divine crashing into my finite time and place. And it will be your unique story of how God provided and your faith will be strengthened because you will have your own personal “evidence”. “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” It always starts with an action in the direction of your hope.
When it comes to finances, I’ve often had someone tell me “you can’t do that”. The truth they are telling me is probably “I can’t do that.” I understand these are wildly taken out of context, but there are instances of Jesus being amazed by unbelief. He is saying “Why aren’t you actually doing anything?” We say “Well, because we can’t control the wind and the waves.” Apparently that isn’t a good enough reason.
Conversely, Jesus was amazed by the faith of an outsider who took action when his servant fell ill. I believe a lack of faith is refusing to take steps into the unknown in the direction of my hope. You might believe it’s impossible to pay cash for your next car. Have you considered selling your expensive car that currently has payments? Have you read any books or articles on how to do it? Have you considered driving a crappy car for 6-12 months? Have you considered what you could sell to raise the money? Have you considered driving a car with hail damage? Have you considered going with one car for a significant period of time? Have you bought a car with significantly less features for a lot less money?
I know you can because my wife and I have done all of these things. I’m happy to say we have two beautiful, paid for cars. It took my wife and me a couple of years, a string of ugly cars, several breakdowns, a few arguments when we only had one car, and an ’04 Kia with hail damage I bought for less money than I was making per week, but we did it and we’ll never go back.
I have had people use spiritual language around a financial event that causes me to wonder. They say God “blessed” them with a new car (and car loan) or God “provided” the financing for the house of their dreams. The reality is I don’t know, maybe He did. But I do believe “The blessing of the Lord makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” I wouldn’t want the blessing of your car if it came with your car payment. My deepest desire is a greater Hope for you. I want a greater faith in the direction of that hope.
The message for me, as well as you, is that we wouldn’t settle for good enough. The good news of the gospel is that we can participate in the Kingdom – how the world ought to be. Let’s set forth with Kingdom hope and then take audacious actions in that direction. When someone says “You gotta have faith”, I trust they have survived suffering, produced perseverance, developed character, and nurtured a hope that is deserving of that faith.
And I hope they have enough faith to take courageous action in that direction.