A couple of weeks ago, I finished up a three week journey through the Gospel of Matthew. Throughout that journey, there were two things that kept probing my consciousness. Actually, the two subjects overlap one another as both had a lot to say to me about money and my handlings of my personal finances. “Personal finance” is one of the areas in life in which I have encountered some of my greatest bouts with fear and hesitation.
Throughout Matthew, I read of Jesus saying over and over again to “not be afraid, oh ye of little faith.” In contemplating this concept of faith, I have concluded that I often fall short of living a faithful life when it comes to my approach with money. In other words, a great deal of the financial decisions I make are manipulated by fear.
For example, I have a list far too long for my comfort of the times that I knew it was the right thing to give money to someone or to a great cause, but I somehow rationalized my way out of that calling and didn’t. Even today, I am wrestling with a personal financial decision that has the potential of stripping certain comforts out of my life. In these instances, I withhold my faith and hesitate to spontaneously follow God’s call because I am afraid of what I might lose in the process. I am afraid of letting go, timid of losing a bit of control of what I have—thinking I am never going to get anything like it back again.
I have arrived at the following question: Do I really have anything to lose if my soul is being smothered by fear and self-preservation? This question was the effect of the other subject that ambushed me in Matthew. It has to do with my soul and its current condition. Regarding the soul, here was and is Jesus’ question: “What would it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his/her soul?” I can’t help but wonder how my soul is really doing, how much of it is alive in God. Or how much of it is over there in the corner afraid to take financial risks, afraid to become a bona-fide disciple of Jesus because of what I may lose in the process. Again though, do I really have anything to lose life if my soul and life are being manipulated by fear?
Today, I have a little bit more money that I did a few years ago. Back then, it got so bad one day that I was filling my car up with fuel and didn’t know if I had enough cash in the bank to cover the cost. I once even hesitated to give a college friend a second serving of ramen noodles, even though each serving was only about 14 cents. On the surface, I appear to be more financially healthy today, but what of my soul?
Is my soul any better off today than it was then? If what little bit I have put in savings were taken away from me, I guess I would know. I think I already do.
I know it of other pilgrims too. They have told me. And to all of us Jesus is saying, “Do not be afraid. Come follow me.” In our financially complex society, it has become hard for many to enter the simplicity of the Gospel. A study of Matthew and the other Gospels reminds us of its simplicity. On the occasions when Jesus issued the invitation for someone to follow him, he gave no notice. It was to be no “planned following” but one that was full of spontaneity and, if necessary, an abandonment of everything familiar and comfortable. I recently heard about someone who left a comfortable executive position because his personal relationship with God was leading him elsewhere. The “elsewhere” included a huge setback in pay and benefits. Why should that be the exception to the rule, rather than something we hear Christians doing every day?
“Financial planning” is certainly commendable and can be used by God to bless us, the world and the generations to come. But its practice doesn’t eliminate the spontaneous element that goes with the Gospel of Jesus. We are to be followers before planners. After all, it is God, not us, that ultimately has the say in what becomes of our lives—financial situations included. In light of such of a humbling truth, we are left to think about that which we do have control: Fear. “Do not be afraid.”