The settlers of Jamestown and Plymouth believed in it. Our forefathers framed it. Donald Trump personifies it. Kanye West, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day and just about every musician describes it. Thousands of people storm our borders each year to get a slice of it. The American Dream.
Dreams are powerful forces. The dreams of European immigrants gave birth to a new nation. The dreams of the early settlers gave birth to a superpower. The dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. fueled acceptance and love: “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.”
Dreams champion the entrepreneur who climbs out of government-assisted living with determination and a good idea. They propel the mail clerk to rise through the ranks to CEO. The formula is hard work + courage + determination = prosperity.
This formula for success has fueled unprecedented ingenuity, but how does that fit with our faith? Is the American Dream in sync with God’s Dream for our lives? Specifically, since the pursuit of prosperity drives this dream, what does God have to say about our money?
God is the Blesser
Some of us have a big pile of stuff, others have a medium pile of stuff and still others have tiny piles of stuff. We each have talents and opportunities to make varying amounts of the big green. The question is, how are we stewarding our stuff?
We’re managers, not owners. God is the Blesser. He is our perfectly beautiful and generous parent who loves to give good gifts to His children (see Matthew 7:11 and James 1:17). He blesses us with intangible elements such as peace, joy and love. But God sometimes also blesses us with material possessions. Things like that 10th-floor condo, those Diesel jeans, the iPad and your 2010 Jetta. But God doesn’t want these blessings to stop with us. He wants us to be a blessing to others (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Bring, Give and Enjoy
When it comes to managing our stuff God’s way, three words come to mind: bring, give and enjoy.
First, God tells us to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. The storehouse is your local house of worship. In Malachi 3:8-10, God curses the entire nation of Israel because they withheld their tithes from Him. There’s only one example of God asking His children to test Him in the Bible. And it has to do with tithing. It’s as if God is saying, “I dare you to bring it and see what I’ll do for you!”
It’s both interesting and humbling to note that Jesus elevates expectations in the New Testament for commands that were given in the Old Testament. He sets a higher standard. Adultery is wrong, but so is looking at a woman lustfully. Giving 10 percent is a minimum, but followers of Jesus should be giving even more! So, first and foremost, don’t neglect to bring God’s tithe to your local house of worship. The Church is the hope of the world and God’s first priority.
Second, we also have the privilege to give generously to others in need. Give sacrificially to orphaned AIDS victims in Africa. Provide food for the hungry in your own community. Don’t give because you feel obligated, but because you recognize God’s blessings on your life.
The “give” component should also include giving regularly and strategically to yourself. I’m talking about saving and investing. It is a biblical concept to save for the future (Proverbs 21:20, 30:25). You can decide how much to save and invest, but I set aside a minimum of 10 percent of my income.
Third, enjoy. A budget is a wonderful way to free you up so you can enjoy your money. Money is God’s gift to you, so enjoy it. I’m not ashamed to say that God has blessed me and my family. And when you bring it and give it, you too will be free to enjoy it.
You might say: “But what about greed? How do we keep the money thing from spinning wildly out of control?” I call greed a God-given desire gone haywire. It is not the pursuit of money that leads to greed; it is a funky perspective on money. Our wealth is also a gift that should be enjoyed. But money makes a lousy master. Jesus gave us an important warning in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (TNIV).
Money can’t take us where we ultimately want to go in life, and it can’t erase our deepest desires. Money is just one of the many blessings from God, and we can enjoy it by following the bring/give/enjoy principle. When we embrace the fact that our wealth is God’s wealth, we realize it’s not about the American Dream; it’s about God’s Dream.
This article originally appeared in RELEVANT magazine.