“…You are the fountain, always abundant and overflowing…” Thomas a Kempis p. 189 The Imitation of Christ
As a follow up of to my first post re: money entitled “Knowing God as our Gracious, Faithful, Generous and Attentive Provider” I want to share some life lessons that I/we have learned over our short years on this planet. My hope and prayer is that this will prove helpful to especially some of you younger folk as you seek to know and please our great Savior in the whole realm of finances.
I grew up in an average middle class neighborhood in the South. On our street and the street below us - our home and my parents’ assets were perhaps a little less than average. But then compared to some of my friends who lived a few streets over in poorer neighborhoods, we were doing pretty well.
While my parents faithfully attended our So. Baptist church all my growing up years, they like so many of their generation did not know God in a personal daily way. Provision came from hard work and scrimping and in my parents case both worked most of my growing up years. One of my Dad’s famous oft spoken quips re: provision is “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” My mother had especially grown up in poverty, born to a single mother. Both of my parents experienced the “Great Depression” and I believe were determined their children would not have to experience anything like that. Neither had a college education, so they did the best they could with what they had.
Because of my parents’ hard work and self sacrifice, and because of an Aunt that I grew up near, who doted on me a lot, I never had to worry about basic provisions of life.
I learned early on to work odd jobs like delivering newspapers and mowing yards if I wanted spending money. Because of school and sports and lack of drive I suppose, I mostly worked summer jobs through high school and into my first two years of college at The Univ. of TN., though I do remember working part time at the Univ. of TN while in school.
So takeaways from my first 19 and ¾ years re: $$?
- I regret not having learned to think long range in terms of saving for the future. I mostly lived for the moment, always assuming I’ll have what I need. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, But everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5
- I saw the value first hand (materially) that comes from growing up with relatives close by and being in right relationship with them.
- My parents and uncles and aunts worked hard and did not squander away their money by gambling, divorce, or alcohol addiction, drugs, etc. They were loyal to the companies they worked for and that eventually translated into wealth in their latter years via pensions, 401 k’s, etc. While we in the younger generation did not come to know God as provider through them, we did see the value of hard diligent work through their example.
So what happened at 19 and ¾ years, which was around August of 1975? Well after two years of failure in College, and in relationships with girl friends, etc., I was spiraling fast. And thus I finally said yes to repeated invitations from a former youth leader to get out of Dodge and move to San Jose, where he lived and was involved with the Navigators and a newly planted church. Most back home did not understand this decision, especially my father, so I knew better than to ask for $$ to help subsidize my new adventure. I had enough personal money to purchase a plane ticket and $80.00 left over, but I moved there without a car, job, place to live, etc. My Dad was skeptical to say the least. I was desperate and well God had lots of mercy on me.
Steve, my former youth leader, having fresh vision for helping make this nominal struggling Christian into a disciple, didn’t waste any time trying to get me on my feet spiritually. He taught me how to have a quiet time, read the Bible systematically, and memorize scripture in those early months. I went from being highly social and fairly well known (in South Knoxville) to knowing only one person on the Western two thirds of the nation overnight and being unemployed. So I had lots of time to read, reflect, pray and repent/cry out for mercy.
God had a major restoration project on His hands, and by His grace one of the first things He did was to teach me to stand on His promises. I began to memorize precious promises like, “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing.” Psalm 34:10 and “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in You!” Psalm 84:11,12 And I had the joy of seeing these promises fulfilled in those first couple of months as He provided Christian roomates and lodging; a full time job in a nearby Hospital; transportation via one of my roomates since I worked at night in a hospital and he worked days, etc.
I have memories of my growing up years in Knoxville of our church providing offering boxes filled with offering envelopes for every member. I have no memories of ever putting anything in them. Like I said, I mostly lived for the moment in those years.
But in those early weeks and months in San Jose I also memorized a life long guiding verse and principle, “Honor the Lord from your wealth And from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty And your vats will overflow with new wine.” Proverbs 3:9,10 This was one of two verses on giving included in the Navigator Topical Memory System that Steve encouraged me to memorize in those early months. I learned in those days that the Lord gladly gives us wealth in various forms and we have the privilege of regularly setting aside a portion of it to give back to Him as a form of worship, which then results in more wealth over time. I began to develop at that point a lifestyle of putting aside His portion first of whatever increase came my way. While the Navigators weren’t perfect, they did try to practice this principle in finances, “prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James 1:22
Thinking back on God’s provision in those four years in San Jose as a single young man, I would be remiss to not mention the role my involvement at South Hills Community Church played. Through that church God provided spiritual family, especially one family that took me in as their own, and made holidays a little less lonely. Through that church God provided part time employment with different companies. Through that church God provided sound Christ centered Bible teaching that was a great compliment to the somewhat rigid discipline of the Navigators. And through that church God provided a small but vibrant community of college aged men and women that became a lifeline for me as we learned to seek Him and serve Him together – spending many hours praying and studying the Bible together. I actually met my wife in that group!
Looking back on those four formative years in San Jose, I realize I mostly just squeezed by financially. Young single men can do that. But I can say with the apostle Paul, “…the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.” I Timothy 1:14
From there I moved back to Knoxville for the summer, and then off to Dallas, Tx to begin my first year in Seminary. While my parents were very disappointed that I didn’t attend a Southern Baptist Seminary, they did end up paying for my tuition at DTS. Considering that it was a four year degree, that was a major investment for them and major provision for me. God provided part time work here and there in that first year, and somehow needs were met, though I do remember one day when I did not have enough money to buy a stamp to send my latest love letter off to my fiancée.
Over all these years of tracing themes through the scriptures, it has become more and more clear to me that God does in general promise and intend prosperity and abundance to His children who seek to know, love and serve Him. Passages such as:
Psa 37:11 –“ But the humble will inherit the land And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”
II Cor. 9:8 – “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”
III John 2 – “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”
And many more make this obvious. He really is very generous, kind and gracious with His stuff. And He loves to bless us so we can be a blessing to others (see Psalm 67).
But here is the clincher. He doesn’t owe us anything but hell. And He is far more interested in the prosperity of our soul or our relationship with Him and our usefulness to Him than He is our material prosperity. And if it takes withholding some of the latter to bring about the former He will do what He has to do to make us more like Himself.
Before Anne and I got married I decided to take a year out of Seminary and get full time work to help us get off on a good foot financially and to not have the constant pressure of academics to deal with. Only problem is I got very sick with an awful cough (probably bronchitis) that I could not get rid of soon after I moved back to Dallas. So my first impression on the phone or in person with potential employers was challenging to say the least. Anne’s grandmother wanted her to call the marriage off because it was obvious to her I was a “freeloader”. (God did eventually heal me, and I did eventually get an adequate full time job).
Before we went to Hong Kong we decided to spend our last seven months in Pasadena to be near Anne’s parents. Having a six month old baby, we felt we needed a nice safe, quiet place to nurture our family, have Anne’s parents over, and prepare for being away for four years. God instead (after much searching and praying on our part) put us in a little one room bungalow in the middle of a drug infested block (we found this out after moving in). Many crazy stories I could tell about those days. He knew the best way to prepare for the crazy stressful life in Hong Kong was not to live in a bubble.
While in Hong Kong after having endured all kinds of hardships to learn the language and culture there, there was a day when my son Joshua needed a new pair of shoes, and we could purchase them there for the equivalent of one American dollar (7.85 Hong Kong dollars back then). But we couldn’t afford it. I suppose we could chalk that up to the socialist system our mission back then operated with. But was God not bigger than that? We of course eventually were able to purchase shoes for Joshua, but the wait was surprising for a family who was laying their lives down for the gospel.
While in Fort Wayne, IN before we moved to Los Osos, there was a point where Anne quit her nice paying Occupational Therapist job (we knew God had directed that decision). Soon after quitting, she got pneumonia (right after her medical insurance ended) that was so bad she had to move in with friends with a big home because our two little children just couldn’t be expected to leave her alone and she was fighting for her health. Because of all of that I couldn’t work, and we literally ran out of funds multiple times. Then she got better and I put on my suit and started going out looking for a job that would support our family. Right then we had some very severe weather. At least an inch of ice under the deepening snow. A single lady in our church couldn’t get her car out of her garage so I drove over in our four wheel drive Chevy Blazer (given to us by friends) and shoveled her driveway. The next morning I couldn’t move. My lower neck upper back was totally seized up and for a week I couldn’t get in a car and could hardly get out of bed. When you are flat broke, every day not earning $$ counts!
About 12 years ago my wife’s parents’ financial planner ran off with most of their life savings (22 million total from mostly senior citizens, and some teachers and coaches here in San Luis Obispo County).
We shed some tears in a few of these situations, wondering why God was forsaking us, and wondering how we would ever get out of the financial holes we were in. In every case He had a plan. Here are some valuable lessons we learned through those trials.
While God had every intention of blessing Job more towards the end of his life than He had in the beginning, He was after something in his soul and faith that as Peter stated was “ …more precious than gold which is perishable…” I Peter 1:7. God wants us all of us to be able to say with utter sincerity, “…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21 He wants us to get to the place where we realize Jesus Himself and His kingdom rule and presence in our lives is far more precious and valuable than any assortment of material riches and wealth.
God wants all of us to be able to say with the apostle Paul, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Philippians 4:12
And our testimony after many challenges and trials is if we give ourselves to the first part of Hebrews 13:5,6 God will certainly give Himself to the latter part, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL Never Desert You, Nor Will I Ever Forsake You,”so that we confidently say, “The Lord Is My Helper, I Will Not Be Afraid. What Will Man Do To Me?”
Our testimony is this:
“I have been young and now I am old, Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken Or his descendants begging bread. All day long he is gracious and lends, And his descendants are a blessing.” Psalm 37:25,26
May the Lord bless you beyond what you could ask or think both spiritually and materially for His glory and praise, and for the fulfillment of His purposes on the earth!!