Our current letter series “Wise Practices” aims to share practical knowledge and wisdom to help us grow as doers of the word. Each letter will share applied methods and answer a ‘how.’ These practices are not perfect or comprehensive. They are personal testimonies; shared knowledge and wisdom gained through pursuit and service that helped facilitate growth in our lives. We pray they help you grow as well.
Debt is a big problem within our American system. Personal debt in the USA is now at an all-time high of nearly 15 trillion dollars. It is estimated that only about 15% of Americans have any real margin in their lives. The vast majority of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Another 15% are in financial crisis. Sadly, this is true for many Jesus followers as well.
I have to admit that I have not always been wise about debt issues in my earlier years. Fortunately, I married a precious lady who was much more cautious than I about getting overextended. In raising six children, I was forced to consider sound financial choices that have helped me immensely. Getting out of debt and positioning ourselves to give more generously must be a goal for every believer if we are going to make a serious attempt at making disciples of all the nations. I would recommend for anyone struggling with debt to walk through the Dave Ramsey course on Financial Freedom. If you adhere to the principles taught in this course, you will eventually pay off your debt and experience a greater freedom to give generously in the future. It may take you a couple of years to achieve that freedom, but I assure you it will be well worth the effort.
In the meantime, learn to be content with what God has given you. 1 Timothy 6:6 tells us that godliness with contentment is great gain. Our goal should not be to make more money, but to put our trust in the Lord for His provision and to be satisfied with, and to live within the means He has provided for us. One way we do that is by giving back to Him 10% of our increase – a tithe. This is the starting point. When we choose to honor God first, He will honor and make provisions for us in amazing ways. (Malachi 3:6-12) God has ways of providing for our needs and helping us get out of debt. (Psalm 75:6) I have seen this in my own life, as well as in many others who have chosen to put their finances back in God’s hands and trust in His provision.
The Scripture is quite clear that the borrower is servant to the lender. When we make choices that cause us to be indebted to others, it puts us into a position of being under their control financially. The issue of debt is nearly inescapable with regard to buying a house. However, the good news is that your house will generally increase in value over time, and your income will as well, but your house note will remain constant if you have a fixed rate of interest. For most other kinds of debt, not so much. Generally speaking, it is wise to avoid going into debt for such things as…
- Vehicles which depreciate over time – obviously, transportation is often necessary to get us where we need to go. My advice is to see vehicles as a form of transportation rather than a status symbol. Don’t enter into an emotional attachment with your car, but learn to be content with less bling, a smaller payment, and more reliability.
- Credit Cards which can snowball and choke you to death with high interest – Dave Ramsey strongly recommends going cash only for purchases. I don’t think it is necessarily sinful to use a credit card so long as you can discipline yourself to use it wisely. If you can’t – then go cash only. Here are some practical tips.
- Only use a credit card so long as you can pay it off every month. This helps you build good credit but keeps you from sinking into the debt cesspool.
- Sometimes you receive offers to borrow money at 0% interest so long as you pay it off within a specified time. You must discipline yourself not to overextend your debt beyond what you can reasonably afford and can pay off within the allotted time.
- Do not go into debt to pay for lavish vacations. Ask the Lord to open up opportunities to do things as a family that are much more budget friendly and will not break the bank.
- Learning to be content with what God has given you and trusting in Him to provide for your basic needs is wise and teaches you how to wait on the Lord for His provision. (Matthew 6:19-34)
- Unreasonable School Debt – in Tennessee we can get our first two years of a college education free. Why not take advantage of that? Getting a diploma in a marketable vocation is what is important, not the worldly mindset of going after a degree that will not prepare you for the workplace, or from a prestigious institution that will only add to your debt load. There are many Americans who have achieved a college degree who cannot find a good paying job simply because they do not possess a marketable skill – but they do possess a mountain of debt. Don’t overlook vocational schools. Many of the trade artisans such as plumbers, electricians, construction workers, HVAC, etc… don’t require getting into huge debt, but make good money, and are becoming scarce. Plus, if you do your work well and don’t gouge your customers, you can have a great witness wherever you go.
Increasing your Giving: Here are some practical exhortations toward being a generous giver:
- He is our Example: “God so loved the world that He GAVE…” (John 3:16)
- He is our Blessing: “It is more blessed to give than to receive…” (Acts 20:35)
- He is our Reward: “One who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully…” (2 Cor. 9:6)
- He is our Joy: “God loves a cheerful giver…” (2 Cor. 9:7)
- He is our Satisfaction: “Godliness with contentment is great gain…” (1 Timothy 6:6)
- Only He is worthy of our Love and Devotion: “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil…” (1 Timothy 6:10)
I am well aware that this article may not answer all your questions about overcoming debt and learning how to be a faithful and generous giver. But I hope it will sow within your heart a desire to want to pursue a greater understanding of what the Bible teaches about being a generous person. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance to you in this matter.
Elder/ Care Pastor
Gene Mermilliod serves as the Care Pastor and Elder of Tri-Cities Baptist Church and has served on staff since 1990. He is married to his wife Gayle and they have six children (Paul, Josh, Joel, Cara, Peter, Daniel).