Recently, I’d begun to really like money, which was a bit startling for me.
I’m the type who loves to create lists — I crave a good list. I even have a list of my redeemable qualities so I’m not always calling myself trash. One of those traits is that I’m not greedy. I’ll share my fries, my coat, my car. Aside from a recent season, I shared my money, too. I’d give, give, give, keeping in mind Luke 16:9: “Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.”
I’m not a rich guy by American standards, but I’ve made enough to get by. In times that I needed some extra cash, like for car repairs or a mission trip, nearly the exact amount would be handed to me by other church members with the words, “God told me to give this to you.” (They hadn’t known of my needs.) This gave me confidence that God would look out for my material needs while I obeyed His callings. By keeping very little money, I found joy that is not easily explained to a financial advisor.
The real trouble arrived when I got a sizable pay bump. Something triggered in me: The need to have more. Not more resources or luxury or fun. No, I simply wanted money itself — that digital, pixelated number on my bank app. How big could my bank account get? What are my financial goals? What should I cut from my life to make room for more moolah? These thoughts were unfamiliar to me.
Before my pay bump in January, I’d lost my debit and credit cards in Malaysia. I went from “financially conservative” to just plain cruel: When those cards were replaced, I refused to reactivate my monthly giving accounts. For a couple of years, I’ve tithed to various missionary partners and ministry programs — stuff I’ve felt conviction from God to support financially. I justified cutting off support by thinking things like, “Well, they are a really popular couple. I’m sure they make loads!” or, “It’s only $20. They can afford to skip one fancy dinner per month.”
How did I justify cutting off support for a little girl in Uganda? By simply not thinking about her. By removing from my Bible the bookmark that features a photo of her. I didn’t want to stare at those hurting eyes while reading in Isaiah about how we should take care of the needy and how God detests the worship of those who don’t.
I lived in a guilty, crooked world in which I felt I couldn’t even mentor youth without the hypocrisy searing my back — and yes, I insisted we not meet over a meal (“My treat!”) like we usually do. Modern Christians like to focus so much on grace that we neglect the fact that living in active, repeated, conscious sin without remorse is still very much a bad, bad thing. I didn’t bother asking for God’s help in overcoming the greed because I knew He would demand I make the money flow again.
This past Tuesday, I attended prayer group. Normally, I jive pretty easily with the Spirit when in this group — it’s packed with wondrously gifted intercessors and worship leaders. But this Tuesday, the worries of money continuously snatched me from being present.
Panic rose to my throat as I considered how steep my medical costs have been this month. I began wondering how I’d be able to eat out as much as I usually do, how I’d be able to afford a house when I start a family, how I’d even start a family.
Money money money moneymoneymoneyMONEYMONEYMONEY.
Finally, I cried out to God for help: Abba!
The worship leader next to me repeated the lyrics, “Let all other names fade away.” She sang as salty tears stung my eyes. I felt like my ribs were vibrating, I trembled and realized with horror that I’d made an idol of greed; that “money” was the name that needed fading. Where panic had risen in my throat, there was now vomit — a repulsion at my greed. I saw the sin unfiltered, for what it really was rather than behind the masks of my justifications.
The voice of God is a tough one to explain to those who haven’t yet experienced it. At times, it’s a feeling of peace and assurance or of strong conviction. Other times, it’s a vision or a dream, maybe even a physiological experience. It can be words from an angel or an actual voice.
Sometimes, it is a tearing of the soul; a realization of horror. Check out these verses:
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”–Hebrews 4:12
“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?”–Jeremiah 23:29
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard [the Holy Spirit’s words], they were furious and gnashed their teeth at [Stephen]. … At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.”–Acts 7:54, 57-58
I felt all that. I wanted to plug my ears and yell to drown out the cleaving of my soul, the scorch of knowing the degree of my sin. The money is mine, I thought. I earned it, it’s mine.
There’s no blocking out His voice if you’ve called upon His name.
I proceeded to confess my sin to those around me as my hands visibly shook and I struggled to keep tears from falling. There’s power in confessing. I was met with grace and knew that is the same grace God gives me. I remembered the money is not mine and that if not for God, I wouldn’t even be alive to spend any of it.
So, yes, I went home and reactivated my giving accounts. I bought meals for some brothers and continued my confession. I stuck my sponsor child’s bookmark back into my Bible. The idol has been toppled from its pedestal.
And you know what? I feel like a million dollars now.