During my years in seminary, money came in fairly infrequently. My wife, Lois, stayed home with our children, and I worked occasional jobs around my studies. Anyone who’s ever attended school while caring for a family will understand our circumstances. Eating and keeping the electricity running becomes the goal. Surviving becomes the goal.
One way we earned some income was house-sitting for families who were traveling. The seminary had developed good relationships with several wealthy families who trusted that their big houses would be properly looked after, their pets cared for, their possessions and valuables protected. Lois and I were excited each time we got chosen for the job. Great food and fantastic accommodations, and we got paid!
But we needed to stay realistic in our thinking. “This isn’t our house,” Lois would frequently say, reminding me not to get comfortable. And it is easy to forget what is and isn’t yours when you are in close proximity to wealth. But our role was overseeing the well-being of things we did not own. At the end of our stay, we left the homes in as good of shape—if not better—than when we arrived. We took nothing with us. We left behind the cars, the furniture, the big entertainment systems, the food we hadn’t eaten. Everything. It wasn’t ours to take.
We take nothing with us when we leave this world—none of our wealth or the stuff we buy or the things we invest our time and talents in. Until then, we are charged with looking after what God gives us here on earth.
Are you a kingdom steward?
A kingdom steward is a believer who faithfully oversees the protection and expansion of the assets God has entrusted to him or her to manage. Everything we have—our time, our abilities, our resources, our money—should fall underneath God’s overarching rule. While finances are only one aspect of stewardship, they are a critical aspect.
Money is a major issue in Scripture. As we see in many of Jesus’ parables, He addresses issues related to money and managing resources. But God’s teachings on finances address an issue far greater than just sensible use of money. God desires our overall well-being and freedom from slavery to irresponsible debt.
Living lives trapped under the weight of poor financial decisions can lead to depression, family conflict, worry and additional emotional problems that can land people in other forms of bondage. But wise stewardship ushers in the capacity for enjoyment, rest and freedom. Here are four core principles that help us understand the Bible’s teachings on the wise management of money:
Planting: Kingdom stewardship starts with planting our resources in God’s kingdom.
Giving first to God and His work is our recognition that He already owns everything and that we are tasked with wisely managing these resources for His purposes. We’re living in His kingdom (Psalm 24:1). It’s His house.
We have no right to claim ownership of something that is not ours. Even if we made that claim, it would make no difference, just as it wouldn’t matter if I claimed that the houses we watched during seminary were mine. When the owners returned, I’d be kicked to the curb. Neither will God stand by as His creatures seek to usurp Him as the rightful owner of creation.
Most people don’t live by this principle. They act as if they own what they really don’t own simply because they are in close proximity to it. But God has established a world where we are merely the managers. In the final analysis, each of us reports directly to God. He has entrusted us with the freedom, responsibility and opportunity to manage the things put in our care.
And what a trust that is! What you do with the time, talents and treasures God has entrusted to you is up to you. The choices you make, the decisions on how you spend your days, even the thoughts you think—it’s all up to you. God’s trust in His caretakers should invigorate us to work hard and be wise and creative in choosing how, when and where to use the resources He’s placed at our disposal.
Planning: Kingdom stewardship means being real about the condition of your assets.
Proverbs 27:23 gives great wisdom: “Know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds.” This one verse establishes a basic kingdom stewardship principle for all of us: Pay attention to how well you’re doing. Do the hard work of assessment, learning and application as it relates to whatever ventures you take part in. You must have a plan—and to have a plan, you must clearly comprehend your assets and strategies for growth.
Since God believes in planning, we should believe in planning. The Creator planned things out before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Yet too many believers go to Him without doing the diligence of planning. We tend to dodge the reality that God works in concert and in cadence with plans. We regularly witness Him in Scripture responding to a plan, tweaking a plan or creating a plan.
Every family should be living according to a budget. This gives you the framework to remove debt and free up spending for all your needs as well as greater giving to God’s kingdom. A budget enables you to live within your means. “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty (Proverbs 21:5).”
Don’t operate with the mindset of luck or undefined hope. God has given everyone a mind in order to plan. And it may be that it’s a wise friend or godly financial planner who helps in this area, especially when it comes to setting long-term goals. “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).
Prioritizing: A kingdom steward values needs over wants.
Wise kingdom stewards prioritize financial freedom. One of the ways you do this is through discerning between wants and needs. Having a car is a need in most places in today’s culture, while that souped-up sports car is probably a want. So begin identifying any wants that you have falsely treated as needs. Once you do, you can begin to redirect your resources toward better uses such as the removal of excess debt and investment toward future needs.
When my son Jonathan was younger and just starting to play sports, he came to me and said that he “needed” a new pair of Air Jordans. Back then, Air Jordans were some of the most overpriced sports shoes available. I explained to my son that he had confused needs with wants. He wanted a new pair of Air Jordans because they were a status symbol. What he needed was a pair of tennis shoes. So I said I’d pay for the shoes that he needed. He’d have to work to pay the difference for things that were wants.
God has promised to meet the needs of faithful, generous believers, but not necessarily their wants (Philippians 4:15-19). Rather than live a life of complaining about all that you don’t have, reclassify what you don’t have in the proper category of wants, and replace the ingratitude with gratitude. This will give you a better perspective for prioritizing where your money goes.
When tackling debt, pay off small debts first, then aim for the big ones using the money saved from the smaller bills. There’s another benefit here—when your family is committed to where money goes, you’re less likely to spend impulsively.
Praying: Take these matters to the throne.
Prayer isn’t mentioned last because it’s less important—it’s last because you now know what to pray for.
God seeks to set people free, and He has very interesting ways of doing it. In Proverbs 13:22, we read, “The sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.” So God can even use the wealth of others to turn your situation around. You never know exactly what He is up to.
As you pray and make financial decisions, aiming to be a wise kingdom steward, remember that though God will never forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), His promises do come under His covenant. Unless you align yourself underneath His rightful rule, you cannot tap into the promises of His provision. As you align the use of your time, talents and treasures underneath His overarching rule, you will witness the supernatural invade the natural. That’s what the Bible calls being truly rich.
Dr. Tony Evans is the founder and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Church in Dallas. This article adapted from his latest book, Kingdom Stewardship: Managing all of life under God’s rule.