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Is it Christian to save?

Thoughts on saving, retirement and planning.

Is it Christian to save for retirement? Ought we have a savings account? The questions are so practical, they’re almost forgotten when we consider biblical teaching on finances. Yet, with gas hovering at $4/gallon and the economy looking rather bleak, they suddenly appear relevant. My demographic must have something to do with it. Young enough to think it is a question for tomorrow, yet old enough to realize life is much more expensive than we imagined.

It wasn’t always this way. I can still fondly recall the late teenage years, enjoying the comfortable vantage point of middle class suburban life. No, money was not worth chasing, I simply needed to follow my dreams. Reality was cordial, but entirely unimpressed with my idealism. To call it idealism is itself a gross overstatement. An idealist understands the present circumstances, but chooses to strive for an unrealistic goal. I understood nothing of the present circumstances. I thought it was perfectly normal to spend half my paycheck on a new pair of skis and assume my finances would still improve. Interesting logic. Fortunately we live in a country very forgiving of mistakes and my economic picture brightened. The questions however, still remain.

What are the common arguments against saving? Mostly, I hear petitions that we are eliminating our ability to trust in God. Less popular, but a far more entertaining line of reasoning comes from the Armageddon, Y2K, Jesus is coming so why bother crowd. The thought process goes something like this: If the Messiah is returning on Thursday, why should I plan for Friday? All our work will be in vain when the rapture hits and our bank accounts are vaporized. Brilliant logic, if only we knew when this will occur. No luck. Anxious Christians have assured us this event was scheduled for tomorrow for 2,000 years.

Let’s begin with the more sensible argument. Does saving for the future limit our ability to trust God? It depends what we are trusting Him for. Unless we understand clearly the outcome we desire, we cannot determine whether the trust was fulfilled. For most of us, when we speak of trusting God financially, we imply a certain level of income. If your family earns 100k, perhaps you set this level at 65k. Anything below this, and God has clearly not provided for your needs. Yet if you normally make 60k and God provides 65k, you would feel quite thankful for His overwhelming provision. The question must change. What is God on the hook for? What must He provide for us to feel that our trusting in Him was well deserved?

If the concept of God on the hook sounds heretical, it is. I ask the question not because it draws from solid doctrine. I ask it because most of the time this is how we view God. Our sense of His provision is deeply connected to the standards we bring to the table. This concept really is much broader than simply finances.

Health contains a very similar sense of relative provision. If your country is suffering from a famine and your family is on the verge of starvation, you are unlikely to wast time asking God to cure your acne. However, if you are surrounded by healthy, active people with easy access to medicine, you are quite likely to feel disappointment over God’s unwillingness to relieve your condition. Not only is this unavoidable, it isn’t always a bad thing. But it should give pause and help us appreciate the dramatic effects of our vantage point.

Let’s discuss the non saver. They believe God will faithfully provide if something goes wrong. Sounds delightful. Yet riddle me this, who will God use to provide for you? Another non-saver? Unlikely, he just asked you for money. Perhaps He may toss a suitcase of money down from the heavens. Possible again, but I doubt it. God enjoys working through His people. He delights in watching a diligent saver take joy in providing for his neighbor. Even more so if the neighbor in trouble is struggling for righteous reasons. If God has provided us with the ability to earn a decent income, He is almost assuredly asking us to save and provide for someone else. Someone who does not share our luxury to save.

Therefore, two reasons exist to save: Providing for those in need, and preventing us from becoming an undue burden on those around us. I can already hear the opposition, why don’t we simply give all our extra away right now? Because we must plan for those in need tomorrow. Even if you gave all your extra away to World Vision today, they will likely hold your money to help when a catastrophe strikes in the future.

We must not simply ask ourselves if it is righteous to save. Clearly circumstances exist on both ends of the spectrum. Motives are everything. Some of us may question the merits of saving, yet think nothing of dropping $4.50 on a latte every morning. Others may squirrel away every penny, but never rest in the peace of His provision. I pray that we may allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts, and through His grace act upon His conviction.

Comments

Comment from Nate
Time August 12, 2008 at 8:20 am

Ah, glad it is showing up now. I got the RSS yesterday, but when I tried to come here directly, it wasn’t available… anyway.

The Parable of the Talents has been running through my head for a few weeks now, and I thought of it almost immediately when I read this. Perhaps it might give some insight.

Of course I understand that the larger implications of this story pertain to the Kingdom of God. However, I find it hard to believe that Christ would use such a practical illustration as an example to follow, for something he himself does not support; namely, the prudent saving of money, and to increase what has already been given to you.

Understandably, we usually view this in light of our spiritual gifts, evangelism, etc, etc. However, I don’t think we should skip over the very meat of the parable itself, in hopes of finding an answer to how we should utilize, and yes, steward (see, Pastor Mark) our money.

I am not convinced that the question should be whether it is permissible to save or not, but rather, how should we save, and to what end. What is the purpose of saving? Is it to hoard our wealth and become a pillar in society where others can covet what WE have achieved. Or, is there another reason.

Done.

Nate

Comment from Melanie
Time August 15, 2008 at 5:17 am

Jimmy,

Thanks for the invite to read your “not blog”. You’re a really great writer with some insightful thoughts.

Quick comment on the post about “Saving” – In my mind savings isn’t a financial issue, it’s a character issue (like spending or tithing or pretty much any money related thing). Why are you saving – what are your motivations and what beliefs are they rooted in.

I think generosity should also come hand-in-hand with savings. The bible is pretty clear about sacrificial giving. For me, giving sacrificially almost always means re-distributing savings.

Finally – I read a book recently called “The Heavenly Man”. It’s about a missionary in China – a modern day Paul. It’s not really about money, but just reading about this man’s life transformed the way I saw my life – including my money. A very worthwhile read.

Keep writing Jimmy – you have some great thoughts to share.

Melanie

Comment from jrmallory
Time August 15, 2008 at 6:03 am

Melanie,

Yeah you are totally right about it being more of a character issue. I’ll check out the book you recommended. Have ever read the autobiography of John G. Paton? He was a Scottish missionary – excellent book.

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