A long time ago, I had a dream. This dream occurred at about the same time as I was at risk of bouncing a cheque in real life. My bank account was “really low.” In the dream, I saw a train that had empty box cars attached to it. There were many box cars, but they were all empty – just like my bank account – except one of them, and the one that had anything in it at all had only about two two-by-four pieces of lumber in it. That’s really empty! The cost of that lumber in real life is less than ten dollars. A single box car can easily carry hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of lumber – just like bank accounts can carry lots and lots of money. As the train moved on the tracks, the pieces of two-by-four lumber were “bouncing” up and down – just like my cheque in real life was in danger of doing – and a man who was standing by the tracks said to me, “It works better that way!” The man spoke directly to me. This dream was a message from God!
What was this dream all about? It was all about the fact that my bank account was really low, and the Lord – the One to whom I had submitted my life in 1985 – wanted my bank account to be low for His purposes. For whatever reason, it worked better that way. But what could the reasons possibly be? I’ve thought about this, and have come to the following conclusions: (1) First, it works “better” that way, because it keeps me humble and dependent on God. (2) Second, it works “better” that way, because I don’t at all suffer from complacency or laziness when my bank account is on the verge of tumbling into oblivion! It keeps me motivated to work hard for the Lord, because the “work” that God has given me to do will eventually be enough to pay all of the bills, and much more. But in the meantime, I’ve got to work very hard – otherwise, that “product” will never get developed (PS: it’s a software product). (3) Third, it works “better” that way, because it puts me through a lot of testing and hardship, which helps to refine my faith. The Bible says, “the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:3). There are probably other reasons why it is “better” for me to live (at least for a season) on the “verge of bounced cheques” – but these three are enough for me!
Little did I realize that the dream was also a “heads up” on the fact that I would be living this way for a rather long time (in all, somewhere in the order of nine years). Throughout this time, however, our needs have been met – but not exactly in the way that some people might consider as being “normal” or “traditional.” Nevertheless, they have been met. They key word here? “Needs” – as opposed to “wants.” God will certainly meet your needs – if you are willing to serve Him. He will not always meet your wants.
During this time, have our needs been met through my work alone? No, they have been met in a variety of ways, including remortgaging our house, my wife’s work, my own work, loans, unexpected income (including a very small inheritance that assisted us one year) and even outright gifts. In all of this, the Lord’s peace has prevailed, although I admit my wife has sometimes found it difficult. Still, I never forget what the Lord showed me – about how it works “better” for me when my bank account is low.
I want to provide a few testimonies of God’s goodness in the last ten years, in order to encourage you, particularly if you happen to be struggling in your finances. These testimonies will be provided over at least two (or more) articles, because they cannot fit into one article. This article, then, forms the basis for those testimonies, and I would like to deal some theological issues, first, because I find there is a great deal of confusion concerning God’s provision and how He intends to provide for basic needs, and my purpose in this article is to really help you and encourage you in the midst of your daily life. We all have needs, but how is God going to provide them? Hopefully, you will have a bit better understanding of how God wants to do it, by the end of these articles. These articles provide sometimes unconventional (but not unbiblical) ways in which God may choose to provide for your needs.
Keeping it balanced
First, a short passage of Scripture:
“Two things I asked of You, do not refuse me before I die: Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.” (Proverbs 30:7-9)
The basic tenor of this passage is that God would provide for our needs, but not necessarily for our wants. This does not mean that God does not want to make some people rich. He can and obviously does. Abraham was rich. God had a purpose for that. Not everyone will be rich in this life, however, and sometimes, it’s better that way! (Note, also, that it is also not always God who gives riches. The devil can give riches, too, if we bow down and serve his temptations. So we need to be careful. Luke 4:6)
There is nothing wrong with riches, if you use them wisely. However, God may not decree that a person be rich some of the time or maybe even most of the time! The apostle Paul said, “… I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. 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 4:11-12). So Paul had some real needs. This should tell us something: Don’t complain and grumble at the first sign of need! God might be testing your faith!
Are you someone who can praise God no matter what? Paul said, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (underline added). Sometimes, he did not even have enough to get by, for he wrote, “I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (underlines added). Paul suffered need in the physical realm, but apparently there was a “need to suffer need” for whatever reason. The Bible teaches us that we should be willing to suffer as Jesus did, so that we may also be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17). Do you see, then, that there are different levels of need? Things may not always be as “easy” as they first appear. Our “needs” may not be the real needs, after all.
The Secret to Happiness
Have you learned the secret of being content? Paul did. I think the secret is knowing that despite your circumstances, God is in control. You may have to surrender a few things to God before you can feel His peace in this area. I’m not saying your peace will come automatically. I think there is probably an emotional surrender required of most people. You will need to lay down your will and trust in God. That does not mean being lazy! We still need to work hard. One of the main tenets of faith is the obligation to work hard (six days a week, and on the seventh we should rest). There is no “free lunch.” But if you are serving God to best of your abilities, then you are in a good position to walk in God’s peace and be assured that He will meet all of your needs.
What about those who are destitute? Is there not a place for legitimate complaining when your children cannot even find a meal to eat or a bed to sleep in? Of course. God is not merciless. He desires that your basic needs be met. There is a verse for that, too. In the Bible, Paul (the one who had learned to be content) wrote, “If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:8). This verse provides us with a slight “refinement” on the previous passage quoted (Philippians 4:11-12). It helps us to understand when it is appropriate to not be content. And the answer, according to the Bible, is when you no longer have food or covering. But be careful – make sure you are “not content” in a way that does not suggest arrogance or pride. Worship God in the midst of your discontentedness.
The Righteous Will Never Be Forsaken
The Bible does not promise us great palaces, or king’s clothes. However, we do have this passage, in which we read, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). In short, if you will serve God with your heart, and if you are willing to put in a good six days’ work each week, which is what God expects (Exodus 23:12), God will be more than willing to meet your needs. However, those needs are real needs. They are not all sorts of wants. And if you do go hungry for a meal or two (like Paul did), is that a sign that God does not love you, or has forsaken you? Well, it was not a sign for Paul, so it should also not be a sign for you. However, maybe it is a sign that you need to find some creative ways to get your needs met.
Think of ten different (morally acceptable) ways to have your needs met, and jot them down on a piece of paper. Now go over that list one point at a time. Which one of those morally acceptable ways do you find objectionable? Why? Could it be that you are not humble enough to have your own needs met? Could God be trying to deal with your pride in the midst of your lack? It is just as the man said to me, “It works better that way!”
God has a plan. Because you suffer lack for one or two meals does not mean God has forsaken you. How could the apostle Paul have ever continued his “successful” ministry (which including stoning …) if he had succumbed to that type of thinking? And the fact that his “successful” ministry including stoning … what does that say to you about God’s idea of success? It is not man’s idea. This, too, might be one reason your needs are not being met, because your thinking is not in line with God’s thinking on the matter. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” (Isaiah 55:8)
A Different Paradigm
Although you have many needs, many of these can be met through means that do not cost anything at all, or very little. You do not need to go to the movies. You do need some form of periodic break, however, to give your mind and body a rest. You need to learn to differentiate between the two, so that you are not disappointed when you have no money to see the movies.
Referring back to the previous point, if you have seen a movie in the last twelve months, and paid for it with money that you actually had in your own possession (that you could have decided to spend on food, for example), then your needs are far less than many others, because if you had no food, then surely you would not have spent that money on a movie ticket, so you are not in the same category as someone who does not have proper drinking water, or who has parasites living inside of them. This hopefully should put your needs into perspective.
Is Borrowing Sinful?
Some people believe that borrowing is sinful. Borrowing is not sinful, but does involve making a commitment to repay at the terms of the lender. The truth about borrowing is that borrowing without any means or any expectation of means to repay is dangerous.
People borrow because their income is less than their expenditures. There may be a variety of reasons as to why this is so. A person may have more expenditures than income due to (1) bad spending habits, (2) lack of permanent income, or (3) research and development required to start generating an income on a business venture.
Every person needs to decide why they feel the need to borrow, and to see if there is another possible way to meet their needs. It is not a sin to borrow, but I certainly do think it is a sin not to have a plan to repay. It is also a sin not to minimize debt through careful spending.
God does not want us to be in debt, but there is such a thing as “reasonable debt” in the Bible. In 2 Kings 4:3, Elisha commanded the widow to “borrow vessels” and “do not get a few.” This was a business venture. With the vessels that she had borrowed, she was able to do the Lord’s business and earn money. Thus, there is such a thing as reasonable borrowing. Today, that might mean borrowing ten or one hundred thousand dollars, in order to be able to start a business. None of that is unreasonable, if the Lord is leading you.
Avoiding Loan Sharks
Some people complain about having to borrow money to meet needs. If you are borrowing from a “loan shark” who is charging 25% interest per month, you are definitely in trouble. You should not do that. The loan shark will take you to court (if he’s legal) or worse, if you fail to pay. The borrower is truly the slave to the lender in that case.
I have borrowed money before, and the real reason I have been able to do it is because we have a house that has a lot of equity built up, and I know that the borrowing of 5,000 dollars is not a lot of money when you have well over 100,000 dollars of equity in your house. A basic rule of thumb is that you are not poor or in need if the amount you are borrowing is far less than the amount of equity you have built up in your house. I am referring to the responsible person who has a plan in place to make money. I am not simply referring to someone who borrows on his house in order to meet basic needs. If you continually borrow on your house, you will eventually have no more borrowing power left. Therefore, you do need a plan to get out of borrowing mode. If your plan is well-established, and your venture is good, then like Elisha counseled the widow to borrow vessels (2 Kings 4:3), you too, may be in a good place to borrow in order to help you eventually earn some money. If your faith is in God, and He’s truly leading you, it will all go well in the end – with a few lessons along the way!
Obviously, you should be responsible if you are going to borrow money. Borrowing a relatively small amount of money is responsible if you have a lot of equity built up, and you are spending your time wisely, serving the Lord. Remember, all of this assumes that you are actually working six days a week to the very best of your abilities, serving the Lord with your time and energy. The Lord really has no obligation to feed and clothe the lazy, because the Bible says, “… if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
In the past, I worked for a big multinational company as a test engineer in the field of radio telecommunications (testing cellular radio base station transmitters and receivers). While I was there, I was informed that it took something like nine years to make back the money on the cellular radio infrastructure. This means that when all the cellular radio towers and equipment were put up, after they were switched on, it then took about nine years to pay off! This is a good modern-day example of how borrowing may be required in order to make money in a business endeavor.
The Slave to the Lender
In the Bible, we read, “… the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Proverbs 22:7). This verse is not telling us not to borrow ever, but is rather a warning that if you are not careful, you may end up in a bad situation, if you do not have any plans in place to deal with your debt. People who do not take steps to produce or secure any type of income do indeed become slaves to the lender. Entire nations can fall into this situation. Currently, many nations are debtor nations. They are forever borrowing from other nations. These other nations are now beginning to “rule over” them. This is not a pretty picture. The Bible has given adequate warning about this. In many cases, these nations simply refused to curb their extravagant lifestyles, and to curb their lavish spending. Now, they are beginning to pay the price. In my opinion, there are also some “sinful reasons” why some of these nations are now “paying the price.” But that might be better left for another day. (Hint: Roe versus Wade was passed in 1973, and that is also about the exact same time that the United States started to fall desperately into debt. This, however, does not excuse or declare righteous the other nations who are not in debt. It’s a complicated puzzle.)
Caution! Some people are busy quoting Proverbs 22:7 (“… the borrower becomes the lender’s slave”) when in fact they should be quoting 2 Kings 4:3 (“…. Go, borrow …), or vice versa. How you will know which one applies to you depends on your particular situation. Read those passages carefully, understand what they are teaching and the implications of them, and then seek to put them into practice for your particular situation. You borrow at your own risk and I offer no financial advice whatsoever. If in doubt, seek out advice from others, who will help you. This article is not meant as professional counsel and is intended as a general guideline only. “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
Worse than an Unbeliever?
The Bible says, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). This passage may lead to condemnation or self-condemnation for the sincere person who is either in the process of looking for work, who is unable to work, or who is in the process of building a business (which, like our cellular radio example, may require significant funds including loans before a profit is realized).
The five verses that precede this verse (1 Timothy 5:3-7) and the eight verses that follow it (1 Timothy 5:9-16) are exclusively about widows. The context of this verse in the middle (1 Timothy 5:8) should be considered in light of this. One of the preceding verses says, “if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents” (1 Timothy 5:4). Thus, we see the principle of providing for your extended family here. The complaint in this passage is that certain widows were giving themselves over to pleasure rather than helping others. Thus, two verses later, “she who gives herself to wanton pleasure is dead even while she lives.” So this is a widow who has the means to help, but not the will to help, as she is given over to “wanton pleasure.” This then servers as the backdrop for verse eight, which is right in the middle of the “widows” passage, namely, “if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
The context of this passage, then, helps us to understand that Paul was addressing less than fully committed believers in this passage. Indeed, he was addressing those who are given over to wanton pleasure and who really do not have much concern for their family. This passage does not speak to the person who is sincerely looking for work. Nor does it address the person who is unable to work through disability. Nor does it address the person who is in the process of building a business, and who must borrow in the process in order to accomplish that. The Bible never condemns such people but encourages them to move forward and to persevere in faith towards God.
A Proper Focus
Jesus said, concerning the meeting of our needs, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This, then, is to be the primary focus when it comes to doing anything in life – putting God first. How that is actually done is the subject of much discussion, but if your purpose in life is to serve God and God alone, then you are doing well. This does not mean that you do not set out to make money, but that when you set out to make money, you do so keeping God’s purposes first and foremost. After all, Paul himself was a tent maker, and he pursued this, evidently, in order to make money.
The Bible says that Paul “… found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers” (Acts 18:2-3). Clearly, Paul generated some income through this means. So, for example, if you pass out evangelistic tracts all day, or preach on a street corner all day, and you find that your food supply is getting a bit low, you might want to consider whether or not you should be taking part of your time to earn money by doing something else (you might meet someone where you are working and tell them about Jesus, as well). What is the basic principle here? That a person should work for the sake of money or not work for the sake of money? Neither, but that in all things, God would be glorified. “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Certainly, evangelizing is a form of hard work (and, as was previously mentioned, it can also lead to stoning, which is very hard work indeed – 2 Corinthians 11:25). But the question remains, should a person work for money, or not work for money? It depends on the need. If, as you are preaching, the needs are being met through some others means, then by all means keep preaching. But if you find that the needs are not being met, then this is a sign that you should do something else, at least temporarily (or part-time) in order to have those needs met. There are different ways to do ministry. Some people feel like all their needs must be met and secured prior to moving forward. Others feel that they can move forward and “test God” as it were, to see if the needs will be met. I think each person needs to make up their own mind in this regard. It may not be as simple as all that.
Your mission, what is it? This, too, can have a lot to do with what your needs actually are in God’s eyes. Discern it! If your children are in school, food is on the table, you have a place to call home, though you may not be rich – but if those basic needs are all met – well, you are doing well in God’s books. And yet, if you are convinced that God has called you to do something else, or to move in a different direction, you should follow the Lord. Seek to be obedient to Him always. The Bible says, “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
Dealing with Marriage Relationships
Sometimes in marriage relationships, there can be a struggle because either the man does not want his wife to work, and she feels restricted and wants to work, or the man is perceived as having to provide everything and the wife does not think she needs to work at all. In reading over Proverbs 31, we find that the Proverbs 31 woman
“works with her hands in delight” (v. 13), and,
“considers a field and buys it; from her earnings she plants a vineyard” (v. 16).
“She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies belts to the tradesmen” (v. 24).
Whatever is happening here, money is changing hands through this hard-working woman! She is very creative and industrious.
“She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (v. 27).
Therefore, the husband should not put down the wife and prevent her from working. Neither should there be an assumption that the husband must provide for all of the needs, for this passage clearly teaches otherwise. This is not to condemn you if your husband is the only breadwinner in the family. It is simply to keep everything in perspective. Like the man, the woman has been given authority by God. She has authority to earn money, and to have an influence. This should not be taken away from her. Neither should the husband be made to feel like he alone is expected to provide for all the needs. Everything must be kept in perfect balance.
Who Really Is the Provider?
Ultimately, the provider of everything that is good is God Himself, for we read that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). Therefore, in a healthy marriage relationship, there should be no competition between the husband and wife. Neither should strive to be better than the other or to compete against one another. This is not the picture of the Proverbs 31 woman. Her husband trusts in her, and she trusts in her husband. They work together for the common goal of seeing God glorified in their relationship. The Proverbs 31 woman is the “ultimate” wife, and no woman may ever feel like she can quite measure up. The Bible is presenting for us an ideal. We are to strive to become like the esteemed ones in the Bible. Men, too, have their challenges, and are continually trying to “measure up” to the Lord’s standards. They are high standards, indeed – something to shoot for! Paul writes, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1)
The man and woman in a marriage relationship need to understand that they are merely vessels through whom God wants to pour forth His glory. Finances may flow through one or the other, as He sees fit, at any particular time. There are no rules as to how much should be brought in by each. If one earns more, or less, at any particular time, it should not be a problem, as long as God is put first in the relationship. Concerning the Proverbs 31 woman, a huge emphasis is actually put on her works, right up to the very last verse of Proverbs 31, which reads, “Give her the product of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates” (v. 31). Thus, there is a reward promised to her, for working diligently.
The Folly of Seeking Riches
As for the temptation to become rich when God has not called you to that (at this time, anyway), Jesus warned, saying, “… it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:23). Furthermore, Psalm 73 contains a very serious warning about those who have too much and forget God. We read, “Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction” (Psalm 73:18). Thus, take heed, if you desire riches. Riches do not always lead to hell, but might! Indeed, many people have indeed ended up in hell because of the lure of riches.
In summary, God expects you to seek His kingdom, be a hard and dedicated worker (but you must still take a day per week off in order to rest), and to be sensitive as to exactly how you are to invest your time, money, and efforts, in order to see His purposes fulfilled. In the midst of your pursuits, God will provide for your needs. However, we should be open to the ways that God wants to provide for those needs, and not fix our hearts on there being just “one way.” Certainly, there is just one way to be saved, and that is through Jesus Christ, who gave His life for us, that we might live – for we read that “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). But when it comes to having our needs met, there is indeed more than “one way.” There are indeed “many ways” – but always with the recognition that our needs are provided to us from the Lord (James 1:17). Needs may be met in very unconventional ways (such as when the ravens brought Elijah food – 1 Kings 17:1-6). You may also be called to plant food, instead of purchasing it at the store. There are indeed many many different possibilities, but in all of this, God is faithful and will faithfully provide, if you will truly seek Him.