Thursday, August 8, 2019

‘I Now Pronounce You Debt and Debtor’

Marriage is hard. Anyone who says differently has never tried it. Merging two people from different families and backgrounds, motivations and values, personalities and expectations. Two becoming one, as God prescribed in Genesis 2:24, is easier said than done.

Debt is a terrible, unmerciful master.
When one or both parties show up at the altar weighed down by a pile of debt, the challenge becomes even harder. Almost as difficult as trying to climb Mount Everest wearing only a swimsuit and flip-flops. Experts say money problems are a major contributor to divorce.

My wife and I recently celebrated 45 years of marriage. It’s been a wonderful journey of life together, but recalling the financial mountain we confronted early on makes me shudder. Somehow, we survived.

During my early single adult years, whenever I needed an emotional pick-me-up, the solution was to buy myself something. “Even if no one else cares about me, I love me!” was my self-indulgent rationale. It never occurred to me that the items I “bought” – even on sale –  figuring I could afford the monthly minimum payments, would cost me several times that amount in accrued interest. When we married, my wife “inherited” this debt.

Thankfully, we were introduced to biblical financial principles. Applying them was the start of escaping financial bondage. As Proverbs 22:7 asserts, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” The term “slave” is appropriate, because one deep in debt has no financial freedom. Mounting bills govern decisions; anxiety of indebtedness is ever-present. “I owe, I owe, it’s off the work I go!”

Introduced to wisdom from financial planners like Larry Burkett and Ron Blue, my wife and I discovered the Bible’s practical truths about finances every couple should learn before exchanging “I do’s.” Maybe you know someone about to walk down the aisle – or maybe you’re contemplating doing that soon yourself. Here are some of the sound principles we have learned:

Spend less than you earn. It’s said, “Expenditures always rise to level of income.” This is true of people working at minimum wage, as well as individuals receiving huge salaries. Whether you’re a corporate CEO, professional athlete, Hollywood celebrity or coffee shop barista, tomorrow’s wages aren’t guaranteed. “Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil” (Proverbs 15:16).

Avoid debt. Another translation of Proverbs 22:7 says the borrower is “servant” to the lender. This isn’t idyllic serving like the congenial staff of Downton Abbey; it’s grinding, unrelenting servitude, impeding our ability to make independent financial decisions. Handling money shouldn’t be an unending uphill battle.

Have a savings plan and a fund for emergencies. We should expect unexpected expenses, even though we won’t know where or when they will occur. Planning for the unplanned can help to avoid unnecessary debt. “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).

Be rich in things focused on God. That new car, or that perfect house? Those are nice, but like all material things, they don’t last. We’re better off focusing on things that last forever. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Learn to be a generous giver. Jesus said it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and that’s true. Because as we give from our resources to help and serve others, it brings joy. There are many biblical passages that speak to this, but as Proverbs 11:25 declares, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

Wants are not the same as needs. In our materialistic society, we’re bombarded with messages promoting the latest and greatest gizmos and gadgets. It’s easy to become confused over what we need rather than what we want. In Philippians 4:19, the apostle Paul wrote, “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” The Scriptures offer no such promise for our wants or desires. 

God owns it all. This last principle is the most important of all. We tend to regard ourselves as owners of what we have, but from God’s perspective, we’re only stewards of what He entrusts to us. “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours…. Wealth and honor come from you, you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all” (1 Chronicles 29:11-12).

These guidelines are excellent for people of all ages, but especially for those in pursuit of marital bliss.  Without mounting financial pressures making marriage more difficult than necessary, the divorce rate would probably fall dramatically.

No comments: