It’s the middle of January and the bills are piling up. In spite of your good intentions, you once again overspent on Christmas. And then there are the debts you owed before the Christmas spending spree. Where will the money come from to pay for all of it and how do you break the debt cycle?
Every time debt is mentioned in the Bible, it is highly discouraged. “Owe nothing to anyone” (Rom 13:8). “The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender” (Prv 22:7). “Do not become slaves of men” (1 Cor 7:23). The Bible not only discourages debt, it tells us how pay our debt. The story of the widow and the oil (2 Kgs 4:1-7) may be the most familiar debt repayment story. The widow was threatened with losing her children due to her husband’s debt. She turned to the prophet Elisha who told her to borrow empty jars from her neighbors and fill the jars with her only asset, a small amount of oil. The Lord blessed her, and the small amount of oil filled all the empty jars, allowing her to sell the oil and pay off the debt. Although this story took place thousands of years ago, it teaches many principles of debt repayment.
The first thing the widow did was to pray and to trust in God. Recognize that your spiritual and financial lives are integrated by asking God to help you manage your finances. Pray for the discipline to persevere and be a good steward. And then trust in God’s divine providence.
The widow then sought counsel from a godly person. Most of us are embarrassed if we have financial issues and very reluctant to share our situation. Yet getting advice from a godly person can give us a fresh perspective, creative ideas and much needed encouragement.
The counselor helped the widow to wisely use her assets in the most prudent way possible. All of us need to discern how skillfully we are managing our assets. You know the large monthly bills, but do you really know where every penny is spent? Most people don’t have any idea exactly how much money they spend each month. Once you track your exact spending, you’ll be surprised how much money leaks through your purse or pocket each month.
At the end of each month, categorize your spending from all sources – cash, check, automated payments and credit. The categories need to be right for your situation, but usually include giving, taxes, housing, auto, clothes, food, insurance, entertainment, etc. Most people also need a miscellaneous category, but be careful–miscellaneous is not a dumping ground. I f the miscellaneous category is too generic, you still won’t know where the money is going.
Now that you know exactly how much you are spending, compare it to your income. If you earn more than you spend, are you spending wisely according to how God would have you behave? If your income is less than what you spend, you have discovered why you can’t get ahead and there are only two solutions – either earn more or spend less.
In either case, a spending overhaul may be needed. Increase your income by taking a part-time job, selling assets you aren’t using or working overtime. Spend less by examining the categories you created and what you spent in each one. Was everything you bought necessary? Is there a way to cut back? Can you eliminate some things and do without? Are you spending on wants or needs?
To many people, their financial lives are totally separate from their spiritual lives. Yet how we handle money has a direct impact on our relationship with God. In Luke 16:11 we read “If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of worldly wealth, whom will entrust true riches to you?” In this verse, Jesus equates how we handle money with the quality of our spiritual life. If we handle money in a godly way, according to biblical principles, our relationship with the Lord will be strengthened. If we handle our money unfaithfully by wasting the resources we have been given, our relationship with the Lord will suffer.
Like the widow, begin by understanding your current situation, turn to God for help, seek counsel from a godly person and wisely manage existing resources. With prayer, trust in God and discipline, it is possible to eliminate the bondage of debt. This year, make your good intentions a reality and change your spending habits. The freedom is worth the struggle.