Navigating Your Finances God’s Way: God’s Part, Our Part and Debt

People are curious about the Navigating Your Finances God’s Way Bible study. This blog and the next three that follow will provide you with an overview of the study and details about the topics covered.

The Navigating Your Finances God’s Way study is done in a small group with no more than 12-14 people including two facilitators. The group meets for two hours each week for nine weeks.  Facilitator training is available online through a short document and a series of videos. The study is designed to provide you with a way of looking at your finances through the eyes of our Catholic faith. The purpose of this study is to help people become better stewards of the blessings God has given them, whether it’s a little or a lot. The Bible study is integrated with practical activities related to personal finances. (NOTE – no one is ever asked to divulge any personal financial information.)

Prior to the first meeting, the participants read the book Your Money Counts (you can access a free ebook of Your Money Counts here).

We start the study in week one by discussing the book Your Money Counts along with the questions related to the Bible readings. This first gathering sets the tone for the small group environment by having everyone introduce themselves as they get to know each other.

The main topic in the second week is the difference between God’s part and our part when it comes to finances. The first eye-opener for most people is that God owns everything. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the LORD’s and all it holds, the world and those who dwell in it.” The Bible even mentions specific things that God owns: Haggai 2:8 reads “Mine is the silver and mine the gold—oracle of the LORD of hosts.”

In Genesis 1:28, after God created man and woman, he blessed them and told them that they had “dominion” over the earth. He did not give us ownership—he gave us dominion, which is defined as “controlling power” not ownership.

In Luke (14:33), we hear Jesus say that “None of you can be my disciple unless you give up everything that you have.” The problem is not the material possessions we have, the problem is that we tend to give our stuff a level of importance it does not deserve. God should always be first and foremost in all things.

In order to acknowledge that everything comes from God, try meditating on 1 Chronicles 29:11-12, “Everything in heaven and earth is yours, and you are king, supreme ruler over all. All riches and wealth come from you; you rule everything by your power…”

God owns everything and the word that best describes our part is steward. A steward is a manager of someone else’s possessions. The Lord has given us the authority to be his stewards and our responsibility is summed up in this verse: “Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (1 Corinthians 4:2)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “As Christian stewards, we receive God’s gifts gratefully, cultivate them responsibly, share them lovingly in justice with others, and return them with increase to the Lord.”  (USCCB; United States Catholic Catechism for Adults; (Washington, D.C. July 2006); pp 450)

If this mindset is foreign to you, don’t be discouraged. It takes time and lots of prayer to change what our secular society tells us is important to what our faith tells us in important. It’s easy to find areas where we haven’t been faithful. The critical task is to be faithful regardless of how much God entrusts to us—whether it’s a fortune or a handful of coins.

We should also be good stewards in every area of life. Unfortunately, when Catholics talk about stewardship it too often relates to raising money rather than being faithful with all the blessings God has given to us.

Pope Francis tweeted that “Seeking happiness in material things is a sure way of being unhappy.” We should not be focused on material things; our primary focus should be on God.

One of the first practical tasks the Bible study students do is to track every penny spent, which often results in surprises. It allows people to see where the money actually goes—not where they think it goes—and provides them with information so they can make better financial decisions.

Spending $5.00/day for a high priced coffee means they are spending $25/week; $100/month and $1,200/year. By tracking the daily cost, they can calculate the yearly cost. That gives them the facts to decide if they are using their money on what is most important to them. Do they want to spend $1,200 on coffee or a family vacation?

Please be assured that no one is ever asked to share any personal financial information with the others in the small group. All the discussions focus on what the Bible and other Catholic resources tell us about money and possessions.

Week three is all about Debt. The dictionary defines debt as money that a person is obligated to pay to another. Debt includes the mortgage, car loans, student loans, money owed on credit cards, bank loans, money borrowed from relatives, and past due bills. Bills that come due, such as the monthly electric bill, aren’t considered debt if they’re paid on time.

Scripture does not call debt a sin, but it does strongly discourage us from being in debt. “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7 RSV CE)

When we are in debt — we are a slave to the lender and the deeper we are in debt, the more like slaves we become. We have no freedom to decide where to spend our money as it is already obligated to meet our debt payments.

When we get into debt, we’re assuming that we will earn enough in the future to repay it. But can we really assume such a thing? We plan for our jobs to continue or our investments to be profitable but those things are not promised to us and the Bible strongly cautions us against such presumption: “You who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit’ — you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow…. Instead, you should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15)

The average American household with credit card debt carries a balance of about $16,000. Credit card interest rates range from @13% to 23%, so people are paying between $2,000 and $3,600 per year in interest if they carry the average American credit card debt.

That’s money that’s being thrown away with no benefit to you. In the meantime, whatever you bought using your credit card is probably lost, used up or no longer valid by the time you pay off the credit card debt.

Many people raise their lifestyle through debt, only to discover that the burden of debt controls their lifestyle.  In a 2017 Nerd Wallet debt survey, 41% of the respondents said their debt was caused by buying spending more than they could afford on unnecessary purchases. Sirach 20:11 says it best: “A man may buy much for little, but pay for it seven times over.” That is certainly what happens when we buy on credit and have to pay interest.

The Navigating Your Finances God’s Way Bible study is a great tool to put a faith perspective on how you manage money and possessions. This study is for you, whether you are married or single, old or young, male or female, working or retired.

Listen to the Compass Catholic podcast for more on this topic.

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