Navigating Your Finances God’s Way – Honesty, Generosity and Counsel

Even though we may not realize it, each of us regularly makes many small decisions about being honest. Every day we are faced with situations that tempt us to be dishonest. Maybe you received too much change from the cashier and didn’t say anything. Maybe you’re tempted to pad your expense account or put more hours on your timecard than you actually worked. Do you fudge the numbers on your tax return so you get more money back? Is your home office full of supplies you brought home from the office?

Too many times honesty is a relative thing in our society. We have people saying things like “I don’t quite remember” or “As I recall.” They are using terms that indicate they may not be speaking the whole truth.

Think about a small child playing with his ball in the house. He is bouncing the ball around, having a good time and suddenly, the ball hits a lamp and knocks it over. The lamp falls to the floor and is smashed into a million pieces. Mom walks into the room and says, “Did you break the lamp?” The child replies, “No mommy.”  In his small mind, he is being honest, because HE did not break the lamp—the ball did. But if he were being absolutely truthful, he would know that he caused the broken lamp by playing with the ball in the house.

Manipulating the truth is a practice that goes back to Biblical times. In Judges 17:6, we read “Every man did what was right in his own eyes,” and that’s how many people live today. Society tells us to take care of ourselves first and look out for #1. Our culture tells is that honesty is relative—you can control the truth to get what you want or to protect yourself. But the Bible says we must always be honest in every way. The 8th commandment is “You shall not lie.” It’s not “Try not to lie unless you feel like lying suits your purposes.”

If we are living from our faith, then our decisions are based on what will please God, not what is most convenient for our purposes or what is acceptable in our culture.

Generosity is an area where we may need to consider how we are living the truth. Are we being generous as a faith response, or do we treat our giving as just another bill to pay?

One of the things that frustrate many people is the endless stream of requests for money. We have weekly parish envelopes, there are special collections, ministries to the poor, campus ministries, and secular charities. It is easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed by all the requests for donations.

In order to overcome this feeling of being overwhelmed, it’s important to consider the 4 elements of giving: attitude, advantages, amount and approach.

An attitude of love in giving is crucial in order to have a heart of generosity. In 1 Corinthians 13:3, we read “If I give away everything I own…but do not have love, I gain nothing.” God set the example of giving from love when he gave us his only Son.

When we give, we may think we are giving to the parish, or a ministry or a charity. But when we give to God out of a feeling of love, then our giving becomes an act of worship.

In 2 Corinthians 9:7 we hear that God loves a cheerful giver. I don’t know about your parish, but nobody in my parish looks very cheerful when the collection basket comes around. Giving to God should make us deliriously happy.  If God is the author of all life and everything in the entire universe, then we are privileged to return to him some of the blessings he has given to us. So, the next time you are at Mass and put your envelope in the basket, do it with joy and a smile on your face!

The advantage of giving is that we are participating in the work God called us to do—the church continues its ministry, hungry people are fed, the naked are clothed, the word of God is spread. However, the biggest advantage of generosity is personal. In Acts 20:35, we hear: “Keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” When we truly give to Christ, our hearts are drawn closer to him. Remember the verse from Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  When our treasure goes to God, our heart follows.

We are often asked, “How much do I have to give?” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote a pastoral letter on stewardship where they tell us that we don’t HAVE to give anything.  As a good steward, you should be asking, “How much do I want to give?”  Giving should come from the heart, and we should not be obligated to some minimum amount— rather we should be thinking about the maximum amount—which is much more challenging. Both the Old and the New Testaments teach that we are to give in proportion to the material blessings we have received.

That leads us to the fourth element of giving, which is the approach.   During Paul’s third missionary journey, one of his priorities was to take up a collection for the suffering believers in Jerusalem. In 1 Corinthians 16:2, he wrote, “Every Sunday each of you must put aside some money, in proportion to what you have earned, and save it up so that there will be no need to collect money when I come.” We draw several practical applications from his instructions concerning this collection. Giving should be periodic, personal, from a private deposit and a priority.

But generosity is not about how much of my money I need to give to God—the real question regarding generosity is how much of God’s money do I need to keep.

We should support our parish through our weekly offering. We should also be giving to other valuable work to further the mission of bringing the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Many parishes and dioceses have specific charities they support such as an outreach to a third world country, a diocesan Catholic foundation, retreat centers, radio programs, Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul Society, the seminary and many other worthwhile organizations that spread the word of God.

The important thing about giving is to take it to prayer. Open your heart to God’s message and you will be guided in how much, when and where to donate. It is really between you and God.

And that thought leads us to the third topic covered in weeks four and five of the Navigating study, which is seeking godly counsel when making financial decisions. Proverbs 15:22 tells us: “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors, they succeed.”

How often do we actually go out of our way to seek counsel—especially when it comes to financial matters? For most people, the answer is never. Do we pray about financial decisions? Do we ask our friends and family for advice?

All of us should intentionally surround ourselves with godly people who can counsel us. On our own, we have limited experience and knowledge and we need the insights, wisdom and guidance from godly people to help us make wise decisions.

Many people have lost a significant amount of money and have subjected themselves and their families to years of heartache and stress by making bad financial decisions. It’s tragic that they could have avoided most of their difficulties if they had simply prayed and sought counsel from someone with a solid understanding of Biblical financial principles.

If you are married, your spouse should be your number one source of counsel, because you will both suffer the consequences of any bad decisions. If you do not agree on the same course of action, wait, pray and keep talking about it.  Nothing will ruin your marriage faster than making one-sided decisions.

These three topics, honesty, generosity and seeking godly counsel are in short supply in our culture and that’s why it is so important to learn what our faith teaches us.

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

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