As you reflect back on 2014, what stands out to you?
What were the highlights? The regrets? What kept you from flourishing? Can you point to areas of growth?
In our highly individualized culture, we often find ourselves asking these questions at this time of year. We want to improve ourselves, particularly in how we appear to others.
But when we’re making these resolutions, how often do we think through the effects of these vows on our availability to both contribute towards and experience flourishing?
With this question in mind, I’m going to examine a difficult and often misunderstood area in which people frequently make resolutions: wealth.
Making Resolutions about Wealth
Depending on your circumstances, you may fall on a number of points along the spectrum in your thinking about your assets.
Most of us could save more. Most of us could be more generous, and most of us could fine-tune our budgets more responsibly.
Occasionally, you’ll hear of extreme examples, instances in which someone chooses to hoard excessively or give all their possessions away.
Setting aside the value of sacrificial saving, hoarding fails to meet the criteria of serving those around us.
A child reading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol can explain why hoarding possessions is bad. Scrooge was miserable because he lived in perpetual fear, and his fear gave way to a nasty spirit of greed and hate.
My son turned five this year, and we watched two versions of this movie over Christmas. This led to conversations on generosity and trust in the Lord.
The Bible warns us about this selfishness, and it indicates both a lack of trust in God’s provision for the future and a lack of generosity.
Making Resolutions about Poverty
Taking a vow of poverty is a harder issue to unpack. On the one hand, it seems admirable to so clearly demonstrate your devotion to God by giving up everything to pursue him without distraction.
Some religious orders require a partial or complete vow of poverty for those living lives of complete devotion to God. This does not mean that these individuals necessarily live in true poverty, however.
Instead, the monk or nun is to live in dependence on the order, sharing in common the available resources. In turn, the monastery or convent will provide to meet any needs that may arise.
On the other hand, giving up all worldly possessions may indicate an unhealthy fear of wealth that contradicts God’s desire for our flourishing.
Not all of us are called to experience massive wealth on this earth, but we were all called to be good stewards of the wealth and resource endowments we are given, whether those resources are large or small.
As illustrated in the parable of the talents, we are to make investments with what we have, no matter how small, and we are expected to make a return on God’s investment in our abilities. This requires us to make a profit and use it to create innovations that help others.
Healthy Ways to Think about Wealth and Assets
What do both these extremes have in common that makes them undesirable?
In the case of hoarding, profits are gathered with the goal of benefiting only yourself.
When someone renounces all of his or her possessions, it’s a bit more complex. It’s possible that they truly are following God’s directives, or they may be trying to assuage the shame imposed upon them for having wealth when others don’t.
Whatever the case, neither of these extremes open the heart to experience flourishing as God intended for us.
How can we guard against these extremes? If these are ways we shouldn’t make resolutions, what are some healthy ways we can think about our wealth and assets?
Here are some practical things to think about.
1. Make manageable resolutions
Particularly when our motivation to change is highly emotional, we often take too much on and doom ourselves to failure. Choose something finite and achievable.
2. Remember whose wealth it is.
We can only boast in our God for his gifts. None of our possessions are ultimately our own.
3. Identify your audience.
Are you trying to manage others’ perceptions of you? Do you want to appear to be more generous than you have in the past? Are you trying to meet someone’s expectations?
Sift through your motives and hold them up to the criteria of God’s will.
4. Seek flourishing.
This will look different for everyone and often involve trials of various kinds (see James), but ultimately God desires each of us to find enjoyment in him in all things.
We can do this through pursuing wholeheartedly those things he has designed us to do. This means making a profit with whatever we currently have.
Let’s keep each other accountable as we resolve to become better stewards of our money in 2015.