“The typical American family devotes ten times as much money to interest payments as to charitable contributions. What would happen if we could all just reverse our ‘buy now, and pay later’ strategy into a ‘save now, and buy later’? For starters, we would have interest working for us instead of against us… beyond that, we could devote a whole lot more of our resources to kingdom purposes – and we could do it with no change at all in our lifestyles.” - Jonathan Kopke
In 2010 the average family debt for Canadians was $100,000 - with a debt-to-income ration of 150%. The debt-to-income ratio simply means that for every $1,000 in after-tax income they make, Canadian families owe $1,500. That debt-to-income ratio is about the same in the US (based on the 2010 figures).
In 1990 family debt was at $56,800. Doing the calculations you'll discover that in the last two decades our family debt has increased 78%. That's a big change. And debt's not the only thing that's gone up! We have become big spenders! Teenagers alone in North America spend $100 billion dollars per year - only $5.6 billion of that is funded by their own paid labour.
And statistics tell me that 2/3 of Canadians in my generation would find themselves in serious financial trouble if their paycheque was delayed by a week.
With numbers like that it doesn't surprise me that 1/3 of adults say financial concerns keep them from sleeping!
Debt is a terrible monster, and though some might say it's a necessary evil, I'm going to disagree because often times the majority of debt we are shouldering is consumer debt. Consumer debt is "bad debt". Debt for stuff. Usually stuff we don't really need.
In our culture we are told that stuff will make us happy. Stuff will make us whole. We've earned this. We deserve this. We can afford it because we have credit. And we buy. And we buy. And we buy. Our limits increase because we're good clients. We make our minimum payments. Our debt increases. Our spending doesn't stop. And we don't feel what we were promised we'd feel, so the cycle starts again.
Let me be clear. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty - I'm painting a picture of the cultural reality in which we are standing. We owe a lot of money.
Most of us have debt. Student Loans. Car Loans. Mortgages. Credit cards. Lines of Credit. With all these regular payments our income is quickly depleted. Add to it regular living expenses and it's clear we just can't afford to give. There is nothing left. We're barely keeping our heads above water as it is.
Giving is not a priority.
But should it be?
After Christmas I spent a few days at my sister's home. I had a bit of down time and ended up getting caught up in a television marathon. This one was a show called Princess. It's basically a money reality show and someone with a love for spending gets a "money makeover". I watched more of it than I care to admit. The host of the show has written several books about finances, so I picked one up from the library and read through it. One of the things she recommends as she's helping clients get out of debt is that they start saving. At first this concept is hard for folks to wrap their heads around but -as she explains - it's about getting into the habit so that when you are debt-free you are already used to saving and it's part of your routine.
It makes sense to me that we should do the same thing with our giving - even when we are in debt. Our use and sometimes misuse of credit should not prevent us from giving. Tithing or giving needs to be part of our spiritual rhythm - and it should be planned and intentional - not an afterthought.
Last week when talking about how much we should give we were reminded that all of the financial resources we've been blessed to steward are God's and when we give we are reminded of that basic fact. This action of giving also helps us break free of the money god. This is true even when our resources are not bountiful or we are swimming in a sea of debt. God still blesses us and provides us with resources that we are responsible for - and we need to make wise kingdom choices.
I've often been challenged by Malachi 3:8-10 - verses often used to induce guilt and get people tithing by threat. I don't want you to read it as a condemnation - but rather I would love for you to meditate on it as an invitation.
“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.
God is faithful. God is good. You can trust him to provide for you even when your financial situation is bleak. Giving when things are tight forces us to believe like never before that God is our provider and that it is not by our own strength we accomplish anything. If you are in a place of doubting that you can afford to give anything think of the widow in Luke 21:1-4, or the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians 8, and prayerfully consider what action God might be asking you to take.
Prioritize giving, not spending, and see if God will not open the floodgates of heaven. You will be changed.
How do you think Christians should practice financial stewardship when in debt? Do you have a story to share?