Perspective

Abundance in the wake of an abandoned American Dream

Financial success is never as fulfilling as we think it will be. When money controls our decisions, we find momentary satisfaction but lasting discontent. When God controls our decisions, we find momentary challenges but lasting peace.

In his grace, God allowed me to realize, at 26, that I was chasing after the wrong picture of success. I let go of money as the secret master of my life, and I discovered more adventure, deeper emotions, and a closer and more–fulfilling fellowship with God than I’d ever known was possible.

Until then, I had diligently followed every wise financial rule, even from childhood. I saved up $10,000 mowing lawns in the blazing summer heat as a high schooler. I studied hard to land a great job and earned six figures my first year out of college. My wife and I tithed faithfully and saved like crazy, amassing $300,000 in savings by the time we were 24.

I headed to Harvard Business School in further pursuit of this financial mission and successfully landed an offer for my post–MBA dream job. After graduation, we would head overseas, where I’d earn more than $300,000 per year.

But then, in his mercy, God began to reveal the emptiness of my life of pursuing money.

Sitting in our Boston apartment on a snowy day, I slowly read Luke 12, over and over, and Jesus’ words pierced my heart. Even though I’d met every financial goal I had ever set, I was chasing the wind. I felt God asking me if I’d consider a different kind of life – a life of joyful freedom, deep sacrifice, and heartfelt trust. Over the next few months, we prepared to change our life trajectory forever.

The big questions

I abandoned my dream job and went to work for a small nonprofit, earning 65 percent less. This meant a mortgage and student loan payments. It meant that we couldn’t send our kids to elite private schools. And it could mean career suicide. But God was relentless and clear. This was his plan.

We wrestled with God and asked the big questions.

“Why would you call us away from the dreams we worked so hard for? Can we really trust you? Why do we feel upset, even angry, even in the midst of truly following your call?”

We counted the cost of following Jesus, and the cost was high. But we couldn’t deny what we were being called to do. While we knew we were squarely in the middle of God’s will, we felt isolated, spiritually attacked, and alone for two full years. But, eventually, we discovered that the joy of walking with God is worth any price we might have to pay.

We counted the cost of following Jesus, and the cost was high.

In hindsight, we can now say that we’ve experienced the rich abundance of a life of intimacy with him. We wouldn’t trade our journey of surrender for anything else.

The conversation we’re not having

I didn’t realize until later that, in leading me away from a high–paying job, God had actually been protecting me. Unknowingly, I had made an idol out of stability and security, and deep down, I believed that financial success was a hallmark of a life well-lived.

I had made an idol out of stability and security, and deep down, I believed that financial success was a hallmark of a life well–lived.

In the Bible, however, financial success is seen in a mixed light. It’s a blessing from God, but it’s also tremendously dangerous. In fact, Jesus said it would be difficult for financially successful people to gain access to his kingdom! By asking me to lay down my financial stability, God was teaching me that my personal worth didn’t come from my financial net worth. Because of my hardness of heart, it was a lesson he needed to teach me the hard way.

Unfortunately, despite my Christian upbringing, I was never taught about financial issues in church. Real, honest dialogue about faith and finances is rare. For some reason the two seem to be allergic to each other. We typically don’t talk about money with our spiritual mentors or think about our faith when we’re paying off a student loan or buying a house.

We typically don’t talk about money with our spiritual mentors or think about our faith when we’re paying off a student loan or buying a house.

On the rare day we learn about money in church, we usually hear about a life plan that looks something like this: Get out of debt. Achieve home ownership. Save for retirement. Live a comfortable, secure life. Be sure to give 10 percent of your income away. Follow this path faithfully, and you’ll become stable and secure – maybe even rich.

This formula puts a nice Christian halo over the American Dream and teaches us to do exactly what the culture around us does – with emphasis on staying debt–free and giving 10 percent away. This is the formula I’d been following, but when my friend Greg and I started looking more closely at the teachings of Jesus, we couldn’t find a single reference to anything like this formula, despite how frequently he taught about money. We had a hunch something was missing.

To validate this hunch, we conducted a formal survey of the 80 most–knowledgeable experts we could find: seminary professors, business leaders, pastors, financial advisors, and ministry leaders, many of whom had spent their whole lives studying and teaching what the Bible says about money.

We asked them if they were satisfied with how the typical churchgoer is equipped with a biblical perspective on money. Only one answered yes. When it comes to our understanding of money, our experts agreed things were not going well.

When it comes to our understanding of money, our experts agreed things were not going well.

This is an oversight with far–reaching consequences.

As Christians, we need a firmer foundation for faith and finances, or we risk missing out on the fullness of all that God has for us. Ultimately, we want to go after the treasure of the kingdom of God.

Are you willing to abandon everything you thought you knew about money and stewardship in pursuit of the overflowing joy Jesus offers? You may not need to change careers like I did, but I hope you’ll consider embracing Jesus’ teachings about money – however that may look in your life. His calling is never easy, but following him is the most rewarding journey we can imagine.

Adapted from True Riches by John Cortines and Gregory Baumer Copyright © 2019 by John Cortines and Gregory Baumer. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.

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