Are financial finish lines something reserved for a few “radical” Christians, or is this really something you can (and maybe should) do? Does the idea spark your curiosity about an elusive freedom or joy others have discovered? I can tell you one thing for sure – few concepts have made a stronger impact on my life.
Coming out of college, I entered the financial industry with passion and a hard-working attitude. I wanted to learn everything I could about how money works in order to make it grow. I started saving aggressively for retirement. I looked for ways to create passive income. And I was putting everything I had into getting to the next level in my career.
A few years ago, however, I was introduced to the idea of a financial finish line – a cap on spending, net worth, or lifestyle that some people set in order to give more and keep money’s power in check. I’ll be honest, my first thought was, “I admire people who have set a finish line, but I’m not sure it’s for me.” I still had some debt to figure out, and it wasn’t like I was making millions anyway. However, God was persistent with me. In early 2020, my wife, Stephanie, and I set our finish line, and it transformed our lives.
But, since setting my financial finish line and talking about it with others, I’ve learned something. Many people don’t have any idea how to set one for themselves.
So, my brother, Kealan, and I co-founded the Finish Line Pledge, a website that provides an extensive set of tools to help others walk through the process of setting a finish line. Kealan and I also co-host the Finish Line Podcast, where we interview all sorts of incredible people (including some near and dear to NCF!) about finish lines, radical generosity, and stepping into God’s plans. It’s been an incredible ride.
So, what is a financial finish line?
If you are new to the concept of a financial finish line, the first thing I should point out is that I did not invent the idea. Many passionate givers set their finish lines decades before I did.
A finish line is a guardrail of sorts, a way to say, “I have enough.” I can tell you from experience (mine and many others’) that we will never stumble into “enough.” It is not something you recognize when you get there. Our hearts are designed to be satisfied with one thing alone, and that is God. And for that reason, money and wealth will never be enough until we decide to draw a line and say, “This is enough.”
When people talk about finish lines, they can mean different things. John Cortines and Greg Baumer, in their book, God and Money, point out a couple different types.
The lifestyle (or income) finish line
This type of finish line is an income cap. It is a way to say, “I need this much to live on each month, and everything else is free to use as God directs me.” When that bonus comes in at the end of the year, or we encounter some other sort of windfall, that money increases our capacity to give as God leads us, not our ability to spend. We already have what we need!
In my opinion, this is the most powerful type of finish line, and it most directly frees us from the endless allure of more – more money, more control, more security, more comfort. It wasn’t until I set a lifestyle finish line that I could finally look up from the endless race I was running and start to really consider how God might want to use me. Once my needs were met, the only consideration I had to concern myself with was how God would have me use the remaining margin.
The net-worth finish line
Many have also set this type of finish line to protect themselves from over-accumulation. A net-worth finish line is helpful particularly in the area of security. We always seem to be able to justify more accumulation in the name of peace of mind.
Certainly, there is great value in saving for retirement and having reserves for emergencies, and much has been written about these topics. But there comes a point at which we are no longer saving out of wisdom. Instead, we’re striving for a point at which we don’t need to depend on anyone … even God.
Why set a financial finish line?
Is everyone called to a financial finish line? Well, that’s up to you, but there seems to be some strong biblical support for the idea, as well as anecdotal evidence that people who set one tend to experience more joy on their giving journeys.
Everything belongs to God
Many of us know God is owner of all things, but it can be difficult when it comes to living as if it were true. In a country built on individualism and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, it’s sure easy to feel like our money is ours alone. We like to think of our generosity as giving from our own wealth. But the truth is, every dollar that passes through our hands belongs to God and always will.
We are more like stewards of whatever portion God gives us to manage. Like any manager, we require a fee to cover our own living expenses and keep food on the table. And that fee is our lifestyle finish line. But when God gives us more to manage, we must consider his intentions, not our own. When it really sinks in that everything belongs to God, everything changes.
Earthly wealth is fleeting
Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
Few things are more inevitable than death, and we know for a fact that our wealth on earth will be meaningless in heaven. As Randy Alcorn says, accumulating vast amounts of wealth on earth is akin to stockpiling confederate currency at the end of the Civil War. With time, it will prove to be worthless to us. As we go through life, it’s easy to get off track and distracted. But a financial finish line provides a simple system to help keep us focused on eternity in the way we manage God’s wealth.
Wealth can be dangerous
Money is a powerful thing. While it has the power to do enormous good, it can also be quite destructive to our relationships and purpose on earth. The more we have, the more we need to protect ourselves from its effect on us. And, perhaps worst of all, money is a kind of power unlike any other, and it can result in a blindness to our utter dependence on God for all things.
Money is not eternal. Jesus and the kingdom of God are. We are subjects of this kingdom, and a financial finish line can remind us of this every time it comes into play in our decision-making.
So, is it really possible to live with a financial finish line? How do you go about choosing one and sticking with it? Read the next articles in this series:
- Part 2: How we set a financial finish line (and you can too)
- Part 3: 3 real-life examples of finish-line giving