"To Whom Does Your Money Belong?"

Most Christians make a single critical mistake in their thinking that leads to a lifestyle drastically different than what God has in mind for us. That mistake is believing that the money we earn by working belongs to us.

The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. - Psalm 24:1

"Who has preceded Me, that I should pay him? Everything under heaven is Mine." - Job 41:11 (God speaking to Job)

Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it. - Deuteronomy 10:14

God doesn't leave any room for doubt. Everything--yes, every little thing on this earth--belongs to Him. Do you act as if your money belongs to Him? As I've heard it put before, do you give God what is right (as he commands) or what is left (over at the end)? I encourage you to test yourself with the following questions.

If you go by a monthly budget, do you set apart money for God at the top?
If you don't have a written budget, is giving to God at the front of your mind when you are paying bills?
Do you enjoy giving? Do you look forward to it each month and get excited over the opportunity, or do you dread it and do it out of obligation or not at all?
How much of your monthly income do you spend on true essentials (electricity, water, food, housing, and perhaps one or two others) and how much do you spend on extra things you have convinced yourself are essential?
Now, let's examine several key arguments that are related to giving.

God doesn't require us to tithe anymore! Some people believe that God doesn't ask us to tithe, claiming that it was an Old Testament principle that no longer applies. It is true that tithing is mentioned throughout the Old Testament (Leviticus 27:30-32, multiple places in Deuteronomy 14 and 26, Nehemiah 10:37-38, and Malachi 3:8-10 among others), but I have seen nothing in the New Testament that could indicate that God intended for us to stop tithing once Jesus came. In fact, tithing is mentioned several times in the New Testament, by Jesus (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42, Luke 18:12) and also by the writer of Hebrews in chapter 7. I don't believe God ever intended for the tithe to end. After all, everything does belong to Him, and if we truly believe that we should have no problem returning at least a tenth of what He has allowed us to earn (no, not what we have earned ourselves) back to Him. However, I think that points toward the bigger problem. I think there are very few people who don't tithe because they think we aren't supposed to anymore. Most of those who don't give to God just simply want to keep more for themselves, forgetting that it all came from God in the first place.

But, (insert finances-related excuse here) and I just don't have enough to give! If this is your reason for not giving, you first need to read Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4 at least once and perhaps several times. I realize that some people are facing very difficult financial struggles, and I don't want to sound unsympathetic toward you if you are one of those people. However, Jesus gave us this example--twice--for a reason. We can always give something. Always. And even if it doesn't seem like much, God can use it to do great things. Here is one example that those of you who listen to SpiritFM radio may already be familiar with. During their Spring 2009 Sharathon fundraiser, they received a $7 gift. It wasn't just any $7, though--it came from a woman named Juanita in prison, and it is my understanding that $7 is a week's salary in prison. That $7 in itself can't do much. But they used that throughout Sharathon, encouraging people to add $7 to their gifts in honor of Juanita, and I'm not sure how many additional thousands of dollars they raised because of the faithfulness of one woman who gave obediently out of what little she had. It's not just about the money, either. I'm using her story to hopefully be an inspiration to some of you, and it can continue to spread in that way as well. Never underestimate what God can do with a little tiny gift, if that's all you're able to give.

(excuse unspoken) Most people, however, fall into this next group. Their excuse is unspoken because they don't really think much about giving. Whether they give nothing or a tiny amount, they don't give nearly as much as they could. If you fall into this group (and please be honest with yourself), I think we need to go into a deeper examination.
First, write down your typical monthly salary.
Take 10% off the top. This is what you should be giving to your church, or at least to God in some way.
Subtract your essential monthly bills, which include electricity, water, insurance (if applicable) and a house payment or apartment rent (if applicable).
Also, subtract how much you typically spend each month on other essentials such as food and transporation costs. If you are in some kind of debt and are forced into making monthly payments for that, subtract that amount here as well. One more payment that should be included is your credit card bill, though I strongly recommend only using a credit card on occasion (I only use mine for online purchases and also at the gas station just for simplicity, but rarely anywhere else) and paying it off every month.
Now, take a close look at the figure you currently have. See, for those who are able (and that includes most of us, even though many don't want to admit it), I believe a significant portion of this amount should go back to God as well. I'm not going to give a percentage, however; I think that should be between you and God.
After taking out some more for God, see what you're left with and where you feel like you need to spend it. For most of us, all the other bills are not essential. Let's take a more specific look at those now. I will get very specific and I will make some strong statements but please understand that I am doing so with a "tough love" type of mindset. My purpose is to get you to truly stop and think about what you spend your money on each month and why you may be spending money on things you don't really need.
Phone: What is your monthly phone bill, both for a landline and cell phone if you have both? While a phone isn't really essential, it is something most people would have a hard time living without. However, most people spend entirely too much in this area. I have the cheapest phone plan available, which costs just under $20 a month (almost half of which is taxes), and no cell phone bill. How does your monthly bill compare? If you make a lot of long-distance calls, it would be a little higher, but chances are, yours is significantly higher. Why? If you have a cell phone, do you really need it? I recognize that a relatively small number of people would have a difficult time getting by without a cell phone, either for business or family reasons. Most people don't need them, however; everyone survived just fine without them a couple of decades ago. So, ask yourself this: Do you really need a cell phone, or do you just have one because society has convinced you that everybody else has one and therefore you "need" to have one too? Even if you really feel like you do need it, can you get a simpler phone with a cheaper plan, or even a very inexpensive prepaid phone? I doubt there is a single person out there who truly needs the latest, most advanced phone with who knows how many features that you'll probably never even use.
Television: TV is something that just about everyone could live without, though very few people do. Can you cut out TV, or can you reduce your expenses by swiching to a cheaper programming package? Personally, I don't watch much TV anymore because most of what's on is garbage anyway. I have Comcast's most basic package, which includes about 25 channels and is just under $23 a month. I truly would prefer to not even have cable, but I can't pick up anything with an antenna where I live, and I do like to keep up with the local news along with a few old shows...and NASCAR. I do miss not being able to watch the races and other NASCAR programming that is on cable, but I simply can't justify spending the extra $35 or $40 every month (about $450 per year) to get those extra channels when I know that money can go back to God to do some good in the world instead. During the same SpiritFM Sharathon that I mentioned earlier, one family was so committed to the ministry that they decided to give up their TV and internet so that they could make a donation because they couldn't otherwise afford it. How inspiring is that?
Internet: If you have the internet at home, how much do you spend each month on your bill? I do consider the internet as one of my essentials because of my website and a variety of other things I'm involved in online. Still, I try to keep it as cheap as possible. I use a dial-up internet provider and continue to search for the best service at the lowest price. While high-speed internet is very useful for most businesses, it is not needed in most homes. Unless you do a lot of uploading and/or downloading for your business at home, you probably don't need a high-speed connection. You can save yourself quite a bit of money by switching back to dial-up. And no, dial-up isn't too slow; our world has just become too impatient. It wasn't that long ago that the only option was to go to the local library to try to find some information. For most, even if you don't want to admit it, a dial-up connection is fast enough.

Why have I gone into such detail? Because I think a lot of people need it. In our consumer-driven society, so many people have been convinced that they "need" things that they truly don't need. Very few things in this life are true needs; most are actually wants. We need to be content with what we have, because God has already immensely blessed even the poorest among us. In closing, consider this passage:

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. - 1 Timothy 6:6-10

Everything that you possess belongs to God. I'm going to repeat that, and I ask you to read it carefully and really stop to think about it. Everything that you possess belongs to God. The next time you make a purchase, especially a big one, please ask yourself: "Do I really need to buy this, or can God put this money to better use somewhere else in the world?"