In any national park, nature grows unbothered. Protected from lawnmowers, construction equipment or builders, the land is untamed. Wildflowers accent the waist-high grasses. Dispersed seeds turn into saplings, grow into trees. The land exists as I imagine it did at creation. Wild, unadulterated, chaotic.
Yet, there is something beautiful in the chaos. The ruggedness of the untamed wilderness begs the human eye to appreciate land we so often take for granted.
Golf courses precisely manicure their lawns. The wild grassland cut to size. Tree beds stand unnaturally separated from the lawn by a bed of artificially hued wood. The checkerboard grid of mower lines present themselves at perfect right angles.
The eye delights in the symmetry, the cleanliness, the order.
Which is beautiful, the chaos or the order? The wild or the tamed?
Is humanity designed to create order out of chaos? Or to enjoy a wild ride?
The Humanity of Money
Refusing to acknowledge or permit chaos prevents many people from having the money they need to accomplish their life’s mission. When asked about their money I often hear things like this:
- “I don’t want to know how bad it is”.
- “We don’t keep track of it, if we want something we buy it as long as there’s money”.
- “We already know where everything goes”
- “We can’t afford to do (thing we really feel God calling us to do) because all the money is already allocated.”
- “I can’t, because of my job”
The dichotomy between the faith-filled wild ride of following God and an orderly disciplined life is a false one.
Some people love order. They know where their money is, have a plan for it and stick to the plan. No surprises. No risks. They plan to give (or not), and they reach their goals on time.
Others love to live their life on blind faith. They couldn’t tell you their bank balance if their life depended on it. Life is more than money. If life is more than money, why bother with it at all?
Jesus calls following him a “narrow road” because it’s easy to end up in one ditch or another. It turns out we need both chaos and order to have a faithful financial life.
The Chaos of Following Jesus
Jesus wasn’t a budgeter. I know you’ll cite me the verse where he talks about building a tower, but that verse is woefully misinterpreted and Jesus never built the tower.
No, Jesus got his tax money out of a fish’s mouth. Jesus forgot his lunch money and multiplied fish and loaves for his and five thousand of his closest friend’s meal. He borrowed (stole?) a man’s donkey. And couch surfed his way through ministry. A handful of high-class men and women followed Jesus around taking care of his needs.
Jesus told his disciples, “Don’t take a bag of money or an extra tunic with you.”
He applauds a widow giving away her last cent, and a prostitute for wasting a bottle of perfume on a whim.
Jesus lived in financial chaos.
If we want to live with faith in our finances, we have to allow for some chaos. On the Christian Money Podcast we talk to people who God asked to do something that plain doesn’t make sense. Not only did He always come through with their needs, these experiences brought our guests closer to God. The chaos of the unknown became the crucible of their faith.
Jesus doesn’t invite us to follow orders. He invites us on a wild ride.
This doesn’t mean we throw out our budgets, stop contributing to our retirement plan and sell all we have and give to the poor…but it could. Following Jesus is messy. When we love order more than we love Jesus we slip into a religiosity that squashes our mission.
This is what the Pharisees of the Bible did. Jesus “upset the applecart” and they couldn’t deal with it. They missed the very miracle they wanted to see as a result.
When I was young playing in my room minding my own business, my dad came in with a surprise.
“Hey,” he interrupted “do you want to get ice cream?”
I responded like any eight-year-old with his plans changed would. “No, I wasn’t planning on getting ice cream.” (I don’t remember if we ended up getting ice cream or not).
I was so focused on my expectation for the day, that I missed an incredible blessing. Far too often I have done that in my financial life. I become so focused on the goal that I miss the opportunities that “randomly” pop up. I’m so afraid my net worth might go backwards that I miss the risks God invites me into.
It took God bringing me to the breaking point, tossing me into a sea of financial chaos and a lot of Bible reading to realize: God is really in the business of bringing good things out of the chaos. I can trust him.
Need to get your money on a mission? Download your free Mission Minded Money worksheet below.
The Order of Following Jesus
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul warns the church to conduct an orderly service. With all we know about Jesus’ life, why is structure important?
The church members in Corinth prioritize their worship, over the worship of their fellow church members. The chaos of random people prophesying, singing, banging cymbals and speaking in tongues creates a raucous and the church members prioritize their own worship experience over bringing glory to God.
They drew attention to themselves by looking ‘holy’.
Often the “living by faith” approach to money is a ploy to preserve selfish behavior.
“If I don’t know I’m overspending, I won’t know there is money to give to X, Y or Z.”
“If I don’t care about money, I won’t have to work hard.”
“If I make enough money, I won’t have to restrict my spending.”
These mindsets attempt to avoid discipline by using faith as a cop-out. While Jesus may have left his provision to complete faith, he structured his entire life around self-denial.
- He fasted in the desert for 40 days
- He often woke up early to pray
- He didn’t retaliate when assaulted
- He gave up his life on the cross.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us, no discipline is pleasant at the time. It’s painful. But it produces a harvest of righteousness in time (Hebrews 12:11).
Reviewing your budget, controlling your spending and regularly giving money away create the order we need to take the focus off our immediate enjoyment and on to the mission God has for our life.
Christian-branded financial pundits tout organization as a means to get what you want. However, orderly worship in your finances is about how it builds your character not how it builds your net worth.
Practicing Chaos or Order
You likely lean one way or another. You may be a natural planner, like me. Or you may tend toward chaos. Whichever is your natural bent, practice its opposite. We need both. Here’s some ways you might practice financial chaos or order:
- Give at random. Set aside an amount of money to give away without a plan. Play a game with yourself, the money must be gone by the end of the week or some consequence happens. This will help you pay attention to the unpredictable opportunities God brings your way.
- Budget less. Your habits are likely already ingrained. Don’t overanalyze. Check in once a quarter instead of once a month to make sure you’re still on track.
- Play hooky. Take a day off work for solitude. Go for a hike in the woods. Take a bike ride. Paint a picture. Do something to activate your creativity and listen to God. Have you been so focused on living your orderly life that you missed an invitation along the way?
- Budget. If you haven’t budgeted before start now. You can use my Mission Minded Money worksheet to help analyze your last month’s spending as a starting point. Be honest with yourself about your earning and spending patterns.
- Give. Start giving or increase what you do. There’s no better way to take the focus off you than to give money away. If you only give away “extra” money, commit to giving regularly by setting up a recurring donation.
- Limit. Spend a period of time limiting your spending for a time period. See what it’s like to go without. You might be surprised how little you miss it. You can do a month without spending like I did, or simply avoid eating out for a week. Discipline yourself to be content with little or much.
We live in a wild world created by a limitless God. While God gave us logic and organizational ability to bring a semblance of order to the world around us, nothing is more beautiful than a financial miracle, an unforeseen blessing or a random act of kindness.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees by focusing too heavily on money goals while the mission God invited you into passes you by. Don’t pretend like “following your heart” is the same as following Jesus. As Christians we must hold the tension between dutiful stewardship and unpredictable risk by leaning away from our natural inclinations.