Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said “money is dirt.”
He came from a family means and often used his own funds to feed or entertain the men he discipled before Hitler came to power. On one such occasion, one of his students objected to the generosity, insisting that he pay him back and Bonhoeffer replied with this famous quote.
Bonhoeffer was putting words to a paradox about money. It’s the hardest thing to surrender, but the least valuable thing God asks for.
Why is surrendering our money to God so hard?
Money is a Small Thing
Jesus found his tax money in a fish’s mouth, multiplied loaves in the middle of nowhere and found his sustenance and security in doing the work God had for his life. Yet Jesus’ own disciple, one of the top twelve followers of Jesus, dipped his hand into the community purse and sold his very friend, king and Lord for a handful of silver.
While money is a small thing to God, why is it such a big thing to us?
Would you trade your marriage for money? Your family? Your health? Has money actually provided you happiness or fulfillment?
While money may be limited in your bank account, it’s virtually limitless in the world. You can always go get more. It’s not like they are going to stop making it. But you have one life, one marriage, a few (or more) kids. From a sheer supply and demand standpoint, money is like dirt, plentiful, useful, but hardly precious.
Why is Money so Hard to Surrender?
If money is such a small thing, why do we obsess over it? Why do we withhold a few bucks from the poor? Refuse to participate in generosity? Why do we move our family across the country for a better job or check our kids into daycare so we can go make more of it?
Why can we sit in our living room chair and pray “Lord I surrender my life” but not “I surrender my money”?
In the parable of the sower, Jesus lists a reason that good soil won’t grow crops. If your heart is hard, the gospel will never mean anything to you. If you have no depth, it won’t stay long. But if your heart has good soil it’s prepared to hear the gospel. However, Jesus says that, “the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches will choke out the word.” (Mark 4)
Both of these things center around money. The cares of this world; buying a bigger, better house, getting a more prestigious job, putting food on the table, these worries prevent us from acting on the call God has on our life. Similarly, selfish ambition, the pursuit of attaining wealth, distracts us from the mission.
Money is what I call the gateway drug to obedience. The wallet should be the easiest thing to surrender to God. If you can’t surrender your money, can you claim to surrender your marriage? Can you surrender your limited time if you can’t surrender your limitless income potential?
I thought I could.
Although I’ve given money to my church my entire adult life, I hadn’t fully surrendered my money to God. Once I did, once I saw God come through again and again in provision, once I chopped down the weeds of “cares of this world” and let God pull up the roots of “selfish ambition”, my life snowballed into a life of surrender.
‘All of a sudden’ I wanted God to lead in my marriage, in my ministry, in my family and in my life. I realized that God was better at money than I was. He was a sure source of joy where money caused anxiety. He provided freedom where money always made me feel trapped.
Surrendering the small thing of money opens your soul up to a world of putting Jesus in charge.
You Need to Give it More Than They Need to Get It
Unfortunately, the Christian church has the narrative all backwards. Churches tend to either beg their church for money so that they can “keep doing the Lord’s work” or they teach how their congregation can prosper by following the instructions in the “Good Book.” The church misses the most crucial part of money, namely that serving it as a god makes us feel alone, anxious and trapped.
Money isn’t a game to be won, and it’s not something the church needs from you. Jesus will fund his ministry with or without you. Churches who think about money correctly see themselves as a conduit, helping you break away from the trap of money worship.
I get that there are plenty of scandals in the church where pastors who haven’t settled this issue of lordship take advantage of people’s donations. That’s messed up and inexcusable. However, when we think about the church’s need, or lack thereof, or the homeless guy’s deservedness we completely miss the point!
The point isn’t that someone else needs our money. We need to get rid of it! We have to separate ourselves from money so that we can learn to trust in Jesus and make him Lord of our life. We have to say “no” to money in order to say “yes” to Jesus. It’s a fantastic trade.
Imagine telling Jesus “You can have my life, just not my money.” It’s silly to say, but this is what our lives display. We go to church, we pray, read the Bible, try to be good people. Meanwhile, we hoard our money, make all of our decisions based on the spending or acquiring of wealth and we pat ourselves on the back for every dollar we happen to give away.
How to Surrender our Money
Surrendering your money isn’t easy. Although it’s a small thing compared to the other gifts of life, the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches enslave us to a life we don’t want to live. Just as a shovel of dirt is easy to move but no one can move a mountain, the love of money piles worries on us until we are buried alive.
Here’s a few ways to begin surrendering your money to Jesus:
Tithe to your local church. There’s just no way around this. You are a member of a local body, and you need to separate yourself from money. Give at least 10% of your gross income to the local church as a starting point.
Simplify your life. Try going without. Downsize the car, cut the cable cord, don’t buy the new phone when it comes out. Try to find ways to live simply. I’ve found the less I bring into my life the happier I am.
Fast food. No, not go eat McDonald’s. Literally refrain from eating. Fasting is a lost art in our culture. Fasting is like training a toddler to get used to “no”. At first it rebels and throws a tantrum, but eventually he learns that you’re serious and begins to let you lead. Training your body to hear “no”, helps you say no to the deceitfulness of riches.
Plan fun giving. Whether you’re stick $20 bills on random windshields or pass out $5 bills as you walk down the street. Teach your soul that giving money away is fun.
Church, if we want to be serious about following Jesus, we have to surrender our money. Money is dirt compared to the incomparable riches of Christ Jesus. Once you settle the issue of lordship over your money, watch your spiritual life propel into a longing to give God more. It’s an uncanny truth, but it works.
Jesus told the rich ruler “one thing you lack, go sell what you have and give it to the poor.”(Luke 18:22) Do we want a small thing like money to keep the kingdom of God from entering our lives? I sure don’t. Pray this dangerous prayer with me today:
“Lord, I’ve let the cares of this world and the pursuit of money distract me from following you. I want you to be my provider and I want you to be Lord of my life and my money. I give you all that I have and all that I own. You can do what you want with it. I’d rather have you. Amen”
If you prayed that prayer, send me an email, I’d love to hear from you!