by Reynolds Griffith
Tom and Lisa felt that they weren't getting anywhere financially though Tom made a good salary. They went to see
Don Grunden, a Certified Financial Planner who was a Christian.
His first question to them was, "What are your goals?" "Well, we want to be better off financially," was Tom's answer. "Of
course, we want to serve God too," Lisa added.
Don asked them that question because a starting point for
all financial planning is establishing goals. You do not
plan just to be planning, but to reach your goals. All
your goals affect your financial planning, even goals that are
not primarily financial. Financial planning is the whole process
of arranging your finances to make it most likely that you will
achieve your goals.
Sometimes Christians react negatively to the idea of
planning, thinking it unspiritual. They may say, "shouldn't we
just depend on God?" or "didn't Jesus say not to take any thought
for tomorrow?" The answer? Yes, we should depend on God in our
planning and in carrying out our plans. We avoid our plans being
merely what we want, but we don't sit back and expect God to do
everything without any active cooperation on our part. Most
translations agree that what Jesus said was do not be anxious, do
not worry. In the illustration of building a tower and counting
the cost (Luke 14:28) Jesus taught the importance of planning.
Other places in scripture, especially Proverbs, make the same
Basic Principles for Christian Financial Planning
There are three basic principles which should govern our
finances as Christians. The first is that it all belongs to Him
(see e.g., Psalms 24:1). Not just what we give in our tithes and
offerings, not just what we recognize as belonging to Him, but
the whole world belongs to Him. Jesus is Lord - the creator and
master of the universe - and this little planet with all its
resources is His too. Some of it is in rebellion against its
owner like the tenants in the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 21:33-41). That does not change the fact of ownership.
Recognizing this principle requires a drastic shift in our
thinking. We are used to saying "my house, my car, my paycheck".
If we "give back" to God a tenth of our income, we think we're
something special. In fact, we can't give any of it to God - it
already belongs to Him. It's not easy to adjust to thinking of
all we have belonging to Him. However, it's an important attitude that should underly all our financial planning.
The second principle is that He loves us and wants to provide for us, as Paul assures us in Philippians 4:19. It relates
to the first principle because He not only wants to provide for
us, He has the means to do so. As Psalms 50:12 puts it so poetically, His are the cattle on a thousand hills. Thus Jesus tells
us not to be anxious about food or drink or any such matters
(Matthew 6:25-34). He assures us that our Father knows that we
need such things. He will provide them for us if we keep our
priorities straight and put His kingdom first. If we are willing
to provide for our children, how much more will our Father in
heaven provide good things for us (Matthew 7:11).
Will He really provide material goods for us and not just
spiritual? Yes! The experience of His love in this fashion
helped bring me back to Him some years ago. I was virtually
bankrupt and had no income coming in for the summer. As I
struggled to figure out who Jesus was and whether I should commit
myself to Him, He lovingly provided for me and my family, though
sometimes I didn't know from one week to the next how.
Even after such an experience it's surprisingly easy to slip
back into relying on our own efforts rather than on Him. The
world tells us that if we don't look our for number one, no one
else will, and that we must grab for what we need. Thus, most
Christians (including me too often) conduct ourselves as if our
loving Father were off in a foreign country from whence He'll
someday return to help us. How much better off we'll be if we
rely on Him here and now instead of relying on ourselves and
The third principle is that we're His stewards. We're not
familiar with this concept - about the only time we hear it is
when our church is having a fund raising drive or trying to
enlist our help for some project. If we go back to the first
principle, we realize that the meaning of stewardship can't be
just giving since it all belongs to Him anyway. Rather a steward
is someone who cares for his master's property or business (e.g.,
Joseph in Genesis 39:4). Someone suggested that the term manager
might be more meaningful to present day Christians. It may help,
but the role of many managers doesn't convey the sense of personal responsibility and care required of a steward.
Being God's steward means that we seek his will not only in
how we give to our church and other ministries, but in how we use
all the assets and income He entrusts to us. Since most of us
don't expect Him to speak directly to us often, a knowledge and
application of scripture is important in this area of our lives
as it is in other areas. (Of course, we would benefit by listening more for Him to speak directly to us too).
These three basic principles of Christian finances are not
easy to apply consistently. Worldly influences and the
accumulated habits of years are not thrown off overnight. Even
Paul lamented about the influence of the flesh on his actions
(Romans 7:14-25). Nevertheless if we keep the principles ever
before us, we can bring our finances under the lordship of Jesus
just as we strive to bring the rest of our lives.
The Next Step:Goals and Plans
Goals Are Important. As Don emphasized to Tom and Lisa,
having goals and plans is important. Without them, you are
carried along by whatever current you happen to fall into. Like
Tom and Lisa, many people would say their goal is to be "better
off financially" or, if they are Christians, that their goal is
"serving God". Neither is adequate as a goal. Your goals must
be more clearly stated. Even specific goals like buying a car or
getting a better job need stating in more definite terms and
translated into what it will take over how long. Unfortunately,
many people don't set goals. They drift along only to wake up at
age 40 or 50 wondering what is happening to them and why they
don't have any financial resources.
Kinds of Goals.
You may have many kinds of goals. Goals
don't have to be financial - you may want to take a vacation or
improve your physical condition or complete a Bible study
program. But even non-financial goals often have financial
implications and impact your financial planning. Goals can be
long-term, short-term, goals that are ends in themselves, goals
that support other goals. In any case, you need to convert all
your goals into specific objectives and back them up with concrete plans in order for you to have much chance of achieving
Goals are personal. Everyone will not have the same goals,
although many people's lists will overlap. Unfortunately, many
people don't have a list, so instead of goals they have vague
notions. Here's a procedure for setting goals so you can have a
clear vision of them.
A good starting point is a technique called
brainstorming. Sit down, open your mind, and think of
possibilities. List everything that occurs to you that you might
want to accomplish or avoid. You may have seen this technique
applied in groups where the rule is that you can't say anything
negative about anyone's suggestion. The same rule applies for
your own use. If a possibility pops into your head, don't say,
"Oh, that won't work" or "Oh, I could never do that." Put it
down on your list.
After you make the list, go back and examine it.
Ask yourself, "Are any of these goals in conflict with what God
wants? Which are important to me? Which of these goals am I
willing to pay the price to achieve?" Goals do have a price
attached - not only in money, but also in time, effort, and other
resources. Answering these questions will narrow your list,
though you may still have many goals that would be worthwhile.
Next, rank the goals in their order of importance. Concentrating
on those of highest priority makes sense when, as would often be
the case, you cannot work on all your goals at once. In setting
priorities don't neglect those things that are of importance to
God. If you are a father, for example, you have a responsibility
to care for your family beyond merely providing for them financially.
When Don first suggested to Tom and Lisa the need to put
their goals in writing, their initial reaction, like many
people's, was, "Why should we do that - they're just for us
anyway." Don explained that it helps translate the goals from
vague, up-in-the-clouds notions into concrete forms that can be
attained. You can't write down a hazy undeveloped picture of
where you'd like to be or use it in the evaluation process
outlined above. Narrowing goals in a written list helps keep you
from trying to go off in all directions at once and getting
nowhere. Having a list of goals in a place where you can often
see it serves to motivate you. It also sharpens your decision
making - you can get in the habit of asking yourself "Which of my
goals will this choice advance?" In a family setting goals do
need to be communicated to others and family goals developed. If
you are seeking outside help in your financial planning, having
your goals in writing helps the financial planner help you.
Convert to Objectives.
You need a solid foundation of
written goals to do a good job of your financial planning and
decision making. Then you need to turn the list of goals into
objectives. Objectives derive from goals, but they differ from
goals in that they are specific, measurable, and have a time tag
attached to them. The goal of getting more education, for example, might translate into an objective of getting a masters
degree in industrial arts by May of 1993. There you have specified, not merely education, but the degree you want to complete.
It is measurable whether you get the degree. The time period is
specified; you want to have achieved this objective by May, 1993.
For some of your goals there will be multiple objectives.
To accomplish these goals, you must translate each into several
specific objectives. For example, your goal of enjoying leisure
might have the objectives of: (1) spending the first week of June
in Florida, (2) going to the lake one weekend a month, (3) learning to bowl by March 1.
Family Goal Setting.
Setting goals in a family situation
requires the co-operation of at least the husband and wife and
preferably older children. Of course, you must convert family
goals into objectives too. Then assign to particular family
members the steps or actions that will be necessary to achieve
Your goals could be almost anything that you could think of.
They are individual - not something imposed on you from outside
(though pastoral advice and the teaching of the church can help
us in avoiding inappropriate ones and in determining what God
wants of us). After setting goals and objectives, you must carry
through and plan how you can achieve these goals and objectives
so they do not stay out there somewhere as a hope. You start
developing a road map of how to get from where you are to where
you want to be. You do this by analysing each particular goal,
where you are in relation to it, and what steps you need to take
to get there.
Analyze Your Goals.
First analyze each goal. What will it
take to achieve it? Ask yourself such questions as:
How much money will you need to accomplish the goal? For
example, it may require $1,200 for you to take your vacation next
June. (Consider the effect of inflation in making the estimate.)
How much time will it require? (Not only calendar time, but
What skills, knowledge, or talents do you need to achieve
If you do a good job of converting goals to objectives, this
analysis will be easier, though it will require a great deal of
thought in any case.
Analyze Your Position.
Next, you would analyze your present
position. First, think about where you are financially. For
example, you might have $200 already set aside in your vacation
fund toward your trip next June. Preparing a personal financial
statement can give you a useful overview of your present
position. Preparing one annually is a way of measuring your
overall financial progress. A personal financial statement is a
summary of your financial position, including your assets (what
you own), your liabilities (what you owe), and your net worth
(the difference between assets and liabilities). Of course, you
don't look merely at the financial aspects of your position. You
see what talents, skills, and knowledge you have and compare
these with what you need to attain the goal.
Then ask yourself - how much will you need
to save as time goes by to achieve these goals, starting from
where you are now? If it is ten months until June, you need to
set aside about $100 a month in your vacation fund.
Set Intermediate Objectives. Also make use of intermediate
objectives or steps. That is, consider that long range goals
won't be gained in one jump from here to there. Set intermediate
objectives or steps that you will go through to attain these long
range goals. The intermediate goals may make the long range
goals seem more attainable. Retiring with $200,000 or even accumulating $10,000 for a downpayment on a house may seem unrealistic when you think about getting that far at once. If you break
it down and say, "Well, that means I have to have $1,000 by next
January, $2,200 by the following January", etc., it may not seem
so difficult. Often the intermediate term goal by itself will
seem more attainable, although at times the intermediate objectives may be so hard to reach that you rethink the realism of the
Besides settling on long range goals and
breaking them down into the intermediate steps or stages, you
should have an annual plan. A year is a customary planning
period. It is a short, reasonable period that you can picture.
You would start again with an analysis of where you are. Prepare
a personal financial statement to summarize where you are at the
start of each year. Then ask yourself "To be in line with what I
am trying to accomplish, what do I need to get done over the next
year? Where do I need to be a year from now compared to where I
am right now?"
Annual objectives give you something to shoot for
right away - immediate plans that tie into longer term goals.
Having made your plans, of course, does not mean
you are through with planning. In the first place your goals and
your plans are subject to change as time goes by. Planning is
not something you can sit down and do now and expect the results
to still hold five or ten years from now. You should have a
regular process of looking at your goals and plans from time to
time. Make whatever changes that changes in circumstances, your
attitudes, or your understanding of God's will call for.
Your annual planning should include a review of your
circumstances, your goals, and the results of your activities.
Your review could begin with a comparison of your financial
statement now with the statement of a year ago. Such a
comparison lets you measure your progress in financial terms.
How well have you accomplished the annual plans and objectives
which you set out last year? To the extent that you didn't, you
need to understand why. Did external circumstances arise which
prevented their fulfillment? Were the plans unrealistic to begin
with? Sometimes you may undertake too much. Or did you simply
fail to follow through consistently? Understanding the past
year will help you to plan and set goals for the coming year.
What About Time?
Sometimes when people see recommendations
such as those set out above, they say "This sounds like it would
take a lot of time. How could I find the time to do all this?"
One way to answer is to ask: if someone offered to pay you two or
three times your usual hourly rate for working an hour or two
each week in your own home, couldn't you find the time to do it?
An hour or two a week spent consistently on your financial
planning will easily be worth that much to you.
The problem of finding time to spend on your finances should
make you see the importance of planning your time as well as your
money. Recognize that you are a steward of time as well as of
material assets. Time is an important resource - sometimes more
important than money. It is easy to lose sight of this fact and
waste it. A useful first step in planning your time is to keep
track for a few weeks of where it is going. Record what you do
during each part of the day and summarize how much time you spent
on various activities. Your record often will spot non-productive areas which are taking too much of your time. The next step
is to decide how much time you need to spend on certain activities, then schedule that amount for specific times during the
week. It would not be surprising that if you begin analysing and
planning your time, you can easily find the hour or two to spend
on your financial planning. You will also benefit from time
planning by assuring that you are not shortchanging important
areas like time with your family and prayer and bible study time.
Basing your finances on the principles given here will give
you a foundation of rock instead of sand. Build on that
foundation with carefuly thought-out goals, objectives, and
actions and you are well on your way to avoiding the anxiety
about finances which plagues most people. Make Jesus truly Lord
of your finances and the burden will be light.
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