Series: Wisdom That Works
Message: Wisdom for Life at the Extreme
Preacher: J. Murdock
Reflection: Mark Witas
Live Wonder: Zan Long
Live Adventure: Jessyka Dooley
Live Beyond: J. Murdock
Live Purpose: Emily Ellis
Editor: Becky De Oliveira
Refresh: Begin with prayer. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open your heart to new understanding and for God’s character to be revealed.
Read: Proverbs 3:9-12 in The Message (MSG). Note 1–3 insights or questions.
Reflect: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of your crop” (Proverbs 3:9).
One of the greatest hindrances to giving to the Lord is the accumulation of debt. Debt robs God. Debt robs joy. Debt is the devil in the form of plastic.
Before you get offended, let me explain my own experience with debt. I was never taught how to use money to make money. When my mom died my inheritance was one Social Security check and a cremation bill. When my dad died, my inheritance was one Social Security check and a $3,000 balance on a credit card. Neither of them had a clue as to how to save for the future and manage money.
Because I was never taught and because I was never bright enough to learn for myself, my wife and I found that after 10 years of marriage, we had accumulated $30,000 of credit card debt. $30,000. That’s a third of a new Tesla!
What did it take for me to get my financial life under control? My senior pastor brought me into his office and said, “Mark, I’ve been going over giving in our church and I noticed there’s no record of you giving to our local church. Why is that?”
I was honest. “I can’t afford to give. All our extra money goes to paying the minimum fees on our credit cards.”
I was ashamed. But I confessed to him my reality. And he offered help.
Shortly after, Wendy and I set off on the difficult journey of attempting to get debt free. It took a while, but I remember the day we were able to look at our credit card statements and see zeros on the bottom line. It was true freedom. We were free to give as the Lord prompted us. We were no longer slaves.
The average credit card debt in the US is just over $9.300 per household. Add to that student loans and new car debt, and you’ve got a whole lot of people who aren’t free to bless the Lord and others through giving. It’s not that they don’t want to. They just can’t.
The wisdom writer admonishes his students to honor the Lord with their wealth. The first step toward this is to prayerfully and willfully get control over financial want versus need, with impulse purchasing over planning. The local church congregation is the last hope for this dying world. The impact it can have for Christ in communities is vital. Giving to local churches hinges on folks honoring the Lord with their wealth. If you aren’t giving locally, I’d encourage you to prayerfully consider it.
Recalibrate: How has financial debt hindered your giving? How can we create a climate in our communities of debt awareness and debt free living?
Respond: Pray these words: “Father, thank you for forgiving my debts. Help me to live a debt free life. Help me to forgive as you’ve forgiven me.”
Research: Read A Guide to Eliminating Credit Card Debt by Louis DeNicola.
Remember: ““The Lord corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects the child that He likes” (Proverbs 3:12, ICB).
Mark Witas is the lead pastor at Sunnyside Adventist Church in Portland, Oregon.
Play a game of filling up and overflowing with your child. You can do this with plastic containers in the bath or with sand in the sandpit. Pour in and out from one container to the next, seeing how much fills one and how much fills another. Is there any overflow? Know that blessings pour out over us every day. Do we choose to see them and be thankful or do they overflow unnoticed? So often the blessings that God pours out over us are ones that cannot be bought. They are priceless, like time and joy. Invest in pouring into what is priceless and live in the abundant overflow that Jesus planned for us.
Remember how yesterday we talked about trusting God with our “first fruits?” Proverbs doesn’t just stop by telling us to trust God; this book tells us what happens when we trust God! What do you think happens when we trust God? Take a few minutes to talk to your family about what has happened for each of you when you put your trust in God. Proverbs 3:10 says, “Then your barns will be full and your wine barrels will overflow with new wine.” Unless your family runs a farm or a vineyard, this might not be so exciting to you. What the Bible is trying to say is this: when you trust God with what you do have, He’s going to give you so much more you can barely store it all. Draw a picture of a barn overflowing with things you think are important. Hang it up so you can remember that trusting in God is so good!
A few weeks ago I was in Atlanta at a conference for Christian leaders called Catalyst. The hosts brought out a Christian magician who chose four people from the audience to join him on stage. He had a deck of cards, a table, and a giant tablet of paper on an easel. The magician instructed the people to line up and make changes to the deck of cards by putting them in a different order or changing which way the cards would face in the deck. These changes were recorded on the giant tablet of paper that the fourth person stood guard over, not letting the magician touch it at any point. After the deck was rearranged, he took a look at the cards while revealing what was written on the sheets of the tablet on stage.
Somehow, the magician had accurately predicted the order of the cards, how many cards would be flipped upside down, what color the cards would be that were flipped over, and how many of them would be face cards. And all of this was written on the paper that the fourth person so diligently guarded!
Here’s the kicker—the trick wasn’t over!
After the magician had accurately predicted every card, he was left with ten cards. When laid out on the table, he asked the fourth person to step forward and study the cards. And somehow, without knowing the fourth person before he stood up on stage, the numbers of the cards on the table were in the exact order of the fourth person’s phone number!
It’s been a few weeks since I saw that trick, and I still spend at least five minutes every day thinking about how he did that trick. It’s unbelievable!
I think of that trick the same way I think about the promise God makes in Proverbs 3:10 when Solomon tells us that if we honor God by giving Him the first fruits in our harvest, we will never run out of food. Isn’t that amazing? Somehow, giving away all our first harvest will result in us having enough for the rest of the season!
The Atlanta magician was incredible. But God is amazing!
Honor the Lord with your possessions and with the first produce of your entire harvest” (Proverbs 3:9, CSB). When this verse is quoted, usually the pastor will refer to the passage in relation to tithe. And then the question becomes, “Well, how do I tithe my Amazon gift card?” or “How do I tithe the iPhone I got for my birthday?” All of these are valid questions, but we do this passage a disservice when it is only used to talk about money. What I think this passage is talking about is giving God the first moments of our day, or maybe taking time to talk to Him before you eat. Or maybe it is about money and finding a way to give back to Him. At any rate, the principle is to find ways we can place God first in our lives to show that He is the most important thing. What are some ways that you can place God first?
Zan Long is GRC director for faith development for ages 0-17. She lives in Sydney, Australia, and serves at her local church in nearby Kellyville.
Jessyka Dooley is assistant youth director for the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Denver, Colorado.
J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, where he focuses on youth and young adult ministry.
Emily Ellis is a senior studying theology at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington.