As we continue in our series, Live Big, we have talked about the big life Jesus wants for us and why sacrificial generosity is one of the major secrets to living it. This week we are talking about something that doesn’t get talked about much in church, but can also be a major tool in our quest for living the big life of Christ with respect to our finances. This week we are talking about saving. Here goes…
Living with Tomorrow in Mind
Do you know what the problem with suckers is? (Not people, the candy.) The whole time you suck on them, you have that stick poking out of your mouth. When God designed our mouths, He designed them really well to clear out excess saliva. You simply seal your lips, suck everything in your mouth to one place, and swallow it down. No problem. I suspect you weren’t expecting to hear about the process of swallowing in the sermon this morning. You’re welcome.
But when you have that sucker in there—especially if it’s something much bigger than, say, a Dum-Dum—the whole process gets subverted. You can try to shove the sucker over to the side of your mouth and pucker around the stick still protruding from your face, but it’s just not as effective. And, with all the extra saliva the sucker is generating along with the slowly dissolving sugar, you have to clear your mouth more frequently than usual. This means you have to keep pulling the sucker out so you can swallow properly. At least it tastes good, I guess.
Well, while most other candy is truly hands-free—you pop it back and enjoy—suckers just aren’t. I mean, if you’re good, you can slide the stick out from the middle of a Dum-Dum and just suck on the candy ball remaining, but that’s not so good for your teeth. And, if you have anything other than that, there’s probably something at the center keeping you from doing that anyway.
The result is usually that when we eat a sucker at all, we try to crunch through it as soon as we can so we can get the stick out of our mouths. Adding weight to our opting in this direction, when we have something like a Tootsie-Pop or a Blow-Pop, we’re really only eating it for the stuff in the center of the sugar wrap. And in our instant gratification society, we don’t want to wait any longer than we must to enjoy what we want. We want it now.
But have you ever managed to take a sucker from wrapper to stick without biting on it a single time? That takes a little more self-control. It takes a lot more patience. It takes a willingness to wait and save up what you could have now in order to enjoy it later. Doing it can sometimes make now a little more complicated because you have to deal with the burden of not being able to do everything you might want right now as your hands will be tied up occasionally dealing with the stick and saliva. But there’s just something extra sweet about saving up the prize and enjoying the small fruits along the road to receiving it.
In some ways, life can be a little like enjoying a sucker. We nearly always have the option to push through and grab what we want now. Yet to do so comes at a cost. It comes at the cost of our future. The cost may be small, or it may be quite large. But if we want to get the most out of our future, refusing to pay it and choosing instead to wait and save can actually be a path to enjoying life to the fullest both now and then.
This morning we are in the third part of our reflection on the big life God has made available to us in Christ called, Live Big. We started things off three weeks ago by establishing the fact that God wants us to live a big life. Jesus offers us a big life. Or, as He put it, “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” Now, there are a ton of different angles we could have taken to talking about the abundant life God offers us in Christ in more detail. As we talked about then and again last week, though, one of the key parts of our lives that can help or hinder our pursuit of the abundant life of Christ is our finances.
Well, if we are going to get any part of our life right, we have to be thinking about it through the right set of lenses. In this case, since all the stuff we might normally think of as “ours” is really God’s, living abundantly through our finances—that is, our stuff—means thinking about it in the same way God does. As we talked about last week, God’s primary operating principle when it comes to His stuff is one of generosity. Thus, rather than saving a conversation about giving for the end of this series, we did it right at the beginning. This is because living abundantly means giving abundantly.
The next part of our conversation on living big is going to turn to something we hear a lot about, but don’t always practice as carefully as that nagging voice inside our head tells us we should. Talking about this kind of thing doesn’t necessarily feel very churchy. After all, the context in which we are often told to pursue it is so that we have what we need later instead of rushing to enjoy it all now. Yet there is great and godly wisdom to be found in getting this thing right. There is the opportunity for us to live even more abundantly than perhaps we are right now. And, I’ll be honest with you: I’m not an expert on this kind of stuff. Some of you have a handle on this kind of stuff that goes well beyond mine. But what I can do is take you to the Scriptures and see what kind of wisdom we can find there. This morning we are going to do just that and have a conversation about saving wisely. Because, if you want to live big, you have to save smart.
Now, as I said, saving is something we hear a lot about in our daily lives. Just watch TV for a few hours one day. The odds are pretty good you are going to see at least one ad for an investment company assuring you they can help you create a savings plan to enjoy a cushy retirement. Or it may be an ad for an app or website that promises to help you get your financial life in order now so that you are better set for the future. Add to that the fact that your mom or dad or a grandparent or an aunt or uncle at at least one point in your life talked to you about the importance of saving for the future. And even if you didn’t get that, most of us live with at least some sense that the sun is probably going to rise tomorrow, Lord willing, and if we use everything today that we might need for then, we’re going to put ourselves in a hard place. At the same time, if you’re like most people, you don’t have quite as much squirreled away for later as you wish you did. I know you are all above average as far as the people around you go, but if you’re leaning even a little bit in that direction, you may not have much saved for the future at all, whether we’re talking about the future decades from now or even just tomorrow.
Why is this? Why don’t we save? Well, for starters, we want what we want and we want it now. We are an instant gratification society. We are constantly on the lookout for how we can have the things we want as quickly as possible. If there is some good thing we want to enjoy but which requires us to wait for some amount of time, we are willing to pay quite a lot of money if we can get our hands on it now. Gaming apps make a fantastic amount of money by making really high value rewards obtainable either by great amounts of patience over time, or by paying a small fortune to have it now, and people fork it over.
Another reason we don’t save is that, if we’re being honest, we spend so much of our time focusing on the now that we don’t have the time or energy to give much thought to the future. It takes everything in us to simply get through today. We’ll deal with tomorrow’s hurdles when we get to them. In a similar vein, we don’t save because we don’t have the financial margin now to allow it. It’s hard to put any money away for the future when you have all of it tied up in the present.
All those reasons and more aside, saving is something worth our time and energy and effort and sacrifice to do. There is great wisdom in saving for tomorrow. This is not just a worldly principle that has been passed down from parents to children either. This is a principle found across the Scriptures. And if we can find it there, we can say with a fairly high degree of confidence that it is something God wants us to do so we can live with more abundance than we are on our own.
One such place we find a picture of the wisdom of saving is in the story of Joseph. Joseph was one of the sons of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. He was the oldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife Rebekah, and, yes, his family situation was every bit as complicated as it sounds by my saying that in that way. Joseph was kind of a punk kid who had these visions of grandeur that he wasn’t smart enough to keep to himself. Those, combined with his father’s painfully obvious favoritism, resulted in his brothers’ finally losing their minds to envy and selling him into slavery in Egypt (which, just so we are clear, is presented as something that happened in the story, not as an example for siblings today to follow as a means of sorting out their squabbles). In Egypt, Joseph went on a rollercoaster of adventure, but eventually he found himself standing before Pharaoh who was looking to him for advice on how to handle the news that the land was going to experience a season of great abundance followed by a season of horrendous famine.
Joseph’s godly advice to Pharaoh was basically to save smart. During the years of abundance, the people were to live much more meagerly than the crop yields they were going to experience would seem to allow, storing all the extra grain for the coming years of scarcity. Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of leading the nation through this program and, sure enough, when the hard years came, the people were able to eat. Egypt had enough to feed itself and the nations around them, including Joseph’s own family with whom he was finally reunited in a wonderful story of forgiveness and grace.
Now, we can draw several principles for saving wisely out of Joseph’s story. But sometimes it’s nice to have a Spark Notes version where we can see those principles all grouped together in a nice, neat package. Happily, because wise saving is something God wanted for us to understand, we find just such a thing in the book of Proverbs—which should come as a surprise to exactly no one. If you have a copy of the Scriptures with you this morning, find your way to Proverbs 6.
Proverbs is mostly known for being the biggest collection of…well…proverbs in the Bible. When most people think of Proverbs, they imagine page after page filled with random collections of brief statements that accurately describe how the world works, all things being equal. And, for most of the book of Proverbs, that’s exactly what we find. But the first 9 chapters are different. While the whole book is really set up as a passing of wisdom from a father to his son, this is even more explicit in the first third of the book. In those chapters, we see an exploration of what wisdom is, how to find wisdom, exhortations to embrace wisdom, calls to godly character, and lots of advice on living a life of purity. Right in the middle of all of this, though, we find a few stray thoughts on pursuing wisdom with respect to our finances. In an illustration that may or may not be original to Solomon, but which has nonetheless become an iconic one in its own right, the wise king invites us to consider the humble ant for a bit of keen financial wisdom. Check out Proverbs 6:6-8 with me: “Go to the ant, you slacker! Observe its ways and become wise. Without leader, administrator or ruler, it prepares its provisions in summer; it gathers its food during harvest.”
Now, there’s more going on here than you might think. Out of the gate, that first line cracks me up. “Go to the ant, you slacker.” Apparently he was struggling to get and keep his son motivated and had just about reached his wits end. Perhaps you’ve been there before. Solomon also reminds us here that there is great wisdom in surprising places. Because God, who is the source of all wisdom, designed this world and left His imprint on it, we can see reflections of His character all over the place if we are willing to look for them. And, in the verses immediately following these, Solomon comes back to the slacker language and offers up an explicit condemnation of laziness. This means that one of the things Solomon wanted us to learn from the ant was the value of diligent, hard work as a means of securing a profitable future.
I want to focus our attention, though, pretty narrowly on what Solomon writes here, specifically in v. 8. The ant prepares its provisions in summer and gathers its food during harvest. Furthermore, it does this without anyone telling it to do it. What’s the big idea here? Well, in a word, the ant is saving. The diligent, hard work the ants are doing that Solomon so praises is saving for the future. They are saving for the future so that when tomorrow comes, they’ll have all they need. As a result of this work, they are able to live pretty comfortably (as far as bugs go), and maintain their own lives as well as future generations. In other words, if you want to live big, you have to save smart.
This is a fairly simple idea, but I think it points us to five principles worth considering when it comes to managing our finances with the kingdom of God in mind. And the first principle is as simple and straightforward as they come: Saving is wise. There is wisdom in storing away to use another day. People who are wise save for tomorrow.
Now, perhaps somebody might object to this in the sense that saving like this would seem to preclude trusting in God to provide for us in the future. If we are focusing on what we can hold onto for ourselves in the future, where is our trust in God’s ability to provide it for us. And yet, never and nowhere do we see anything in the Scriptures that would indicate it is God’s plan to simply hand us what we need each day in a totally miraculous fashion. Actually, check that. In a few extreme circumstances, God does provide what His people need in the moment they need it and without any real effort on their part. His provision of manna during the people’s journey to the Promised Land is the most notable example of this. But those exceptional circumstances are just that: exceptional. The rule is that God empowers us to work hard and allows for our efforts to be fruitful both for now and for tomorrow. The truth is that until the final kingdom comes, we need to live our lives as if we are going to have a tomorrow. And a day after that. And a day after that. And while we may be able to work each day for our daily bread, there may come a day when we can’t do that for some reason. When that day arrives, if we have saved appropriately, we will have what we need without being an undue burden on anyone else’s ability to provide for their own family. And should the kingdom come before those resources get put to use, God won’t fuss at us for not using them more directly to advance His kingdom. He’ll praise us for our wisdom. If you want to live big, you have to save smart.
The reason saving is wise is explained by a second principle. As we go through our lives, there are seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity. This is what the ant intuitively knows. At some point, the food we need to survive may not be as readily available as it is right now. Store shelves could suddenly start turning up empty. We could lose our job. The stock market could tank out. A global pandemic could shut down the economy. Those kinds of things are all part of living in a world broken by sin. But just because the world is broken by sin doesn’t mean there aren’t still times of plenty and abundance. This world is marked by both. We need to live our lives as if that were the case.
And that points us forward to our third principle. Use seasons of abundance to prepare for seasons of scarcity. When we are in a season of abundance, we should enjoy it to its fullest. There’s no reason not to do that. We should delight in what our God has provided. But, part of that enjoyment should reflect our understanding of the world—that seasons of abundance do not last forever. Eventually the season changes and things get harder. And so, during those seasons of abundance, we prepare accordingly. We limit our enjoyment some so that when the meager seasons arrive, we have the margin we need to account for not being able to produce enough in that moment to carry us through it. Doing this allows us to live big whatever our season may be. If you want to live big, you have to save smart.
Understanding all of this is one thing. Actually doing it is another matter. And on the front of actually doing it, we need a little bit of direction to help get us started. This brings us to principle number four: Saving wisely requires a goal. Simply saving money to save money isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s also not a very helpful thing. It’s hard to get motivated to prepare for…nothing. It’s hard to force ourselves to go without now for no particular reason. We need a target for which we are aiming. That target could be retirement. It could be college. It could be a house or some other extra big-ticket purchase. It could be a vacation. It could be leaving a financial blessing for others after we are gone. Whatever it is, if we have a particular direction to which we have committed ourselves, wise saving is something we are more likely to do than without it.
All the same, shorting ourselves on something now so that we can have it available to us in the future is still tough. How many times have you gotten excited about or motivated to start some savings plan only to see that energy fizzle out after a while and turn into nothing? We need our fifth principle for these moments: Saving requires persistence. It requires that we start doing it, sure, but it also requires that we keep doing it over a long period of time. We keep doing it even when it is inconvenient or makes us uncomfortable. You know as well as I do that about the time you start down some path of saving wisely, a great opportunity for something is going to come up that will require you to reappropriate the money you designated for saving to this other opportunity. Don’t take it. Keep saving. You are committing yourself to a long-term view of the world, and in the process are freeing yourself from the tyranny of the short-term. Stick with it. There is big living ahead of you that you simply do not want to miss. If you want to live big, you have to save smart.
Now, you may have noticed that I haven’t really gotten into the nuts and bolts of saving in this message. I’m not going to either. I’m not a financial guru. I can only point us to what guys a whole lot wiser than me—like Solomon—have said in the Scriptures. Exactly how much you save is between you, God, and perhaps your financial advisor if you have one (and you should probably have one). I will suggest that you make your savings a progressively increasing percentage of your income that has a priority just behind your giving, but as we draw near the end of our time together this morning, I want to focus your attention on one more thing. This last thing builds on what we’ve talked about in the first couple parts of this series and can revolutionize your discipline of wise saving if you’ll let it.
Let me set it up like this: Why do we save? We haven’t really touched on that question this morning. Most of us instinctively assume we save so that we’ll have enough in the future when times are tighter than they are now for reasons medical, vocational, or simply season of life. That’s an answer very much in tune with the thinking of the world around us, though, But let’s think about this through a Gospel lens. Let’s think about it as followers of Jesus. Why do we save? Well, we don’t save for ourselves. Perhaps we save for our family. But can I suggest an even better reason? Remember what we said about God’s approach to His stuff and the secret to abundant living last week? The reason we save as followers of Jesus is ultimately so that we can be generous.
Have you thought about it in those terms before? We don’t save merely so we can buy something big, although saving for big purchases is wise. We don’t save so that we can enjoy a nice, cushy retirement, doing whatever our heart fancies for the last 20-30 years of our lives. We work and save and go without now so that at some point in the future we can pour ourselves even more fully into the work of advancing God’s kingdom than we can right now. Right now you have to go to work and earn a paycheck and pay bills and provide for your family. But as some of you already know, those days don’t last forever. Eventually there comes a day when you aren’t working and don’t have a house payment and your kids are financially secure, and all of a sudden the opportunities available to you for advancing God’s kingdom with your time, talents, and treasure are well beyond what they have been at any other point in your life. If you have saved wisely in the years preceding that season, your ability to accomplish incredible things to advance God’s kingdom will take your breath away and leave a large wake of lives transformed by the Gospel.
Just imagine it with me. Imagine being in a place in which you don’t have to work anymore, but rather than having to scrimp by on as little as you possibly can, you are able to volunteer in more places and serve more people and give more generously to the work of the Gospel than you ever have before in your life. Imagine being able to do things like chaperone youth and kids events and volunteer at Vacation Bible School and serve at the local school and take part in missions trips and attend powerful conferences without having to take time off of work or worrying about putting food on the table tomorrow. Your most productive financial years may be between 30-50, but your most productive Gospel-advancing years can be 60-90. Imagine having 30 years—that’s a whole career!—to focus on nothing but growing God’s kingdom through the local church and community. That’s a goal worth saving for. In short and again, as followers of Jesus we save, ultimately, so that we can be generous. That’s living big. If you want to live big, you have to save smart.
So now then, the challenge is yours: How are you going to manage the resources God has entrusted into your care so that you can maximize your kingdom effectiveness both now and in the future? Saving smart is the way to get there. If you want to live big, you have to save smart. I can guarantee you this much: You’ll be glad that you did.