The Idol of Financial Freedom
When my husband and I were in Bible college, we tried not to think about the exorbitant amount of debt we were acquiring. We didn’t even discuss how we were going to pay off $60,000 of debt with our ministerial degrees. We blindly trusted that we were doing what God wanted us to do and that He would provide the means of paying off our debt. So we got married, moved into our first apartment, and started looking for jobs in ministry. We quickly realized that most churches (even the mega ones) didn’t want to hire two B.A.s in Biblical Studies, so we agreed that he would be the full time breadwinner. I would technically be unemployed, contributing zero income to our checking account, but would serve alongside him in every aspect of ministry.
When we accepted our first ministry position, it was like we’d been given a 400% pay raise. We had been living off side jobs and inconsistent paychecks, so having a consistent stream of income was exciting, to say the least. When my husband brought his first paycheck home, we just sat on the floor of our new home and laughed. If he’d been paid in cash, we would have thrown it on the floor and swam in it. But no matter how much money you make, when you’re irresponsible with it, you’re still left scratching your head at the end of the week, wondering where it all went. We were totally reckless. We once lost $200 cash and didn’t realize until the next winter when I found it in one of our coats. Saying we were out of control is a bit of an understatement.
At the start of our second year in ministry, our church hosted a class on financial responsibility from a Biblical perspective. I had exactly ZERO interest in being a part of it. Numbers are not my thing, but my husband insisted that we go, so I begrudgingly tagged along. Our world was turned upside down in the best possible way. We went from living paycheck to paycheck to having thousands of dollars in savings. We sold our car to rid ourselves of the $1,000 a month expense and rode our bikes everywhere until we’d saved enough to purchase a car with cash. Since 2010, we have not taken out a single loan or credit card. While we learned many crucial financial lessons, something else happened during that season of getting control of our finances : we grew discontent.
Up until then, we’d been happy with our income and had accepted that there was little to no hope of a raise in the foreseeable future. We were ok with Zach being the only one working in the field we both went to college for and I was content to work side jobs and stay home with our new baby. I was heavily involved in several ministries and loved what we were doing, but then we heard that we needed to be hustling to get out of debt. We began reading books about location independence and “hacking” work and sent ourselves on a path of distraction and misdirection.
We went from being content to yearning for more. We didn’t want to be stuck in debt, slaves to our jobs, never to be free from the weight of our student loans. The only way we saw to achieve financial freedom was to start our own businesses. We caught the entrepreneurial bug and it consumed us. Eventually we were so discontent in ministry and thirsty to find our fortune and launch our million dollar businesses that we resigned from our church. While that wasn't the only reason we left, it was definitely the most compelling.
We convinced ourselves that God was calling us to get out of debt, but looking back, I think he was just letting us have what we wanted. We definitely weren’t listening to what He wanted for us and as a result, life knocked us around. We believed that we were struggling because we were being obedient and were being tested, but the reality was that we had abandoned God’s call on our lives. We started chasing fortune and it almost destroyed us.
We struggled and strived for two years. We were evicted from our apartment, moved in with my parents, went on government assistance, and welcome our third (surprise!) baby into our lives. We continued to try different business ventures, few of which stuck for more than a month or two. I had a blog that was doing rather well, but my success only served to further distract me from my calling. I was a fairly popular internet person with sponsorships and ad revenue. I was being recognized in public and received e-mails from around the world from people who loved my writing and wanted to chat with me. My pride and my income were at an all time high I was loving every second of it.
During this time, we were leading worship at the church my dad was pastoring. We didn’t want to be there. We didn’t want to be in ministry at all. We both grew increasingly angry at God and could not understand why He hadn’t rescued us from our frustrating situation yet. It took us almost three years to ask ourselves the question, “Should we have left ministry?”
When we finally admitted that we had veered far of course, we were humbled, embarrassed, and full of regret. We were chasing dollar signs instead of Jesus and had made idols out of fortune, fame, and importance. We began the painful process of shutting down all of our side hustles, income streams, and for me : a lucrative writing career. It hurt, but for the for the first time in a long time, we felt like we were taking a step in the right direction instead of just leaping blindly. God was leading, we were following. We pulled a full stop on our pursuit of financial freedom and sat back and waited for God to show us what was next. A few weeks later, my husband was offered a full time ministry position and he accepted without hesitation.
Now that we’ve been freed from the bondage of obsession with financial freedom, we’ve noticed a pattern in many young ministers’ lives. Our culture is saturated with the lure of wealth and prosperity and every day, more and more people are abandoning their callings for the pursuit of “financial freedom”. But is it really freedom if the pursuit of it requires that you bind yourself to a life that is outside of God’s will for you?
God’s word says, “A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.” (Proverbs 28:20) This is exactly what happened to us. I can tell you first hand that there is no greater weight than knowing that you are not where God has called you to be. There is nothing more lonely, isolating, and frustrating. There is only striving. But don’t get me wrong, you can achieve what you set out to achieve. You can launch a million dollar business. You can be your own boss, be location independent, and be successful at all of your endeavors. You can do it and you will, if you hustle hard enough. But at what cost? Is your calling worth your financial freedom?
In the early 1900s, missionaries packed their belongings in coffins to leave everything they knew and share the Gospel where God had called them. They were willing to abandon everything to see God’s Word reach the furthermost parts of the earth. And here we are with more abundance than our ancestors could have ever imagined, and still we pursue excess. We are obsessed with the idea of being wealthy and “free”. We convince ourselves that we will be freed up for more ministry, or that we will be able to give more, or that God wants us to be blessed, but those are simply justifications for worldly desires. The pursuit of money is all consuming. It consumes your mind, your heart, your relationships, your conversations, and your time. Financial freedom can quickly become a destructive idol that is difficult to recognize and almost impossible to walk away from.
I do believe that Christians should be financially responsible. I am all for living on a cash budget, not using credit cards, and not acquiring debt. My husband and I take full responsibility for our student loans and are committed to living within our means so that we can pay them off quickly. We want to save, invest, give, and live an abundant life. But financial freedom is so much more than getting rich and being debt free. True freedom is walking in obedience to our Father. No amount of money can compensate for walking away from what God has called you to do. You may achieve all of your financial goals, but if you abandon your calling in the process, you will have gained nothing.