[The Navigating Your Finances God's Way small group study by Howard Dayton of Compass – finances God's way is designed to "equip people to faithfully apply God's financial principles so they may know Christ more intimately, be free to serve Him, and help fund the Great Commission."

I can attest to its power to transform lives, as I've led the study in my own home. Many participants tell me that it made a great difference in expanding their understanding of finances and true biblical stewardship. SMI believes in this study — so much so that we asked Compass' permission to run a series excerpting some of the study's core concepts for the benefit of SMI's readers.

If you have a heart to see others experience the blessing of financial freedom through handling money God's way, I encourage you to investigate leading a Compass small group study. It requires no special financial expertise, and you'll get to watch God's Word come alive in the hearts of your students. You'll be glad you did! – Mark Biller]

Because God loves us, He reveals in the Bible that there is a heaven and hell, that there is a coming judgment, and that He will grant eternal rewards. The Lord wants the very best for us. For this reason, He wants to motivate us to invest our lives and finances in such a way that we can enjoy an intimate relationship with Him now — and receive the greatest possible rewards and responsibilities in the life to come.

Our failure to view our present lives through the lens of eternity is one of the biggest hindrances to seeing our lives and our finances in their true light. Yet Scripture states that the reality of our eternal future should determine the character of our present lives and the use of our money and possessions.

People who don't know the Lord look at life as a brief interval that begins at birth and ends at death. Looking to the future, they see no further than their own life span. With no eternal perspective, they think, If this life is all there is, why deny myself any pleasure or possession?

Those who know Christ have an entirely different perspective. We know life is short; it's the preface — not the book; it's the preliminary — not the main event. And yet this brief testing period will determine much of our experience in heaven.

Financial planners try to convince people to look down the road instead of simply focusing on today. "Don't think in terms of this year," they say. "Think and plan for 30 years from now." The wise person does indeed think ahead, but far more than 30 years ahead. More like 30 million years ahead. Someone once said, "He who provides for this life but takes no care for eternity is wise for a moment but a fool forever." Jesus said it this way: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36).

The long and the short of it

The Bible frequently reminds us that life on earth is brief: "[God] is mindful that we are but dust" (Psalm 103:14). Our earthly bodies are called "tents" (2 Peter 1:13, NIV), temporary dwelling places of our eternal souls. David recognized this and sought to gain God's perspective on the brevity of life. He asked of the Lord, "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.… Each man's life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom…he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it" (Psalm 39:4-6, NIV).

Consider this radical change of perspective from a woman who discovered she had only a short time to live: "The most striking thing that's happened is I find myself almost totally uninterested in accumulating more things. Things used to matter to me, but now I find my thoughts are centered on Christ, my friends, and other people."

Moses realized that true wisdom flowed out of understanding that our lives are short. With that in mind, he asked the Lord to help him number the days he had on earth. "As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years…for soon it is gone and we fly away…. So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:10, 12).

Take a moment to number the days you estimate you have left on earth. This can help you become more aware of the need to invest your life and resources in efforts that will count for eternity.

Aliens and pilgrims

Scripture tells us several things about our identity and role on earth. First, "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20), not earth. Second, "We are ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20), representing Him on earth. Imagine yourself as an ambassador working in a country that is generally hostile to your own. Naturally, you want to learn about this new place, see the sights, and become familiar with the people and culture. But suppose you eventually become so assimilated into this foreign country that you begin to regard it as your true home. Your allegiance wavers, and you gradually compromise your position as an ambassador, becoming increasingly ineffective in representing the best interests of your own country.

We must never become too much at home in this world, or we will become ineffective in serving the cause of the kingdom we are here to represent. We are aliens, strangers, and pilgrims on earth. Peter wrote, "Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear" (1 Peter 1:17, NIV). Later he added, "I urge you,as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires" (1 Peter 2:11, NIV). Another Bible translation uses the words "strangers and pilgrims" (KJV).

Pilgrims are unattached. They are travelers — not settlers — aware that the excessive accumulation of things can distract. Material things are valuable to pilgrims, but only as they facilitate their mission. Things can entrench us in the present world, acting as chains around our legs that keep us from moving in response to God. When our eyes are too focused on the visible, they will be drawn away from the invisible. "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18,NIV). Pilgrims of faith look to the next world. They see earthly possessions for what they are: useful for kingdom purposes, but far too flimsy to bear the weight of trust.

Motivation and rewards

Why should I follow God's guidance on money and possessions when it's so much fun to do whatever I please with my resources? After all, I'm a Christian. I know I'm going to heaven anyway. Why not have the best of both worlds — this one and the next? Though few of us would be honest enough to use such language, these questions reflect a common attitude.

The prospect of eternal rewards for our obedience is a neglected key to unlocking our motivation. Paul was motivated by the prospect of eternal rewards. He wrote, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). The Lord appeals not only to our compassion but also to our eternal self-interest. "Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great" (Luke 6:35).

It is not as simple as saying, "I'll be in heaven and that's all that matters." On the contrary, Paul spoke about the loss of reward as a terrible loss, and the receiving of rewards from Christ as a phenomenal gain. Not all Christians will have the same rewards in heaven.

John Wesley said, "I value all things only by the price they shall gain in eternity." God's kingdom was the reference point for him. He lived as he did, not because he didn't treasure things but because he treasured the right things.

We often miss something in missionary martyr Jim Elliott's famous words, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." We focus on Elliott's willingness to sacrifice, and so we should. At the same time, however, we often overlook his motivation for gain. What separated him from many Christians was not that he didn't want treasure, but that he wanted real treasure. Remember God loves you deeply. Because He wants the best for you throughout eternity, God has revealed that today's financial sacrifices and service for Him will pay off forever.

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist who made a fortune by inventing dynamite and explosives for weapons. When Nobel's brother died, a newspaper accidentally printed Alfred's obituary instead. He was described as a man who became rich by enabling people to kill each other with powerful weapons. Shaken from this assessment, Nobel resolved to use his fortune to reward accomplishments that benefit humanity. We now know those rewards as the Nobel Peace Prize. Let's us put ourselves in Nobel's place. Let's read our own obituary, not as written by people but as it would be written from heaven's point of view. Then let's use the rest of our lives to edit that obituary into what we really want it to be.

When you are face to face with Christ and look back on your life, you'll want to see that the things in which you invested your time, creativity, influence, and money are big things to Him. Don't squander your life on things that won't matter throughout eternity.

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