[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]

Some Christians embrace one of two extremes. On one end of the spectrum are those who believe that godliness can occur only in poverty. Yet, a number of godly people in Scripture were among the wealthiest of their day. In the Old Testament, the Lord extended the reward of abundance to the children of Israel when they were obedient, while the threat of poverty was one of the consequences of disobedience. Deuteronomy 30:15-16 reads, "I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments...that the Lord your God may bless you."

We may legitimately pray for prosperity when our relationship with the Lord is healthy, and we have a proper perspective of possessions. "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 2). The Bible doesn't say that a godly person must live in poverty.

At the other end of the spectrum lies the belief that all Christians who truly have faith will always prosper. This extreme is also in error. Joseph (in the Old Testament) is an example of a faithful person who experienced prosperity and poverty. He was born into a prosperous family, then was thrown into a pit, and sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. While Joseph was a slave, his master promoted him to be head of his household. Later he made the righteous decision not to commit adultery with his master's wife, yet was thrown in jail because of that decision and held there for several years! In God's timing, however, he was ultimately elevated to Prime Minister of Egypt.

The guideline for prosperity is found in Joshua 1:8, "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success" (emphasis added). Two requirements for prosperity become apparent from studying this passage. You must meditate on the Scriptures, engraving them on your mind and heart, and you are required to do all that is written in them. Once you have fulfilled these obligations, you place yourself in the position to be blessed financially. But there is no guarantee that the godly will always experience financial prosperity.

There are four reasons why the godly may not prosper:

God sometimes molds our character by allowing us to experience difficult circumstances. An example of how the Lord develops character in a people before prospering them is found in Deuteronomy 8:16-18: "In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth." Our Father knows us better than we know ourselves. In His infinite wisdom, He knows exactly how much He can entrust to us at any time without it harming our relationship with Him.

Hebrews 12: 6,10 tells us that, "He scourges every son whom he receives...for our good that we may share His holiness." If we have sin in our lives or a wrong attitude toward money, the Lord may discipline us by allowing financial difficulties aimed at encouraging us to forsake our sin and return to Him with all our hearts.

  1. Violating scriptural principles.
    Look again at Joshua 1:8. There is the requirement to do according to all that is written in the Bible. You may be giving generously but acting dishonestly. You may be honest but not fulfilling your work responsibilities. You may be a faithful employee but head-over-heels in debt. You may be completely out of debt but not giving. Those who don't understand all the requirements often neglect critical areas of responsibility unknowingly, and suffer financially.
     
  2. Building Godly character.
    Romans 5:3-4 reads, "Tribulation brings about perseverance, and perseverance, proven character." Many godly people in the Bible went through periods when they were living righteously, yet lost their possessions. David became a national hero after slaying Goliath. Here was a young man who served blamelessly, only to be forced to flee for his life from a tormented King Saul. Job lost his children and possessions in the space of a few moments, yet was described as a "blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil" (Job 1:8). Paul learned the secret of contentment while being held captive in chains and suffering want, even though he was righteous.
     
  3. Our dependence and His discipline.
    A father was carrying his two-year-old child as he waded out into a lake. When they were close to shore, the child was unconcerned, because of the apparent safety of the beach even though the water was deep enough to drown him. He didn't understand his dependence upon his father. The farther they moved away from shore, however, the tighter the child held to his father. Like the child, we are always completely dependent upon the Lord to provide for us. However, often we don't recognize our dependence when we are "close to shore," experiencing the apparent security of financial prosperity. But when our possessions are few or none, it's easier to recognize our need and to cling to our heavenly Father.
     
  4. The mystery of God's sovereignty.
    In Hebrews 11 we find "Faith's Hall of Fame." In verses 1-35, we encounter a list of people who triumphed miraculously by the exercise of their faith in God. But in verse 36, the writer directs our attention to godly people who gained God's approval, yet experienced poverty. God ultimately chooses how much to entrust to each person, and sometimes we simply can't understand His decisions.

Dangers of prosperity

Scripture identifies a number of dangers associated with wealth. First, wealth tends to separate people. Abram and Lot were relatives who became wealthy. This ultimately caused them to move away from each other. "Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold.... [Lot] also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they were not able to remain together" (Genesis 13:2, 5-7). Most of us know friends or family members who have allowed conflicts over money to damage or destroy their relationships.

Second, it's easy for those who are prosperous to turn from God. We might say to ourselves, "That would never happen to me." But Scripture makes it clear that an increase in possessions and wealth move us closer to spiritual danger. "For when I [the Lord] bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me" (Deuteronomy 31:20). We tend to cling to the Lord when it's obvious that He must provide for our needs. Once people become prosperous, they often take the Lord for granted, thinking they no longer have as much need of Him. Paul warned Timothy, "Instruct those who are rich in this present world not…to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God" (1 Timothy 6:17).

Third, it's difficult for the rich to come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. "Jesus said to His disciples, 'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven'" (Matthew 19:23). Again, this is because the rich generally feel less of a need for God. Riches also can destroy a spiritually fruitful life. "The one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22). Riches are deceitful because they are tangible and can blind us from the reality of the unseen Lord. We imagine that our finances can do things for us that only Christ can really do.

The Scriptures teach neither the necessity of poverty nor promise uninterrupted prosperity. What the Bible teaches is the responsibility of being a faithful steward through all the ups and downs of life. 

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