Facing Our Real Crisis: Money But No Margin

By Chuck Bentley, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries   •   August 19, 2008   •   Topics:

The level of economic concern in our nation is high. If we used the warning system devised by the Department of Homeland Security to give a ranking to our economic problems, I would rate us at Orange.

I don’t think I’ll get much disagreement from anyone on that; only those who think we are at Red might disagree.

The division comes regarding the solution: Some look to the government, some look to the Federal Reserve, others look to OPEC, but I think the real issues lie within us, not in our circumstances. Please allow me to share my perspective with you.

In April I spoke to a large group at a vibrant church in Texas. It was a warm and friendly audience ranging from young to old. Everyone there was eager to learn God’s financial principles.

In one session, people were allowed to anonymously turn in their questions to me so I could answer them without embarrassing anyone in the group. The idea drew a high percentage of participation because they could ask their real questions.

As I sorted through the stack, my heart was moved by the stress, the pressure, and the pain behind the smiling faces looking back at me.

I actually had to hold back my tears. Here is a sample of the questions I was asked:

  • I have about $3,000 of credit card debt. Should I pay this off before I save for my emergency fund?
  • I have almost $14,000 in medical bills due to not having insurance. I’m just paying my other bills with nothing left over. What should I do?
  • Two years ago we bought a boat, which is costing us $379 per month. With the cost of everything being so expensive now, we can’t afford to keep it. If I sell it I will still owe $4,000 to the loan company. What should we do?
  • I recently lost my job. With two part-time jobs, I’m still not making enough to pay all the bills. What can we do to cut expenses more?
  • We have just found out my wife is pregnant and will be due in about seven months. We depend on both of our incomes to make our house and car payments and other bills. How can we plan to make up this shortage of income when the baby is due? She plans on going back to work as soon as possible.
  • We used to be able to save about $300 each month after the bills. But now the cost of everything is sky high. We don’t save anything now, just give the money to the grocery store and gas station and utility company. What can we do?
  • We are in retirement but have very little money in the bank. We get by but want to travel before we get too old. Should we get a reverse mortgage on our house so we can travel?

One by one, as I prepared to answer these questions, I saw a single common denominator in all of them. All of these people have money, but no margin.

They are living without any flexibility, whether it is from debt, unexpected medical expenses, maxing out two incomes, over consumption, or poor planning.

As one pastor who has a fast-growing church in a major city once told me, he preaches every Sunday to the “affluent poor.”

They have outward appearances that reflect lots of money and possessions, but beneath the surface, most are stretched to their limits and beyond because they are maxed out on their lifestyles.

In times of a growing economy and rising incomes, most people can stay a step ahead of the wolves.

But when the economy slows, inflation hits, and financial margin is needed, the lifestyle that seemed so wonderful becomes a form of captivity.

The crisis in our nation is not because of inflation or a slow economy; it is because a high percentage of our population is unprepared for inflation or a slower economy–they have no margin.

Maybe you are one of those who are feeling margin-less. Possibly your name could be substituted next to one of the questions asked of me by someone else.

Do you feel like you have money but no margin? Does “affluent poor” describe you?

The root issues go beyond how we manage money. The root issues are spiritual in nature, because we are all driven by what we believe about money.

That is why our emphasis at Crown Financial Ministries is on God’s truth. When we know the truth, the truth will set us free. So, how can knowing God’s truth help you become free?

First, through God’s Word and by His Spirit we learn self-control. Larry Burkett used to say that saving money was a fruit of the Spirit, because saving money and self-control are interrelated. The paradox is that self-control is actually not accomplished by “self” but by His Spirit.

That’s why we don’t ask you to change your behaviors but to submit your heart and minds to Christ. He will then direct your steps. He will produce the self-control you lack.

Second, we must learn from Paul to be content. It is impossible to ever stop living on the very edge of your financial limits unless you can come to a point where you can be content with what God has given you. This means saying no to many of the choices you may have to spend, but saying yes to the opportunity to give and save.

Although these don’t give outward appearances of affluence, they do bring incredible joy, peace, and freedom.

As Proverbs 12:9 says, “Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food” (NIV).

As followers of Jesus Christ, we should live in such a way that we are
prepared for the ups and downs of our personal, national, and global economy.

We need to be wise, so that our vulnerability to financial change is always set on the Green level, or a very low threat.

Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (NIV).

When we demonstrate that we do not live as the world, caught up in the temporal pleasures of life, but are living for our eternal King who commands us to be wise, we are prepared in season and out of season for every good work.


Reprinted with permission from Crown Financial Ministries. Crown’s mission is “Equipping people worldwide to learn, apply, and teach God’s financial principles so they may know Christ more intimately, be free to serve Him, and help fund the Great Commission.”

Read Billy Graham’s spiritual answers to questions about money:

Have you seen that ad on TV about the man who says he’s in debt up to his eyeballs? That’s the way we feel. What should we do?

Read Billy Graham’s answer »

I work during the day and my husband works the night shift, so we almost never have any real time together. We need the money, but this is really causing problems in our marriage. What can we do?

Read Billy Graham’s answer »

We’ve never been wealthy. I retired last year, and now with a limited income we just can’t keep giving to ministries. Will God understand our problem?

Read Billy Graham’s answer »

I wonder why God’s never given me very much financially. Do you have any explanation for this?

Read Billy Graham’s answer »

Read an article from BGEA’s Decision magazine:

Where Do You Find Your Security? by Dave Ramsey »

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