As much as moviegoers enjoy the gripping suspense of a startling whodunit, after the popcorn is gone and the lights come up, most will admit that they don’t like life’s real surprises, especially the kind that come in the form of an unexpected bill, a plea for a loan from a relative, or financial worries due to an accident or illness.
According to Chuck Bentley, CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, many of us are just trying to make ends meet and struggle to cope when we suddenly need a little, or a lot, extra. As Bentley says, we are a culture living without financial margins.
In the years following the Great Depression, Americans embraced a perspective that the economy was always on the upswing; a higher paying job and a better lifestyle were just around the corner. This was the American Dream.
Most saw little danger in living on the financial edge, quickly becoming accustomed to living beyond their means, relying on loans, credit cards and other sources of available credit.
But the result of this imprudence has become apparent, particularly in the wake of a weakened economy, when expenses continue to rise and income doesn’t.
The Sovereign Provider
So, all we need is a little more money, right? Wrong. In his article “Facing Our Real Crisis: Money But No Margin”, Bentley focuses on the falsehood that bringing in a little more cash will lift the burden of out-of-control spending. It is a lesson he didn’t begin to really understand until he faced an unexpected turn in his own life.
“As a young man I really didn’t see how God was relevant in my finances,” admits Bentley, who earned his B.A. in Business Administration at Baylor University and enjoyed standout success both in his academic and business careers. “I grew up in church, but when it came to personal finances, there was a barrier; I believed that what I earned was mine.”
But God got the attention of this young talent in 2000 when his business, a fast-growing Internet startup, fell victim to a sudden and devastating change in business climate. It was about this time that Bentley took part in a Crown Financial Ministries small group study and learned a life-transforming lesson: God is the owner of all things and our stewardship–or lack thereof–is a reflection of our relationship with Him.
For the first time, Bentley faced the truth that his own relationship with God had suffered in his attempt to serve both God and money. As he now tells audiences around the world, “I was an idolater, and it was money I served.”
An Issue of the Heart
Now as head of the largest financial ministry in the world, Bentley is challenging his leadership teams to find creative, high-impact means for helping people understand that “money doesn’t solve problems,” as Bentley states.
Rather, it is what we do with it that can bring about a good result. As Bentley found in his own life, the test of who, or what, truly has lordship in a Christian’s life is evidenced in two primary areas: self-control and contentment. And these, insists Bentley, are not issues of the wallet, but of the heart.
“It was radical for me to hear what God’s Word says about money and, as I took on God’s perspective, it impacted every area of my life.” Bentley says his marriage was the first to benefit from his heart change. After years of marriage, he shares that he and his wife were finally able to get on the “same page” regarding financial decisions as they took instruction from God’s Word.
Wisdom for Today
Taking over for the late Larry Burkett and the immediate past CEO, Howard Dayton, Bentley says the message hasn’t changed, although reaching younger audiences has become a key focus.
“Young people have the huge advantage in planning for the future,” comments Bentley. “Our message to this demographic is to increase their generosity–not just in terms of time but also finances–and to be committed to saving.”
Bentley is careful to point out that the habit of living without financial margins is a crisis for every age group and every demographic in the U.S. He hopes discussion around his article will motivate men, women, and young people to take stock both of their assets and, more importantly, their heart’s attitude toward honoring God with wise spending decisions.
His advice on getting started: Consider the fact that interest is the biggest expense today, and begin moving toward debt-free living. By doing so, Bentley says we can begin to “create financial margins that will create opportunities for everything in life to improve.”
These margins keep individuals and families from living on the edge of disaster, which ensures that people will have more time for enjoying God’s gift of life instead of worrying about the curse of financial debt.