This is a guest post by Nathan Hollenbeck. Nathan has worked with Coptic Orphans since 2006. You can read more about Nathan and Coptic Orphans by following him on Twitter, @healingthenous, or checking out his blog. And if you too are interested in guest posting on my blog, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
Last summer I sat down with my wife and two fish tacos at Baja Fresh. We prayed and I was just about to dig in after a day of fasting. Suddenly, a young woman walked in with a cardboard sign that said something about starving family members. Despite the many people who were there, for some reason she walked right up to us.
What was I to do? I handed her one of the fish tacos in front of me, and the woman was out the door. I’d like to say I was generous and thankful. But the truth is, I was sulky for having to part with my taco.
That same summer I was leading a Coptic Orphans staff book study with On Social Justice (St. Vladimir’s Theological Seminary Press, 2009) where St. Basil the Great preaches on the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-22 who walked away from Jesus sulky, too. In “To the Rich”, Basil says “those who love their neighbor as themselves possess nothing more than their neighbor…” (§1, p. 43)
But what about my Health Savings Plan? Retirement? Surely there are some exceptions, right?
I’m learning that God isn’t out to part us from as much of our substance as He can. He wants to use our money to show just how good He is—to us and to others. So what exactly does He want then?
First, Basil wants us all to see ourselves in the rich young man. Like him, our “behavior presents a kind of mixed message.” (§1,p. 41) We call God good and we come to him for eternal life. Yet also like this young man, we get squirmy when it comes to giving, let alone when it comes to selling all we have.
That’s why Fr. Anthony’s post about Ephesians 5:3 makes me uncomfortable: not so much because of the stuff about lust, but because this verse also talks about greed. It comes down to whether we really believe that God is good. Basil calls us out on that: “Do you call him good, yet decline to accept what he offers? After all… he who is good is also the giver of the good.” (§1, p. 42)
Could we trust God to come through for us if we didn’t have retirement? Or a 6-month emergency fund?
I’m sometimes not so sure myself. But I know If we lived St. Basil’s teachings here, God would have more opportunities to show just how good he is in our finances.
For example, during college I sang in a men’s choir. One Friday we were on tour, and a friend and I were reading Matthew 6:24-32 on the bus. I wondered: could I really take God at His Word to provide food and drink if I’m not worrying about it?
A few hours later, we stopped among some restaurants for lunch. I ran to an ATM to get my biweekly paycheck so I could eat, only to find that I got the week wrong; my account was empty.
Discouraged, it occurred to me that this might be the perfect opportunity for God to provide. But I shrugged that thought off. What about poorer Christians in Sudan? Where are God's promises for them, and how could I, a rich American, ask God for lunch when they’re lucky to get a single meal in a day?
It started raining, so I walked into Burger King to sit with friends. A strange lady in another corner of the place called me over. I was puzzled.
“You don’t have anything to eat today, do you?” she asked. “When you walked in, God told me I’m supposed to buy you lunch.”
I felt tears well up. My reasoning went out the window. I only understood that God is good.
Imagine how many more people would come to know that God is good because they saw things like that in our lives. Now imagine how many more would realize His goodness if we opened our hearts to become more like that lady in Burger King than like me with my taco?
The 18th century preacher John Wesley made an income of what would today be more than a million dollars every year from the pamphlets and teachings he wrote. But he lived frugally. He saved expenses wherever he could and invested in the lives of the poor, instead. He always had enough. Yet by the time he died, those who came to bury him only found a few coins and silver spoons in his home.
God was amazingly good in John Wesley’s money. God was good to Wesley. More than that, God was good to the countless people who Wesley blessed - all because Wesley honored God with his money.
How about you? How good is God in your money?