Faith & Finances - Practical Advice Is Not Enough

The United States is often called the richest country in the world. Often, as believers, we feel guilty about the money or nice things we own. Should we, though? Money is a resource that God chooses to give to us, as well as a blessing. If that’s the case, should we feel guilty about owning a nice house or car? Today Jim Palumbo and Gary Wilkerson discuss the answers and how we can have wisdom with our money.

The United States is often called the richest country in the world. Often, as believers, we feel guilty about the money or nice things we own. Should we, though? Money is a resource that God chooses to give to us, as well as a blessing. If that’s the case, should we feel guilty about owning a nice house or car? Today Jim Palumbo and Gary Wilkerson discuss the answers and how we can have wisdom with our money.

Bob: Welcome back to another episode of the Gary Wilkerson Podcast. Today, on the program, we have Jim Palumbo. We're going to talk about a topic today that everybody thinks about, everybody talks about and that's money. I'm sure we have some people out there listening and watching and say, “What are you talking about money for?” I guess the point is, the Bible talks about money. I think I read over 2,300 verses versus on money are in the Bible. If it's in the Bible that many times we probably ought to be talking about it too, right?

Gary: Exactly, yes. Have you ever met any Christians that have guilt or shame at occupying in the financial realm and seeing that as like, “Oh, you're just seeking mammon?” Do you ever meet Christians that live out of a sense of guilt? If I spent too much time, energy on thinking about money or making money that I must not be living for Jesus.

Jim: Absolutely.

Gary: What do you say to them?

Jim: I'm glad you asked the question. I believe that the philosophies that represent that thinking. There's a philosophy of old Pentecostal holiness or whatever puritanical religious view of wealth, prosperity, material goods, as being bad. Then you have the more modern sort of psychotic view that the whole purpose of the Bible and your relationship with God is to make you wealthy. I reject both of those philosophies.

Gary: Me too.

Jim: It is incorrect because I believe the Bible is transcendent. It's a third, but transcendent perspective on material goods. All the things in this world belong to God and we are stewards. It's never talked about. We're stewards of the things that are here on this earth. The reason that most people are poor is because they're poor stewards. They never learned how to occupy their talent. That little thing that God gave them, they never did it well, and they didn't get more. They just stayed right in that spot, being sloppy, being irresponsible being… ignoring it, or being puritanical, and thinking it was evil, or striving after it out of covetousness. If you reject all of that, and look around, look out the window here. All of this belongs to our Father, and he said, "Gary, Jim, Bob, take care of it. You're in charge, do good job." The minute we mess it up, then we don't get more.

Gary: Yes. I came from the puritanical point of view. I don't know, did you too growing up?

Jim: A little both, right. [laughs]

Gary: What about you, Bob? Are you more of the prosperity family?

Bob: No more. No, of the previous.

Gary: Okay. Yes. I think most of us in evangelical world are brought up in that. For me, I lost a lot of joy in life because-- An example, I was in a car accident two years ago, insurance gave us some money so we could buy a new car. My wife wanted to buy a nice one. It has a nice name brand, in my mind went to Gary Wilkerson head of… Dave Wilkerson’s son, head of World Challenge can't drive a car with that symbol on the front of it. Even though it's the same price as the other one, but it was the name of it. It was a better quality, a better deal, it's an older car, and see, I even had to say that.

Jim: You’re apologizing still.


Gary: Yes. We've got that puritanical mindset that material goods are bad for you and if you're doing it--my mindset goes to is like, "Okay, that car could have fed a thousand children or something like that." It's hard to live that way though because you're always like in guilt and condemnation and shame. On the other hand, as you said, "I don't want to live the other way, though, make as much as I can and be proud of it. Tell everybody that's-- look at this mansion I'm living in, that shows how much I'm following God because He's honoring me with this big house or this big car." I don't want to live that way either.

You're talking about a third way here. Can you define that little bit more like this way that you're not living as an intentional pauper to try to please God, but you're not living as a hyper prosperity movement that is all about money, so what's this third?

Jim: I'd like to tell a story, so I’ll try not to forget to tell that but let me address the first part of the question which is sort of theological. It's basically, if we go back to stewardship, that a good steward should ultimately be a Joseph, commanding millions, billions of dollars if he's a good steward. Because this is what God has given him to do. He was faithful with little and God made him faithful with much. This is scriptural.

We talked about the teachings of Jesus and everybody says, "Oh, it's just prayer and spiritual meditation." No, it's not. It's these real things, about faithfulness. Think about the beatitudes, think about the commands of Jesus, how radical it was to love others more than yourself, to put others before you. This was radical thinking in his time. If you live your life with that kind of radical generosity and love, that makes you a good steward. Then God's going to give you more. As you're a good steward, you can have more and more wealth. What you do with it determines the next level. It's impossible to hide covetousness and greed. The moment you start exercising it, God finds you out, and He caps you and you got to learn the lesson or you don't keep moving.

As soon as you put your eyes on, "Well, I want to have more money, so I'll try to pretend to God that I'm not covetous," He knows your heart, He knows you’ve been covetous.

Gary: You've heard this before, God gives you something and you hold it in your hand, but you hold it lightly, you don't grasp it, so you let go.

Bob: Let me ask you a question about that.  The heart is very deceitful, and it can talk us into all kinds of things. Any advice on knowing where your heart really is when it comes to some of those big purchases? What should you ask yourself to know where your heart’s really at?

Jim: There's two sides to that coin too, so I'll answer it two ways. Number one is the practical, which is, if you have to go into debt for it, and if you have to spend more than you have, then it's a bad idea. Always live principally, live modestly, below your means, not above your means. The practical side is to make those decisions, don't buy things you can't afford, don't go too much into debt, et cetera.

The flip side of that is Paul, here with I'm content, to just simply be content. Why do we buy new cars? Sometimes we buy it because it breaks down. Sometimes we buy it just because we want what that other person has. I think the one thing that's never ever, ever preached on, if I've heard one sermon in 40 years on covetousness, that's probably a lot and maybe it was your dad.

Gary: [laughs]

Jim: It's just not talked about and it's one of the Ten Commandments. People don't really know how to recognize covetousness. We talked about other mistakes I've made with money. God blessed me, I had a new car and I remember, I don't mind naming the brand, it was a Cadillac Seville, bright red, man it was excellent. The Lord really blessed me, and it really was. The other car died, needed a new car. It was like some lease deal, zero interest, one of those extraordinary things that was 230 bucks a month. I was like, "Wow, what a blessing?" I have this killer luxury car for 200 some bucks a month, on a lease was terrific. Well, I wasn't happy with that.

A year later, looking, I see this guy has got a Porsche Boxster convertible. I'm thinking, “A Porsche Boxster is just killer, man. I got to have.” I went and bought one. What a pain in the neck it was. It always was breaking down and rocks going through the windows. It just wasn't right. It was so clear to me that I got that Porsche Boxster convertible out of pure covetousness. There was no practical reason whatsoever for doing it. We say, the people listening-- there are some easy ones like that. If you're tempted to get the Porsche Boxster convertible, it could be covetousness, especially if you have six kids.


Gary: It's just a little hard that, Jim and Bob, when you come from that puritanical background where material goods are worldly and then the biblical teaching that's helping you make a decision. Normally, I hear it's like if you have peace about it. Buy that car if you have peace about it. You pray, and then if you have peace, then that's the Lord leading you.

Coming from that puritanical background, I don't have peace about anything when it comes to buying, now my wife does. She'll go like, "Yes, let's buy it. You deserve it. We got the money in the bank." Is there any other way? Can you help me because peace is not going to do it for me? Is there any other way-- but I think I hear you saying good stewardship, like is it wise? Is that car going to put you in debt, or is it going to be within your means to make the monthly payment or whatever? Is that stewardship? Do you think of peace when you're making financial decisions?

Jim: No.

Gary: You don't. Wow. That's pretty rare. I think it is anyway.

Jim: Outside of Pentecostal circles, maybe. In charismatic circles, maybe not. Let's take the other side of the Puritans’ teachings. They were very austere. The other thing that they said is this. They said that, “With no extraordinary revelation from God, no word from heaven, no sense of go to the left or go to the right, you can live your life perfectly before God with what's in the scripture.” The word of God is a guide to us, how to live our lives.

It’s not going to tell you what color of car to buy, but there are lots of principles for us to rely on when making a decision. Let's say about a purchase. Start with Paul, "Whatever state I find myself here with to be content." First of all, are you content with what you have and is it fine? Follow Paul's principle, "Yes, my car works. The house is fine." Let it go. Just give up. Just let go all this stuff like, "I need a better house. I need a better car." Just let it go. Don't think about materialism.

This is the time to be spiritual. Think about your kids. Think about your family. Think about your church. Think about the poor. If the house is fine, the car is fine, just leave it go. Just don't obsess about the things of this world. That's a principle that's taught to us in the Word of God. We don't need extraordinary spiritual revelation to know that.

The next thing, Bible teaches us not to be a debtor. Do I have to go in debt to do this? If the old car is fine, I have to go into debt to get the new car? Don't do it. The Bible literally tells you not to get that car because it says don't go into debt and to be content with the one that you have. You could just go on and on. There are so many principles like that in the Bible. I'm just picking a couple of them that are great examples so we can live by the word of God without fear of making a mistake because we don't have a spiritual leading, peace or check or some other thing. Word of God is enough.

Bob: I go some other principles that you mentioned in your book, investments. What are our principles regarding investment of our money?

Jim: That's a hard gear shift.


Bob: That Boxter should be able to handle.


Jim: When we talk about investments, the first thing is, yes. That's the first thing that we have to say about--

Gary: Yes, invest?

Jim: Yes. Right, invest. Saving, investing. How many examples in the Bible, starting with the parable we talked about the talents? The guy that buried it and didn't do well with it, with what he had, was punished. Literally, not just like, "Okay, you weren't rewarded." He was actually chastised for not doing good with what he had. The first answer to the question is, yes, that every Christian should be saving and investing for the future and should be doing their very best in principle to make it grow. Doesn’t mean you have to take extraordinary risk? It doesn't mean you have to make unwise decisions, and there're biblical principles around that too, but everybody should be doing that.

For the people are listening, that might represent 50%, 60%, 70%, 80% of the people listening just to get a start. It's important to just get a start on these types of things.

Gary: Just keeping on the theme of practical. Let's draw a scenario. There's a husband, father, he makes, let's say, $60,000 a year and comes to you and says, "I have no savings. I'm a little bit in debt. Do you have some recommendations to help me be a good steward?" In a real practical sense, what would you say? Would you have them by a little bit of a mutual fund or how much percentage would you ask him to save? Do you mind going a little bit in detail on that?

Jim: If you'll indulge me the preamble. 25 years ago, people started asking this advice of me and I thought, "Man, I have so much wisdom I can share on these practical advice that I'm going to really change people's lives." I found that it changed nobody's life because--

Gary: Oh, yes. The externals.

Jim: -- it really was the spiritual. I can give them practical advice and they can't do it because the heart isn't right. My preamble will just be yes, they got to deal with what we're talking about first. Faith, family, fitness, and then the finance comes automatic. Now to the point of the practical--

Gary: Hold onto that thought about the practical but let me just echo what you just said there because I talk a lot about this from the pastor's point of view in the counseling office 40 years of pastoring people that come in office that are in financial problems. It's really not the finances. It's something else and so, you've got to get to that--

Jim: 100% of the time.

Gary: Yes. I have to- and you do as well. You have to get to say, "Okay, what's driving those spending habits?" Again, I go to the soul issues of, if you feel like you're not enough, if you feel you aren't big and brash, and bold enough, you're going to go out and spend to try to prove that you are and you'll make some bad-- out of that soul wound, you'll always make bad decisions. I'm sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to confirm. I think my experience would say exactly the same thing, 100% of people-- I wouldn't say 100 to be honest with that because--


Gary: Occasionally, you get the person--

Jim: 99.9.

Gary: Single mom with five kids and her husband abandoned them and so she's in debt. I wouldn't say, “Well, you have soul issues,” but even then, there's some ways of getting help. Yes. I'm rambling--[crosstalk]

Jim: No, it's okay. Poverty is an exception, number one. What's funny is this podcast could be listened to all around the world. In American society, true poverty is not that common. People can find a way out of their circumstances in a relatively short order. That widow is going to face difficulty. Yes, indeed. We should be there for them. If we're talking to somebody in another country, the further from here, you go east, that may be true. That those circumstances are truly what's responsible for their situation and not covetousness. We acknowledge that. We're talking very much here, this type of conversation to the western culture person, that mass affluent, middle class that's working through these issues. That's the first thing.

The next is, why did-- You were talking about linking self-worth with materialism and money. I think that is a very good link. Think about how God wrote the Commandment. Covet not thy neighbor's horse or wife or house or whatever, because what he's saying is that self-worth is connected with the pecking order. You live in this village, you live in this town, you live in this neighborhood, you live in this community. You look around and they're doing better than you and what does that you feel less as a person because you see somebody doing better than you. Therefore, you need to feel like you have to move up the pecking order. That's why you need the house, that's why you need the car, that's why you need the clothes, jewelry, whatever it is. It's to find your place in the pecking order. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the pecking order.

Gary: Bob and I've talked about that before where the external, the sin is the fruit but there is a root. You’re talking about self-worth, of the root of the healing need inside, the fruit is you're being covetous. The answer to covetousness is not don't be covetous. That's what the Bible says, but there is power in the gospel that gives you that and so it's not just like, again, I call it bootstrapping, like, "I'm not going to covet. I'm going to close my eyes."

It's getting that contentment inside of you so that once I'm content, I see that they have a different car than I have. It's like, I'm more content with as you said being content with my car, it runs good, it gets me to work. There is a contentment of peace about it so that I don't need to covet then whereas if there is that lack of understanding worth as you're calling it, then I agree with that.

Then it's almost impossible not to covet and so you're dealing with covetousness as an issue but then you're dealing with worth as an issue.

Jim: Inescapable.

Gary: The two have to be dealt with. Who'd have thought we'd be invited here to come and talk about finances and we're talking about the self-worth? I love what you're saying, it's so linked.

Jim: Bob, rightly brought up the topic of origin, purpose, and meaning earlier and so self-worth is connected to those things. Origin, the imago dei the Image of God, we are created by God in his image, and we therefore by the sheer fact of our existence, we have inestimable worth because we're created in God's image. Before we’re even redeemed, we have value as humans because God made us, created us for a purpose.

Once redeemed, now the purpose, God has a purpose for your life, and he's expressing that. The reason that people are often not content, Gary, is that they don't realize that, right where they are today—whoever is listening, wherever you are, you've got some bills, you're making X number of dollars a year—you are precisely where God wants you today because you're there. God loves you. He has his hand on you. He's been directing your steps every day of your life, and you are where you are because he wants you there.

Guess what? He has extraordinary and beautiful things for you tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Be content in the today.

Gary: You keep digging deeper, don't covet. Why am I coveting? Because I'm not content. Be content then. How do you be content? There is something even under that. Asking ourselves the question, why am I discontented? What is driving this discontent and it goes against to the worth? You then go, why don't I feel worthy? It's like, I don't believe exactly-- the lack of worth is not believing what you just said that you were created in God's image. That you have value and I always say this, it's one thing to believe God loves you, but it's another thing to accept yourself and have compassion and tenderness and have the same kind of mercy you have on yourself as you have to others.

Most people that are even in debt and struggling financially, would say somebody else in debt and financially struggling are-- they're valuable human beings that God loves, but if they ask about, am I that? No, I'm so guilty, I'm so ashamed, I've spent poorly. The debt that you created by not being content actually makes you more discontented and then more anxious and needing to get more money to do that. It's a vicious cycle that you have to-- I actually call it detox.

There are things in my life that are off-kilter from the values that I have. Sometimes I do a 10-day detox on food when I start returning to the poor values of eating poorly. I'm not living my values. Healthy living creates a powerful energy and engine in me to be able to do what God's called me to do. I'm off value so I have to change the values. I think people have to not get stuck in the cycle and change the values and saying, "I value contentment but how am I going to find it?" That's so powerful.

I would have thought you would have come here and said, "Invest in this, and here is a good stock." When we first started talking, I was little bit like, "Hey Jim, can you give us a little more tips about helping the listeners’ finances?" I think you were really onto something. I'm so glad you've kept the conversation as Jesus did towards the heart issue.

At first, I was a little bit like, "Jim you're just talking about Jesus and the heart." Now after this conversation, I'm going like "Oh, you have really helped people," because if they get those two things and this is what you're saying, right? They get Jesus right and their own heart right, then these things you'll start having wisdom, contentment breeds wisdom. You can start making some wise decisions. You'll probably pick up a good book or something and go to a financial advisor like the company you have and be able to get that kind of wisdom.

At those places, the financial book about how to invest, or how to save or how to stay out of debt or the financial advisor that you might go visit, they're not going to tell you about your heart issues. Out of the heart springs the issues of life. Finances is one of those issues so I'm really glad you're talking about the heart issues.

Jim: It becomes the 80-20 rule.

Gary: What's that? What's the 80-20 rule?

Jim: 80-20 rule, I guess isn’t self-evident. For every 100 people that you talk to, only 20 are going to take the good advice. The 80 are going to continue in the err of their ways and the 20 will get it.

Gary: Got you.

Jim: 80-20 rule is that I can give the practical tips. I can tell you exactly what investment to buy, don't buy and what quantities for your age and all of those things. It's useless information to the unredeemed heart. You have to get these things in order. If we're talking about the entrepreneur majority 80-20 rule, 80% of the businesses fail when people start them. Why do they fail? Other than really horrible business ideas, they mostly fail because of their lack of character in the individual.

Give you a great example. Not far from here there was a coffee shop and I would pass by it every day in the morning and then in the afternoon coming back. I'd go in the afternoon coming back, pick up the kids the place was packed. It was obviously good coffee and good snacks or whatever else they had in there. In the morning, I'd drive by 6:00 something in the morning, the place was closed. I laughed to myself thinking, this is some person who had a great idea for the business. Obviously great because people pack it in the afternoon, but didn't have the depth of character to wake up in the morning and open the place up so they could serve coffee to the people in the morning.

That's a very simple illustration that businesses fail. Your efforts today, people who are listening, you're frustrated by your efforts because you say, "I'm trying with money," but those efforts are frustrated because of that character because of that absence of some things here in your life. When those things get right, they're expressed in making good decisions. From that depth of character that Jesus is working in us we make the right decisions. To that man or that woman, you can't escape wealth, it will follow you.

Bob: I guess we could let Timothy to wrap it up with, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Jim: Exactly. Perfect.

Gary: Good capstone, yeah.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • Should Christians feel guilty about being wealthy?
  • What is the middle ground between intentionally living as a pauper and following the hyper prosperity movement?
  • How can we make sure our heart is in the right place when making large purchases?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

If you live your life with radical generosity and love, that makes you a good steward. Then God's going to give you more. What you do with it determines the next level. It's impossible to hide covetousness and greed. The moment you start exercising it, God finds you out, and He caps you and you have to learn the lesson or you don't keep moving. – Jim Palumbo

Every Christian should be saving and investing for the future and should be doing their very best, in principle, to make it grow. Doesn’t mean you have to take extraordinary risk. It doesn't mean you have to make unwise decisions, and there're biblical principles around that too, but everybody should be doing that. – Jim Palumbo

The debt that you created by not being content actually makes you more discontented and then more anxious and needing to get more money. It's a vicious cycle. – Gary Wilkerson

I can tell you exactly what investment to buy, don't buy and what quantities for your age and all of those things. It's useless information to the unredeemed heart. – Jim Palumbo

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast

About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.

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