A few years back, I was talking with a Christian friend about what spiritual principles we should invoke when we think about spending money. "I just wish there was a formula," she said. "I wish I had some dos and don'ts every time I walked into Target."
Early on in my adult life, when my husband and I each received our first paychecks, bought our first house, and set up our first Roth IRA accounts, I thought there were some pretty basic dos and don'ts for Christians when it came to money. I thought there was a formula: Give 10 percent to charity, 30 percent (or so) to the government, and then save as much as you can of what remains.
But as time wore on, the topic of money became a lot more complicated. I learned that money comes up throughout the Bible more often than virtually any other subject. Jesus himself spoke about money more frequently than prayer or faith or any number of more overtly spiritual issues. All this biblical attention suggested I might need to think a little more about the questions, complexities, pitfalls, and opportunities I faced as a person responsible for wealth of all sorts. In time, I realized Christians disagreed about where we should give and how much we should give. I realized I saw 90 percent of our money as "mine" and only 10 percent as belonging to God, and I wanted my attitude to better reflect the truth that God had entrusted us with money and goods that ultimately all belonged to him. I realized that Jesus led a very simple life and yet was also accused of indulgence, that he commanded some to give away everything and received hospitality from others without a word about their wealth. It left me both encouraged and confused. How much should we give away? What does it mean to live simply in a culture of excess? When does saving money become hoarding? How do I keep my treasure in heaven?
I'm not alone in my questions, hopes, and fears when it comes to money. The church as a whole makes headlines with two polarized approaches to this topic. On one side are adherents of the prosperity gospel, bearing a message that equates God's blessing with material prosperity. On the other side are proponents of simplicity who advocate for Christians to give generously and live simply. Both sides can line up Bible verses and personal testimonies to support their message. But perhaps God's Word includes so many references to wealth and poverty and everything in between because no simple solution—no easy reference guide of dos and don'ts—exists. Perhaps this is an area for prayer, discernment, accountability, and community. Perhaps money offers a crucial opportunity for members of the body of Christ to model what it looks like to be faithful both in times of plenty and in times of want.