Chains of Bondage: Debt

Anyone who has ever had any debt at all knows that it can keep you up at night, it can drive you at least a little crazy, worry you sick (literally), and it can take over your life in an instant. The second we sign our lives away to debt, we’re signing our rights away. The thing we forget to think about is that we’ve literally sold our lives into slavery. The worst part is we didn’t have the authority to do so.  God created us and we are His children. We belong to Him! However, when we sign up for debt, we sign away our lives to someone else and willingly put our arms and legs into shackles of slavery that can be brutal and merciless. We’re not talking crucifixion here, but we are talking about giving control of our lives to someone other than God who doesn’t care about our marriage, our health, or what will happen to our family.

That means that if we are living our lives aligned with God, we’ll run from debt whether it’s our own or others’.  However, the Church and Christians aren’t talking about debt at a personal level and it’s probably because they themselves are swimming in it. Just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t me we should, too.

Debt is two-fold. It’s not just about giving ourselves away to someone else, it’s about the fundamentals God is trying to teach us every day. Let’s face it, we, as a society, are gluttons and we need things and we need them NOW!!! Doesn’t this go against God’s plan for us to learn patience and trust? If we truly believe in the Lord with our whole hearts shouldn’t we trust HIM to provide for us? God provides us with our daily needs constantly. If we examine our lives, He blesses us by fulfilling our wants every now and again, too. God has a plan for each and every one of us! That being said, there’s probably a reason you can’t afford that $1,000.00, high-definition, 60 inch big screen. Besides the obvious factors like who really needs a television that big and can you really tell the difference between HD and non-HD, maybe He’s sending us a message. Are we listening? Apparently not if we put that WANT on our credit card and don’t think twice about it until we realize that we actually paid $1,500.00 for the television over 24 months. Instead, we should stop and think, ‘What is God telling me?’ Perhaps He’s saying, ‘You watch too much television,’ or ‘Your wife and children are more important,’ or even, ‘Should you really be watching that?’ But all too often, we don’t think about any of those questions before we buy the television.

How many of you have ever put groceries on your credit card? Ever done that while using coupons? What’s the point of saving 25 cents on a $1.25 bag of pasta when you’re paying 20% interest on it for who knows how long? Instead of using credit, try asking yourself questions that help you figure out whether your heart is aligned with God while you’re shopping. For instance, ‘Do I really need this?’ This particular question can run a thin line, but when used with common sense and good judgment, it’s a perfect question for any shopping trip. You can ask the question about tomatoes and figure that, yes, you can, in fact, make a salad without tomato. However, tomatoes offer lycopene which helps the skin naturally protect itself from sun damage and they also offer vitamin c and other health benefits.  Now ask yourself the same question about Pop Tarts? Do you really NEED them? Could you offer a healthier breakfast option to your child that contains actual nutritional value? Necessities should not be going on a credit card, but if you are making this choice, only buy the things you need.

Now whether you need these things or not, common sense should be able to answer the question for you. However, if you really are having a problem deciding (re: Come to Jesus) think about how God would want you to spend your money? Are you making a decision that impacts the well-being of your relationship with God, your marriage, your family, or yourself in a significant way? Will the debt you’re incurring now prevent someone in this circle from having their NEEDS met? Is this the most responsible use of your money?

The thing is, when we accept debt for things we NEED we’re saying, ‘I don’t trust God to provide for me.’ And even worse, when we buy something we want, despite the fact that our heart isn’t aligned with what God wants for us, we’re saying, ‘I don’t care if You have other plans for me, I’m going to be selfish right now and do what I want.’

God calls us to be good stewards with our money and it’s important that we spend what we are blessed with wisely. I have always found that ‘give and you shall receive’ is true when it comes to sharing my money with God. That doesn’t mean you’ll constantly receive huge blessing from the Lord for tithing, but at the end of the month, your bills could very well be paid and you’re not sure how you did it. Do you realize this is God blessing you? Do you realize He is working in your life in these situations? Are you thanking Him and praising Him for the blessings He provided you with and the NEEDS He met for you?

While this sounds harsh, it isn’t. It’s about respecting what God gives us and using the gift of wisdom He so graciously provides us with to honor Him. That being said, please don’t think I’m saying you should never buy something you WANT. God wants us to be happy and He will provide us with the things we want, not just things we need, but we have to respect His timing. Make good decisions in these times and allow Him to teach you patience. Take a couple of months, or several, whatever is fitting for your situation, and SAVE for the things you WANT. If it’s something that truly has no use but pleasure (i.e. the television), take some time while you’re saving to pray about the financial decision you’re considering and think about the value this item will bring to your life. If you still want what you’ve been saving for after you took some time to save the money, you still feel okay making the purchase, and you know that God is okay with your decision, then go ahead and buy what you have been saving for.

One other thing I suggest you consider while you’re making this decision is the following set of questions: Do we have debt that I should be paying off before I make this purchase? Do we have the savings we need to provide for our family in case of an emergency or job loss? Do I have the money to meet the immediate needs of my family for the near future- upcoming co-pays, uncovered procedures or prescriptions, car maintenance, license renewals, etc? And last, but NOT LEAST, have I been tithing? And, will I be able to tithe after making this purchase?

Yes, all these steps require patience, but that builds character in you and it builds strength in your relationship with our heavenly Father. However, the probable side effects of debt are not worth our impulsiveness. Sleepless nights, not being able to provide for your family, marital conflicts, possible divorce, anxiety, and depress can consume you in an instance. Look at how much something is actually costing you? $10,000.00 of debt may actually cost you $12,000.00, 2.5 pounds, a wrinkle or two, high blood pressure, loss of sleep, and three unnecessary but possibly damaging fights with your spouse. Are all those things you charged to those credit cards really worth it?

Now let’s talk about less avoidable debt for a moment. With proper savings, you should be able to avoid financing at least a part of the price of a new car or home. We all want a sparkly car with gadgets and gizmos. However, it’s important to remember that all we’re looking for is a safe vehicle that gets us from point A to point B without excessive maintenance costs. Sure you’ll need lubes, tune ups, tires, brake pads, flushes, and alignments here and there, but don’t buy a cheap car that you’re going to pay twice for in repair costs. In the same respect, don’t buy an overpriced vehicle that will put financial strain on your family. There is always middle ground when it comes to buying a car. And please remember that cars are NEVER an investment no matter what we’d like to think. Be sure to put enough money down on a car to avoid a need for GAP insurance. GAP insurance is important to have so that you’re not upside down on a loan should something happen to your car, but by purchasing a used car with a good down payment the need for GAP insurance can be avoided. If you do purchase GAP insurance and nothing ever happens to your car, that’s money that goes straight down the drain.

The same general rules apply to purchasing a home. Remember, our ancestors used to have a family of eight living in a one room house. Your kids don’t HAVE to have their own room and you don’t NEED a man cave. If that’s something you can afford, then more power to you, but if not, don’t put your family’s well being at risk to ‘keep up with the Jones’.  Only buy what you can afford. If it’s hideous, remember a can or two of paint or new handles on the cabinets can make a huge improvement for very little money spent and you can save to upgrade the home at a later date. A home should be structurally sound to avoid high cost repairs in the future but reasonable cosmetic changes to a home are doable. Some people think that buying a home will cost less because they can get a mortgage payment for a similar price to their rent. In some cases this is true, but often times rent covers lawn maintenance, water/sewer/trash, repair costs that the renter didn’t cause, property taxes, home owner’s insurance, neighborhood association fees, and so much more. You are investing your money when you buy a home and you’re not when you rent, but these are costs that MUST be considered when purchasing a home that so many people tend to over look. If your roof springs a leak, the car needs repaired, and the washing machine breaks all in one month can you afford to take care of all those needs? Hopefully you’ve been saving, so that despite unfortunate timing you can. But again, it’s something you need to plan for so you don’t have to take out a loan for the roof and put the car repair on the credit card.

Next time you’re at the store, ask yourself questions. If you’re considering a big purchase- save for it! If you’re looking to buy a car or a house, save up for your down payment. Whatever purchases are in your future, remember God has a plan for you and your money and to respect His timing. When it comes to needs, bring them to Him. He knows EXACTLY what you need and He WILL provide for you. That doesn’t mean it won’t require work or action on your part, but if you really need it, He will make sure you have it! So think about how debt plays a role in your life. If you’re living debt free, congratulations! If you’re swimming in it, ask for help from your church. Churches offer financial classes and you can always ask them to pray for your situation. Take the credit cards out of your wallets and put them in a safe place. Come to an agreement with your spouse that if you don’t need it you aren’t buying it. Work on a plan to get out of debt together and set guidelines, rules, and a budget. Use coupons, sales, garage sales, thrift stores, Freecycle, and Craigslist to find things you may need for cheap or free. Have a garage sale and use the proceeds to put an extra payment down on your debt. When you receive a gift of money decide that financial freedom is truly important to you and put half of it towards debt. Think about how much your retirement fund is paying. If you’re making 3% on your investments but earning 20% on your debt it’s more important to pay down the debt first because it will save you money later. Then, to make up for lost time, place the money you were paying towards debt into savings. Check out Dave Ramsey or Crown Financial Ministries for some amazing financial advice and tools. Whatever you do, find something that works for you and get rid of the debt as fast as you can. Free yourself from the bondage of debt, put your life back into God’s hands, and trust in Him to provide for you!

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