what is a savings account?

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I’ve been a natural “saver” all my life. When I was a child, I could never eat the last of something, whether it was the last popsicle or the last pop tart. (I might want it later, I reasoned.) I rationed my Halloween candy with religious zeal. I made necklaces with Lisa Frank beads, which always came in assorted packs of plain beads and extra-pretty beads. I only used one of those extra-pretty beads per necklace, figuring I’d be able to make more necklaces in the future if I saved them up. As I got older, I started saving money, stashing it in hidden places around my room. I saved memories, too, in the forms of notes and ticket stubs and journal entries. And now, I have my savings account.

I was talking with a friend this week who expressed some of his frustrations with various churches he has attended. Many of these churches and pastors, he argues, simply enable church members to live their American lifestyles of making money and tithing their 10 percent, which in turn enables the pastoral staff to continue encouraging and affirming their ways of life. As this friend voiced his concerns and questions to me, I found some of my own questions resurfacing in my mind. This is one of the biggest, and probably oversimplified, questions I am asking:

Are savings accounts godly?

I have a savings account. And it’s going to come in extremely handy next year when I am a graduate student without a full-time job. But what if I didn’t have one? What if I had given all that I had to the poor instead of direct depositing it into an extra bank account? It’s scary to trust God to provide something out of nothing, but God still provides in some crazy ways. Would it have been better, more godly, for me to have given all this money away and trusted God to provide as my needs arose?

As with expendable income, how are savings accounts honoring to God? Do I honor him by making sure I can take care of myself for three solid months should I lose my job? Is a higher interest rate more honoring to God than a lower one? Is staying out of debt honoring to God? Is living off of more than I need honoring to God?

Is there a better way? What if I lived quite simply and gave the rest away? What if an emergency happened? What if I never saved enough for a down payment on a house? What if I never bought brand new clothes?

There are no easy answers here. I know wealthy people whose hospitality is astounding. My own family lived with a host family for a year in Georgia; they never could have opened their home to us if they hadn’t had nine bedrooms. But I’m guessing the majority of the people I know, especially myself, are not keen on giving up Starbucks, new clothes, and dinners out, much less living without a savings account. Clearly, all things are given to us by God; even when life is moving along swimmingly and I am living in plenty, God is my provider and a Father who cares for my needs. But I have to wonder if my faith would be different, deeper, if I lived such a way that I did not keep anything beyond what I needed to live. Maybe that sort of life is living in plenty.

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6 responses »

  1. This is interesting timing. I recently heard Francis Chan talk about this very issue. He doesn’t save for the future, trusting that God will provide for him and his family. I do believe God calls some to live life with this kind of faith, as an example and encouragement to others. But I also think God calls some in the church to enable others and to contribute from their abundance.

    When I look at Scripture I find instances where saving was an act of godly obedience. God sent Joseph to Egypt in part to warn of coming famine and to organize the saving of grain. Proverbs speaks of the ant laboring to store for the winter. So I certainly don’t think Scripture teaches that all saving is wrong.

    I believe we need to save with a heart of generosity toward others (i.e. not hording, always tithing, supporting missionaries, etc…) and with a heart of faith. We should look at our savings account as a resource stored for God’s use.

    It’s not selfish to save so your kids can go to a good college. It’s an act of faith that God will use their education to further his kingdom.

    It’s not selfish to save so you can invest a large amount in a missions project or some other large need. It’s an act of faith that God will one day use your larger amount for his glory when real-time, smaller giving might not have been enough in that particular circumstance.

    It’s not selfish to save for your retirement if you do so with a heart of generosity and faith. How can you use your funds to bless your family, your neighbors and community? What kinds of kingdom work can you accomplish with more discretionary time and money? Can you leave behind a financial legacy, however small, that you can direct to be used in a trust or foundation?

    As with everything in this life, there is nothing wrong with large pay checks, a big house, and comfortable living. They are resources that can be used for God’s glory or for our own. We are commanded to use and enjoy all these things through an eternal perspective, blessing others and living selflessly.

  2. And Andrew, I think there is other scripture that points to the poor as God´s people. How can we be with God unless we are with them, and also poor ourselves? What about how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven? What about storing treasures in heaven and not here on earth?

    While I agree that large pay check and eeeeven a big house (used for house the homeless, widows, and orphans) is a resource that can be given to God, I don´t understand the comfortable living. What about Mark and the curses on the rich, laughing, wellfed and comfortable now?

    Those are some of my reactions. Thoughts?

  3. I think where I’m leaning towards all of this is somewhere between the two of you. Andrew, I do see how Scripture speaks to saving, though I do wonder if the Proverb about the ant has more to do with laziness than anything else. But I’m still not sure what it means to save with a generous heart, like you say. There are constantly needs around us; if we were all poor, then none of us could do anything about that. But if we’re saving for some opportunity to help others, then what we’re really doing is ignoring the needs of those around us right now in favor of some unforeseen future need, right?

    I keep coming back to a passage in Luke where Christ tells the disciples to go out without any money or extra garments. They are taken care of by God through people who had things to share. I just wonder if those people were sharing from something they’d stored up, or if their sharing was a sacrifice that meant they went without to some extent.

    Basically, I’m wondering if we should all be living on paycheck to paycheck, whether we have large checks or small ones. That doesn’t mean a life of poverty, but also doesn’t mean a life of comfort. Is there an in-between?

  4. Sarah, you titled your post “what is a savings account?” I might say it’s a sign that points to deeper issues, many of which you touched on. I would first say that I believe a savings account to be morally neutral. Whether God can be honored by a savings account has much to do with our attitude. I wonder about things like this too and wonder about being paid for work, receiving money for selling something, earning money by selling stuff, etc. We live in a highly monetized culture. I can’t grow radishes in the back yard and take them to the mac store to trade for an ipod. Money is really convenient, but then what do you do with it? Should I spend all I make each day so I don’t horde? But I don’t get paid every day, and even if I did, not everything I might have reason to buy can be purchased with a days wage. I went to a conference that dealt with possessions and recall the advice that we should do our best to give away all our possessions before we die, and especially not leave inheritances to children. There are stories of young people who’s lives were ruined after receiving a large inheritance that they couldn’t handle.

    You began your narrative tellingly in saying that saving has been a natural practice for you. Others may find it very difficult to save. For you, giving away may be more of a challenge. Someone else might easily give everything away and find it impossible to save. You go on to say that oftentimes in the church pastors encourage people to live their supposedly self-centered American lifestyle, presumably because their steady tithe enables the pastor to also live his self-centered American lifestyle. This is indeed a problem in that we should rather live a cruciform lifestyle, willing to surrender our savings accounts if God calls us to do so. This is really hard to do, and having done it once many years ago, I wonder if I would do it again if the Lord prompted me. My wife, who is a cheerful giver, would gladly give away all our possessions and bank accounts. I admire her liberty, but admit that it also frightens me.

    I think of two passages that are helpful. 1 Tim 6.10 says “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Not that money is evil or even that the love of money is itself the evil, but that the love of money is love misplaced and is the fountainhead or enabler of all kinds of bad things. If we don’t want to feed bad things that will destroy us, we should not give our hearts to money. Phil 4.11-12 speaks of being content with little or much. Paul says he learned this. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us. We learn how to live in different situations that might naturally make us miserable by experiencing the situation and repenting of bad attitudes and choosing good ones. It’s not whether you have the savings account or how much is in it but whether you can be at peace with God and loving to others no matter what. I have a savings account, but I don’t think about it much. I know God can take it all away in a moment. I know God can supply all I need. He may be supplying me today for another day down the road. That seems to contradict Matt 6.30-31 about the grass of the field and not being anxious about tomorrow. If I was always anxious and worrying about my savings account, I would be at odds with this scripture, even if I didn’t have a savings account, but was just worried about it. So for me, the reality is that we live in a monetized culture and money is part of it. We could just carry all our money around with us, but that’s a hassle and asking for trouble. So we put it in banks. Living paycheck to paycheck doesn’t solve our inner problems. We may still be riddled with greed and desire. The more important issues are how free are we to give it away, can we trust God’s care, and can we be content in any situation.

  5. I appreciated feedback on my thoughts and especially appreciated Stu’s perspective. I thought the advice on not leaving an inheritance to children was interesting. I’m sure there are stories of sudden, massive sums of money corrupting lives, but I also have heard of families going into debt and being financially burdened by funeral costs and expenses associated with settling estates. I think (given the circumstances that none of my children were in great need, etc…) I would want my death to be a neutral financial experience for my family. I do like the advice of giving everything away at the end of life, but (stirring up a bee’s hive!) I do think that should be an individual decision and not the government’s prerogative, although I understand the reasoning behind an inheritance tax. Also, maybe that can be extra incentive! =)

    I appreciated Stu’s thoughts on holding onto a savings account loosely, with an open hand. I really believe that the Holy Spirit prompts us to specific actions from time to time. This is something Laura and I have already, after 6 months of marriage, experienced with our income–a calling to give sacrificially in specific instances. I would not be at all surprised if at some point we were called to sacrifice our savings account as well.

    One of the greatest gifts my parents have ever given me was a debt-free college experience. They worked hard at saving all my life. Graduating without debt enabled me to go serve as a missionary oversees for two years, which I would not have been able to do with college debt. Plane tickets to visit family can be quite expensive and need to be saved for. Obviously families can be idols as well and there’s a real temptation to focus solely on your family while ignoring other needs around you, but I think you get my point.

    I’ve appreciated thinking hard about this because it’s a reminder that idols are built quietly and subtley, and this is a particular area we need to maintain constant vigilance in. It’s easy to justify ourselves in our purchases and in our comforts and it’s easy to make excuses to avoid helping others. Ultimately our money, our energy, and our time belong to the Lord and we are to continually and prayerfully consider what he’s calling us to with our resources.

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