Good financial planners know that effective financial planning is comprehensive in scope and the components are interdependent. Like pieces of a puzzle that fit together in a particular way to form a complete picture, financial decisions are interrelated and contingent on one another. For example, the way investments are allocated impacts the amount of income taxes that are due; taxes due affect cash flow needs from the portfolio, which will, in turn, affect how much one needs to save for retirement, and so on.
Many readers will, no doubt, be familiar with the puzzle analogy. But all too often something is missing from it. In order to best put together the puzzle, you need to see the picture on the top of the box. It’s tempting to jump right in and begin fitting the pieces together. But you’ll have greater success if you understand what it is you are trying to build and confirm it’s something you want to build. Likewise, you cannot make the best financial decisions for your life until you have really articulated and envisioned your ideal future — the “picture on the top of the box.”
The “Picture on the Top” from a Christian Perspective
But there is another reason why the “picture” is so important. Your desired future not only informs decision-making today, but it also provides the incentive to make it a reality. Internal motivation drives external behavior. In other words, it is not primarily head knowledge that dictates the choices we make. It is our dreams and desires. A compelling vision of your desired future will provide the proper motivation for making the right financial decisions today.
For Christians, the need to begin with the end in mind is even more important because our “end” is eternal in nature. That’s why, in the New Testament, many of the references to money are framed in terms of ultimate consequences – from rewards in heaven (Matthew 6:2-4) to being cut off from God forever (Matthew 6:19-24). Therefore, what we believe about our ultimate future profoundly affects how we approach personal financial matters. If we do not fully contemplate or understand the eternal, we become experts in the trivial and novices in the significant.
The Picture Informs Daily Actions
So the central question is: what do we believe about our ultimate future and the future of this world? What is the scope of God’s redemption? Is it purely about saving souls or is it about restoring all things? What we believe about heaven and the Kingdom of God is not merely a speculative exercise or obscure theological debate. It informs our daily actions and decision-making.
If I believe that this earth is ultimately going to burn up and be destroyed and my vision of heaven is an ethereal, purely spiritual existence, what I do here doesn’t matter much. It matters in terms of saving souls, but none of the work I do or monetary investments I make have a lasting impact. In this view, what matters most is not being “left behind.” This results in Christians becoming “too heavenly minded for any earthly good.”
But what we see in Genesis 2:5-15 is that God created us to work. The Garden of Eden is God’s vision for humanity and it will ultimately come about. According to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:58, this means that what we do on earth is not in vain. When we know what our eternal future will look like, it will infuse our activities here with a whole new level of meaning and significance.
So how does this all play out on a daily basis in our money relationships? On a practical level, how do these beliefs shape our perspectives and decision-making?
An underdeveloped view of the end of time will lead to a compartmentalized view of personal finances, one that happens to look an awful lot like that of non-believers. In this view:
I will negotiate the best deal possible, even if it means taking advantage of someone in a tough spot or another person’s naivety.
I will buy the cheapest products and services without considering the supply chain or labor practices that helped produce it.
I will invest money solely in pursuit of maximized financial returns, regardless of how the companies I am investing in make their profits.
I will maximize financial wealth without much thought of the potential dangers money may pose to my own soul.
If, on the other hand, we believe God is in the business of restoring every inch of his Creation, as servants in His Kingdom our bottom line is no longer purely financial but rather about serving the greater good with our time, talent, and money. It means we spend money, invest money, and earn money all in ways that are intended to increase human flourishing. We will aspire to use our resources in ways that are beautiful and transformational.
When Christ says, “Where your treasure is your heart is also,” he wants to set us free (Matthew 6:21). Free from the widespread cultural idolatry of money. In this view:
I will voluntarily paying more than necessary for some products in order to promote generous labor practices or sustainable agriculture.
I will integrate my values with my investment decisions, avoiding investments in companies that promote the diminishment or destruction of human life.
I will lavishly give my money in ways that are shocking and overflowing with grace.
I will take seriously Jesus’s warning that we cannot serve two masters (God and “mammon”) by being concerned not only with what I am doing with money but also with what money is doing to me.
A Daily Call for Financial Planners
The most successful firms in the financial services industry have advocated for a “goals-based” approach to wealth management. It’s the right framework for making good financial decisions. The difference for followers of Christ is that our greatest goals and dreams are aligned with God’s plan for eternity. What financial planners need is a hope-based approach to money. Not a hope in money that rescues us from uncertainty about the future, but a hope that rests assured in the promises of the One who conquered death.