Choosing a lifestyle isn’t a quick and easy decision you can knock out over dinner. It’s often a long process that takes years and a series of smaller decisions. In fact, most people don’t actually choose a lifestyle. Instead, they make a lot of independent decisions and allow the sum of those decisions to be their lifestyle by default. Christians should be intentional in their approach and have well-defined fundamentals that guide their individual decisions. As we define these fundamentals of a Christian lifestyle, we need to explore some basic principles that will give us direction. Following are 6 guiding principles to consider when defining your lifestyle:
1. We don’t own our resources – God owns it all as we read in Psalm 24:1, which says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Many of us selfishly think we’re making decisions about what to do with our money when we consider our lifestyle. In reality, we don’t own anything. We’re simply managing God’s money and making decisions on how to best invest His resources and one day we’ll be held accountable for the decisions we’ve made.
2. Some choices have a bigger impact than others – Not all of our lifestyle decisions will have the same level of impact on our financial lives as others. For example, if you go out for a nice meal, the ripples from that decision probably won’t linger long or have much effect on the rest of your life. However, when you buy a house, the impact is ongoing and affects many other areas of life. The house itself will bring along a series of costs ranging from property taxes and insurance to maintenance costs and home furnishings. It doesn’t stop there though. Our decision on where to live will also affect things like our commuting costs, whether our kids will go to public or private school, the social circles we associate with, etc. So, what seems like an isolated decision will actually determine a number of other lifestyle expenses. We need to be aware of the associated costs of these big decisions. They are the ones that will matter the most.
3. Balance your resources – We all have various resources at our disposal. The task is for each of us to find a healthy balance of these resources. We can start by realizing that a lot of them are interchangeable. If we have more money than time, we can use that money to hire someone to do specific tasks to free up some time. If we have more time than money, we can spend that time working to earn money. Relationships are another resource that both time and money can be used to develop. You can use time and money to take your wife on a date or buy her flowers. However, the reverse is also true. If you are spending additional time at the office to earn more money, you are taking away from your relationships. The key is to find balance between our time, money and relationships, exchanging what we have for what we need.
4. Flexibility is invaluable – Flexibility should be one of our biggest goals for putting our financial lives in order. A lack of flexibility can tempt us to serve the wrong master. That’s a key problem with debt. It makes us a slave to someone other than God and even when He calls us to make a change, we’re stuck serving our debt. A godly lifestyle should desire flexibility for the sake of being a ready servant. The idea of living below our means may not sell many magazines, but it does provide additional freedom to serve God with our lives. When God calls, we don’t want to be found saying we can’t afford to follow.
5. Falling hurts, regardless of which side of the horse you fall off – The enemy doesn’t care how we fall as long as we end up on the ground. Some of us will adopt a lifestyle characterized by too much spending and will reap the problems that come with it. That could result in a lifestyle that enslaves us with a taste for luxury we aren’t willing to give up, it may cause us to look down on individuals who have less than we do, or it may cause our children to develop materialistic expectations that aren’t realistic, which could affect their relationship with (or even choice of) a future spouse.
Others of us think we’re doing well by tightly manage our money, but that can also have consequences. We may neglect our relationships because it costs too much to develop them, we may judge others who choose to buy things we think are unnecessary, or our children may grow up to be stingy because they see us valuing money more than people.
Once again, balance is the real issue. We need to spend money on certain things, but there are also times we need to refrain.
6. Be mindful of others – There is great freedom in how we choose to develop our lifestyle, but to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 6:12, while everything is permissible, not everything is helpful. Out of a duty to love one another, we need to be aware of the impact our spending decisions could have on others. It may be perfectly fine for you to drive a luxury car or live in an expensive home, but is it still fine if you know that decision will be a stumbling block for others? 1 Corinthians 8:9 says, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.”
There is a fine line to walk as we live in Christian community. We need to be aware of those weaker than us to make sure we’re not a stumbling block in their pursuit of Christ. On the other side, we need to also be careful not to judge the motives and intentions of others. It’s easy to look at what someone drives or where they live and be critical. However, we never really know the motives of their heart or their financial situation. Unless we know otherwise, it’s best to assume they are operating under good motives.
God didn’t leave us with a simple checklist to follow when it comes to the decisions we make with our money. It’s a good thing he didn’t either, otherwise we would be left making mindless decisions that wouldn’t bring us any closer to Him. Instead, he gave us guidelines and principles to consider as we seek His will and try to live an obedient life. The constant struggle to live a biblically-based financial life is one that often brings us closer to God in the end.
Brad Graber, CFP® has been working with clients on personal financial planning and investment issues since 1996. He invests his time mentoring and educating individuals on ways to be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to them.