When people get into financial difficulty, many believe that declaring bankruptcy will solve their financial problems. Unfortunately, bankruptcy just treats the symptom. Statistics show that approximately 80 percent of people who go bankrupt, do so again within 10 years. This is generally because the real problem is the violation of God’s financial principles, which often continues even if current debts are eliminated by bankruptcy.
The Bible is clear that it is not God’s will for anyone to go bankrupt. “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously” (Psalm 37:21). In other words, it is a sin to declare bankruptcy. On the other hand, a righteous person pays what is owed (which is implied) and goes “the extra mile” by giving generously even where there is no financial obligation.
In addition, it is not a good testimony when a Christian declares bankruptcy. Hence, I believe that it is not God’s will for a Christian to go bankrupt. If you are in financial difficulty, I recommend that you learn and implement God’s financial principles in conjunction with a budget. If you do this, God has promised that he will meet your needs (Matthew 6:31–33), but not necessarily your wants and desires.
Since 1982, I have had the privilege of counselling more than 300 Christians who have been in financial difficulty. In those situations where the Christian learned and implemented God’s financial principles, God blessed in unusual ways, and no one declared bankruptcy.
If you have declared bankruptcy already, then may I encourage you in several ways.
1. God loves you, and God will forgive the act of bankruptcy if you confess that sin to the Lord: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
2. In dependence upon the Holy Spirit and God’s wisdom from his Word, ask God to reveal to you the real cause(s) of your bankruptcy. Even Christians can unknowingly violate God’s financial principles. Or it may be an ungodly attitude or mindset about money that you need to change. It is critical that you study and meditate on God’s Word with respect to finances so that you have “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) in managing the money that God has entrusted you with. Excellent materials can be obtained from Crown Financial Ministries (www.crown.org).
3. Develop and implement a budget to ensure that you are spending less than you are earning on a monthly basis so that you have a surplus for non-monthly and unexpected expenditures. A budget is simply a tool that can be used in a practical way to do short-term and long-term financial planning.
In summary, the deception of this world is that bankruptcy will solve one’s financial problems. Bankruptcy only treats the symptom. Generally, the true cause of the problem is the violation of one or more biblical principles. I recommend that, in dependence on God, you learn and apply God’s financial principles in conjunction with implementing a budget.
Many people believe that financial freedom will be obtained only when they have lots of money and material things. This is a deception from the world. God warns us: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 5:10).
Over the past 30 years, I have seen many wealthy people who have no peace in the area of finances. They are not “financially free.” They are stressed out by money-related problems, such as, Where should I invest my money? or, What if I lose my money? Sometimes they are workaholics with an unquenchable desire to accumulate more and more. Worry and anxiety dominate their minds in regard to money-related issues.
True financial freedom comes only from having God’s peace and joy in the area of finances. To obtain God’s peace and joy in respect of finances, I believe that the following steps would be appropriate:
1. Believe that it is God’s truth that will set you free from the deceptions of this world. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31, 32, emphasis added).
2. Recognize God’s truth that we are stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Our responsibility is to apply God’s financial principles and do God’s will. God’s promise is that if we put him first, he will meet our needs (Matthew 6:31–33). Once you have fulfilled your responsibility, you can “cast your cares on the Lord” (Psalm 55:22) and trust God to meet your needs. This should enable you to enjoy God’s peace.
3. With God’s help, learn to be content with God’s provision. The apostle Paul said,
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11–13, emphasis added)
4. Acknowledge that the accumulation of money and material things is temporary and not of any eternal value. (See Matthew 6:19–21.) In short, from an eternal perspective, God’s truth is that a selfish desire to become wealthy has no value.
5. Experience the joy of giving. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Giving with a cheerful heart and out of your love for God enables you to be free from the love of money and to experience the joy of giving.
In summary, one of the deceptions of this world is that financial freedom comes from having lots of money and material things. True financial freedom comes only from having God’s peace, joy, and contentment in the area of finances.
Many people believe it is good financial thinking to use borrowed money to make a lot of money. In other words, “smart people use other people’s money,” not their own. This is a lie from the world and Satan. The only way that is true is if you can predict the future—that is, know with certainty the direction of markets and the economy.
The biblical truth is that only God knows the future. Humans can make our best guess about the future, but frequently we are wrong. The past 100 years have shown that no human being can consistently predict the direction of the markets. For example, from 1993 to 2000 the value of most stocks in Canada and United States increased significantly. With false confidence, many people “used other people’s money”—that is, borrowed capital—with the objective of increasing their returns. From 2000 to 2002, on average, the shares on Toronto and New York exchanges decreased about 50 percent in value. People who used debt lost a lot of money. Some lost not only their original capital but ended up in a deficit as their stocks’ value dropped below the amount they had borrowed.
The same principle applies to real estate. During the middle and late 1980s, the value of real estate increased significantly in the Toronto area. Many people believed it would never go down. However, between 1990 and 1995, the values dropped drastically. Some commercial real estate decreased by 75 percent in value, and residential by 50 percent. People with a lot of debt were hurt badly, and in some cases lost their home or investment property.
Over the years, I’ve seen many business people try to use significant debt to their advantage. Although there may have been periods when they benefited as the company expanded faster than it otherwise would have, in due course, every business encounters difficult times, and generally it is companies with a lot of debt that suffer the most, and some are forced into bankruptcy.
The Biblical truth is that we do not know what will happen tomorrow. Proverbs 27:1 states, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” In other words, there are no “sure deals.”
The same principle applies in business. God warns us,
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13–15)
In summary, we do not know what will happen tomorrow—only God knows the future. Therefore, we should utilize minimal debt—or ideally carry no debt—in regard to investments and business expansion. Overall, the instruction in God’s Word is toward minimal debt, not maximum debt. (Please see my Financial Moments on borrowing for further details.)
Today almost anything can be purchased with little or no down payment—automobiles, furniture, boats, snowmobiles, etc. Advertisements enticing you with “no payments and no interest” for one to two years are very common. Obtaining credit today is very easy, and it is not uncommon for banks to encourage people to take out a line of credit against the increased value of their homes. “Easy credit” creates a big temptation to “buy now and pay later.” As a result, many people buy things on credit that they cannot afford and frequently do not really need.
God’s directive is for us to wait for his provision and his timing. Psalm 37:7 states, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (nasb, emphasis added). Lamentations 3:24 states, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him”
Over the past 27 years, I have seen many situations in which Christians have prayed and asked God to meet a particular need. For example, several years ago a Christian couple with a very modest income needed a new vehicle. They prayed and asked God to meet this need, and they waited for God’s provision. Within a few months, someone in their church gave them a used van that was in excellent shape. Clearly, God did provide in a manner that was glorifying to him! Praise God!
If you have a need, and if you pray to wait upon the Lord, God can provide in many ways—such as an unexpected income, a better deal, or perhaps another alternative.
Unfortunately, today many Christians do not pray and wait upon God’s provision. In a sense, they don’t even give God a chance to provide for their needs. Because it is so easy to “buy now and pay later,” they just buy what they want without consulting God and without waiting for God’s provision.
In Matthew 6:31–33, God promised that he will meet our needs: “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Please note that God has promised to meet our needs but not necessarily our wants and desires. God has also instructed us to be content with what he has provided:
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews13:5)
In summary, God has promised that he will meet our needs and that it is his desire for us to wait for his provision and his timing. This is very different from the mindset of “buy now and pay later.”
Many people believe the deception that money will bring happiness. Although additional income can relieve some financial pressures (if the individual or couple manage their money well), money in and of itself does not bring happiness. Money will definitely not provide joy and peace, which only comes from God.
Ecclesiastes 5:10 states, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.”
Over the years, I’ve seen many couples with significant amounts of wealth who have no peace and joy. I think of one couple who started with nothing and accumulated about $40 million worth of assets. However, their unhappiness was evident to anyone who knew them. They were always arguing with each other and with their kids and employees, and they appeared “stressed out” all the time. Certainly there was no “peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).
Only God, through his Holy Spirit, can bring true peace and happiness. Jesus said: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:26, 27, emphasis added).
There are many people in North America who have significant amounts of wealth yet are frustrated, angry, weary, and unhappy. Frankly, some are even Christians who are not experiencing God’s joy and peace. Remember that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22, 23, emphasis added).
Jesus provides an invitation to everyone who is weary and burdened: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30, emphasis added).
In summary, based upon God’s Word and 30 years’ experience of working with some very wealthy people, I’m convinced that the key to happiness is not more money but rather a close personal relationship with God. In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus called this “abiding,” which means to be connected to and in communication with God on an ongoing basis. For more information on “abiding in Christ,” I recommend the book titled Secrets of the Vine by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson (Multnomah Publishers, 2001).