My journey from saver to servant around my money has not been an easy one. It all started when my friend Greg and I were MBA students at Harvard and decided to take a seminary class to further explore the role of money in our lives.
It was the first day of the God and Money class at Harvard Divinity School. The professor asked us all to take out some paper money. We sheepishly waved our $100 bills in the air, slowly realizing that we were making a terrible first impression. As MBA cross-registrants into the course, my friend Greg and I only had $100s in our wallets. As we looked around the seminary classroom, however, we saw an ocean of $1s, an occasional $5—and lots of confused glances investigating our relative riches!
The ensuing semester, in which we deeply studied God’s Word on money, was an all-consuming roller coaster for Greg, me, and our wives Megan and Alison. We all wrestled with what God revealed to us. Long story short, we wrote a term paper that, by God’s sovereign grace, has become a book. Our lives were changed in the process, and together we built a framework for giving to govern our financial choices.
A map for giving
Our research showed us that every giver is in a unique circumstance, but commonalities nonetheless emerged. Eventually we created the Servant’s Money Map, found in Chapter 5 of our book God and Money and reproduced below.
The diagram shows four possible financial situations for us as servants of Christ, based on whether we have been blessed with an “overabundance” of either income or wealth. Megan, Alison, Greg, and I each committed that this framework would govern our giving. In our book, we discuss the specific numbers we have chosen for our finish lines—boundaries beyond which we will not spend in a given year, or accumulate in our lifetimes. This frees up our financial “upside” for Kingdom work.
What this looks like in our lives
Megan and I have $280,000 in combined student loan and mortgage debt, and two young children at home. We could certainly use some more wealth! Similarly, because we chose to enter ministry after graduation, our current income is not high enough for us to spend up to our Spending Finish Line. Thus, we could use some more income. We’re in Zone 1, along with most American families! Every dollar we give is a tough choice to cut back savings and/or constrain our lifestyle. However, we give 10% gross off the top every month, and strive to give incremental amounts on an ongoing basis. We hope to hit 12% or more in 2016—and God has met us along the way.
Alison and Greg felt led to pursue Greg’s private sector opportunities after Harvard. They have similar debts, but are earning a phenomenal income. They could use some more wealth, but, according to their own finish line for spending, have plenty of income. The framework says they ought to both give and save a lot, and indeed they do! They leaned in and gave 18% of their gross income away in 2015, refusing to let the need for savings to stand in the way of their desire to be generous now, rather than later. What an inspiration!
In our research we met one couple who realized in 2015 that they were in Zone 4, but had never considered the idea of “enough” before. They now give roughly 100% of their current income away. Praise God for their radical faithfulness as people blessed with “plenty of income” and “plenty of wealth,” according to the framework.
What this could look like for you
So, what Zone do you find yourself in? Given your present circumstances, how might you lean in toward faith-filled generosity, allowing God to meet you there?
I pray that as you consider these questions, our God, from whom all blessings flow, would empower you to experience His tender mercies in a new and fresh way.
Note: Due to a generous subsidy from a business leader who was inspired by the book, John and Greg are able to offer case orders for $2, plus shipping, per book! (Multiples of 20 only). Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to place a case order.