I am what they call a “financial professional.” I have spent forty years advising others how to use money. I’ve been a tax consultant, a financial planner, and a portfolio manager. For the last ten years, I have traveled the United States speaking to brokers, CPAs, financial planners, and their clients about planning strategies that might help them.
So I used to think I was pretty financially savvy. I used to think I knew the joy money could bring. Then I met Jesus. And he turned my financial world upside down.
Waking Up to God
I was raised in a Christian home, but I didn’t encounter Jesus in a saving way until I was forty years old. Before that, I considered myself a dedicated Christian. I was active in all the good church stuff, lived a fairly clean lifestyle, and attended two Bible colleges. And while I thought I was a Christian, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Then Jesus saved me, and there was an immediate change. My heart woke up to God. He suddenly was glorious in ways I had never known. The Bible seemed new and wonderful. Solid biblical preaching was like food for my soul.
But not everything changed quickly. That initial transformation didn’t immediately affect the way I thought about money. And eventually, money became a massive barrier to my life of faith. I was similar to the rich ruler in Luke 18:18–27, who thought his life was exemplary, only to discover he had not surrendered everything to God.
Now, I didn’t drive a Maserati, or own a summer home in the Hamptons, or have a million dollars in my retirement account. I was simply a Christian who thought the American dream of abundant material wealth was compatible with a robust faith in Christ. Yet, the filter through which most of my life flowed was not Christ, but money — my money. The reality of Jesus’s work in me was real, but the way I thought about finances was earthly. Something had to give.
Freed from Financial Enslavement
And something did: the market crashed in 2008, taking my house and job down with it. But that crash was a wonderful tragedy God used to expose my idolatrous love of money and break its deceptive, controlling power over me.
Now, God’s call on me as a financial professional hasn’t changed. I still believe money and how we steward it is immensely important. And I still believe money can be a means of great joy. But I believe these things for very different reasons.
I now view money from the perspective of a disciple of Jesus rather than as a disciple of money. My accumulated financial knowledge and experience has become infused with and informed by Jesus’s gospel. I now see money can be a means to far greater happiness than I used to, but I know its power for evil.
Part of my kingdom calling now, one of the burdens of my life, is helping others escape the joy-stealing slavery of the love of money into the freedom Jesus offers, where money becomes the servant of their joy in God.
More Deceitful Than We Think
I have learned the hard way that money deceives Christians. We must be vigilant or it will subtly rule our lives. Since idols produce short-term pleasure, promise future pleasure, and can provide us direction in life, it’s often very difficult to see them for what they are.
As I look back on my journey, I never seriously considered God’s warnings about money. When Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,” I disregarded it (Matthew 19:24). I was blind to the danger money posed to me in Jesus’s words because I thought, since I was saved, everything was good. I assumed Jesus was speaking to someone else.
Jesus’s words in Luke 14:33 also fell on deaf ears: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” I reinterpreted this to mean we must be willing to renounce everything if God calls us to do so. But that’s not what Jesus said.
Not only did these warnings escape me, but so did other clear instructions. I did not take seriously the commands that we must store our treasures in heaven rather than on earth (Matthew 6:19–21), resist building bigger barns (Luke 12:16–21), and not set our hope on the uncertainty of riches (1 Timothy 6:17).
Why did these things escape me? Because I did not realize how living in the most affluent nation in history and among the most affluent Christians in history had formed my assumptions and shaped the lenses through which I read Scripture. It wasn’t until God stripped me of much of my wealth that I realized how deceived I was — how much I trusted money instead of God.
Then I began to see the grace in Jesus’s call that we renounce everything. It seems like a hard call, but it’s really a call to pursue joy — it’s a call to renounce the obstacles of our joy: our idols.
Losing an Idol, Gaining God
We all serve what we worship. The God or god we worship dictates our actions and reactions. Whom or what we worship governs our lives.
So, if money is an idol, and it’s a dominant idol in America and the American church, that’s where we’ll seek our satisfaction. Since our hope is wrapped up in what money can do for us, we will tie it up by spending to and beyond our limits, or by investing to secure an affluent future. We will functionally depend on money, not God, to meet our needs. We will find Christ-exalting, kingdom-advancing financial risk-taking impossible.
This is why Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13). All Christians need to hear this, but especially we affluent Western Christians. Jesus is speaking to us. We must let him confront our money idol, which we may trust more than we realize. To the degree our heart loves and trusts money is the degree we will find Jesus’s words threatening.
And they are threatening. But in reality they don’t threaten our joy; they threaten our misery. Serving money as the source of greatest happiness leads to misery and destruction. But serving God as the source of greatest happiness leads to our greatest happiness.
Losing the idol of money to follow Jesus means we gain God.
Make Money Serve Your Joy
Gaining God: that is the main thing. Period.
But of course there are many practical questions that remain. As I found freedom from the idol of money, I discovered I really needed to rethink everything, because money is woven into so much of life. I had to rethink housing and cars and retirement and college costs and giving and vacations and debt. And as I worked through these issues, as part of my vocational calling, I developed some practical tools to help others also steward money as a means to joy in God.
But my primary advice as a disciple of Jesus called to serve as a financial professional is this: don’t seek your joy in money; you won’t find it. God is the only unfailing treasure (Luke 12:33), the only exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4). If money is an idol, practical tools only serve idol management. Renounce your money and ask Jesus what that means for you.
Don’t serve money; it will control your life and steal your joy. Instead, make money serve your joy, just like the man in Jesus’s parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)