For many Americans, the last several years have been a financial challenge. The experts keep telling us that we’re in recovery, but a lot of us still feel as if the Great Recession hasn’t ended. Many young people have huge college debts and few job prospects. Middle-class incomes are down. The cost of health insurance for many seems like a second mortgage. And gasoline is at four bucks a gallon in some parts of the country.
Now you’d think that these grim realities would cause us to save more; but you’d be wrong.
According to Wall Street Journal financial columnist Jonathan Clements, most Americans are not saving enough. “Over the 35 years through 1984,” he writes, “the amount saved as a percentage of post-tax income averaged 11.1% a year, and there wasn't a single year when it fell below 9%.”
But in the last 30 years, the savings rate has not reached 9 percent even once, hitting a low of 2.6 percent in 2005. Experts at the time said this was probably okay because the value of our stock portfolios and houses was soaring. Well, then came the financial collapse of 2008 when both took a beating. The savings rate jumped back to 6.1 percent in 2009. And where are we now? Clements says the savings rate is back down, to an anemic 4.5 percent.
Now I don’t know whether this low savings rate comes from an unwillingness to plan for future needs, or an inability due to continuing economic hardship. I suspect it’s a little of both. But in either case, it reflects our culture’s emphasis on satisfying our needs and wants in the here and now, with insufficient attention given to the future.
And if that’s the case with regard to saving, which in itself is a good thing, it’s even truer when it comes to giving! After all, it was Jesus Christ who said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things”—and by “all these things” He meant material necessities, “will be added to you.”
Giving quintessentially is a statement of confidence in the future—the future that God has prepared for His children. And we really can’t take it with us. As author Randy Alcorn wrote, “John D. Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. After he died someone asked his accountant, ‘How much money did John D. leave?’ And the reply: ‘He left … all of it.”
In a way, giving to God is a savings program, of course. But instead of setting aside money for things that won’t last, we’re investing in the kingdom—and in the process, laying up permanent treasure for ourselves in heaven. So let me ask: Where is your treasure? Your giving will tell the tale.
The great Methodist leader John Wesley once preached a sermon entitled “The Use of Money” in which he counseled Christians to gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can. And a surprising number of us are.
The latest survey of the ECFA, which is a financial accrediting organization for Christian ministries, has some pretty good news: Giving to its 1,600 member agencies increased by 6.4 percent in the most recent reporting year. That’s a healthy jump. Of course, the first institution that Christians should give to is the local church.
But giving all you can isn’t enough. We must also give wisely, not until it hurts, but until it helps.
Organizations such as ECFA and Charity Navigator can help you evaluate the best, and best-run, places to support. You’ll need to look at criteria such as board governance, financial management, doctrinal standards, and so on. And another terrific resource is the book When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steven Corbett.
And many charitable organizations could use more than your money. Maybe you have property, expertise, innovative ideas, or a network of connections to share. We should steward our time and talent as well as our treasure.
I invite you to come to BreakPoint.org and click on this commentary. I’ve asked the Colson Center staff to list some of their favorite ministries that you can consider before writing that next check.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: April 30, 2014