When Religion Helps Bring Financial Security

For this guest blogger, two separate journeys became one.

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Today’s guest post comes from Matt Bell, a personal finance speaker and author of two books, including Money, Purpose, Joy. I asked him to explain the role religion plays in his financial life.

For most of my growing up years I didn’t think money and faith had anything to do with each other. The only time I saw the two topics coming together were on the rare occasions when I went to church. There was always that awkward time in the service when they would pass the plate and people would throw a few bucks in as it came their way.

Until I was in my mid 20’s, money was something to be earned and enjoyed. I gave little thought to managing money. Faith was head knowledge—a set of assumptions that I rarely thought about and that certainly didn’t guide my life. That all changed when I went through a financial train wreck.

A few years out of college I inherited $60,000 from an uncle. I was earning around $25,000 at the time. So, getting a check for more than twice that amount felt like winning the lottery, and I hadn’t even bought a ticket.

I used the money to create a business based on my love for golf and travel—a newsletter about the world’s best golf vacation destinations. While starting a business may sound noble, I have to admit that I also used the money to begin enjoying a nicer and nicer lifestyle. Two years later, the inheritance was gone and I was $20,000 in debt.

That humbling, depressing experience, including six months of living in my parents’ basement, was a wake-up call that changed the direction of my life. An interest in making and enjoying money turned into a passion for learning how to manage money. A casual interest in matters of faith turned into a passion for finding answers to some of life’s big questions: Is there a God? If there is a God, what does he want from me? What’s the purpose of my life?

Trained as a journalist, I came at these questions with some skepticism. But I also came at them with a nagging sense that life as I was living it wasn’t working. Even when I had money, there never seemed to be enough. No matter what I bought, I always seemed to need something more.

Soon after moving out on my own again, I found my self on the brink of messing up a relationship that mattered to me. Feeling as broken as I did when I woke up to the reality of my financial mess, the words of a friend spoken several months earlier echoed in my head: “Matt, the more you lean on your own understanding, the more things don’t work out so well.” And, “God has a plan for your life.” In the late night quiet of my studio apartment, I bowed my head and prayed a simple prayer: “God, if you really do exist, I’d like to know you. If you really do have a plan for my life, I’d sure like to know what it is. I’m sorry for the many ways I must have disappointed you and for making myself the focus of my life. From this point forward, my life is in your hands. Do with it what you will. Amen.”

I didn’t see any lightening bolts, the clouds didn’t part, and no weeping angels appeared. But after committing my life to Christ, I began to study the Bible more closely. The more I read it, the more I realized it has a lot to say about money, with practical guidance on debt (not a good idea), savings (a good idea), generosity (an excellent idea), planning (a wise idea), and more.

Of course, lots of personal finance books warn people about debt and encourage savings. For me, though, just knowing the right things to do with money didn’t begin to translate into actually doing the right things with money until my heart changed—until I understood deep in my soul that my security and value come primarily from my relationship with God, not from money and what it can buy.

Early in the process of recovering from my financial train wreck I saw myself as embarking on two very separate journeys—a journey of learning about money and a journey of learning about faith. But with each passing year, I’ve seen ever more clearly that those two journeys are tightly bound together.

Does religion play a role in your own financial life? Please share your perspective below.