Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6
OPENER ? THE ANVIL THAT TAKES US DOWN
Is anybody up for a joke this morning? This is an old Jay Leno joke, but it makes me laugh, so you’re all going to have to tolerate a bad joke right out of the blocks today, all right? Actually, it’s a good joke. It’s a joke with a point, I promise. Here goes.
Two guys are hunting, and they come upon a huge hole. One of the guys says, “Whoa. How deep is that?”
The other guy says, “I don’t know. Let’s see.” He finds a rusty old anvil sitting nearby, drags it over, and heaves it into the hole. Whiiiiiiooooo, the anvil whistles its way down the hole. The guys don’t even hear it hit the bottom, the hole is so deep.
The next thing the hunters know, they hear a rapid clippity-clap, clippity-clap, clippity-clap approaching. A goat comes flying toward them, almost knocking them over. Before they can stop it, the goat soars into the air and falls right down into the hole.
A few seconds later, the hunters see an old geezer running toward them. “Becky!” the geezer is crying. “Beeeeckyyy!”
The man reaches the hunters and says, “Hey! You fellers see a goat go by?” The one hunter says, “Yeah! We did! Just now! The thing went by at like eighty miles an hour and jumped right into that hole!”
To which the old geezer says, “That’s impossible. I had her chained to an anvil.” That’s pretty good, right?
In all seriousness, can I let you in on a little secret? All joking aside, here’s what I want to tell you today: We’re more like Becky than we care to admit. The anvil that takes us down an impossibly deep hole? It’s our work. And our money. A warped view of either, and we’re goners, just like that goat.
SETUP ? SIMPLIFYING WORK AND MONEY
We’re continuing our four-part series, called Simplify, today, which John McAuley launched last week. This week, we’re talking about simplifying our lives on two key fronts: our working world and our finances. These fronts are intimately connected, aren’t they?
We work in order to earn money, and we can only spend the money our work has allowed us to earn. In theory, anyway.
One of the reasons I say our money is like an anvil that sends us careening down a black hole is that, for too many of us, we refuse to live within the boundary lines that our earnings have drawn. Instead of learning to be content within the provision level God has provided, we say,
“Nah. I think I know better what I need to buy, even if it means I go into debt.”
For too many of us, that debt level has become debilitating. It is singlehandedly robbing us of peace and joy.
As it relates to our working world, I hear far too many stories inside our church of people discontented in their jobs. So, we’ll also talk about how to evaluate your job’s effectiveness, and how to make a change if the time has come to relaunch your career.
You’ve probably noticed that when you hate your job, all of life feels like drudgery. Similarly, when you’re up to your eyeballs in debt, or when your spending is selfish and out of control, something in your soul always feels a little bit off. Or a lot off, as the case may be.
On the flip side of the coin, when we are thriving at work and when we are following God’s principles for managing our finances, we find ourselves breathing deeply of the inner peace we so desperately crave.
Jesus said, 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 14:27)
Will you pray with me, as we dive in?
PRAYER ? WHERE FREEDOM IS FOUND
Father, I know that today’s subject matter is sensitive, that when we talk about our work and our money, we’re talking about very personal things. I’m grateful that you’ve gone before us in this conversation and that you’re prepared to lead the way. We give your Spirit full leeway today, to shift our attitudes and assumptions, to empower us to change our habits and our plans, and to show us where true freedom is found, which always is in your will and your ways . . . and never in our human schemes.
We love you. We trust you. We are thankful your present is with us today. Amen
PASTOR’S PERSONAL ILLUSTRATION ?
I have had the joy of living with extremely poor people in my life and extremely wealthy people. I both settings I realized that money and work are not what bring happiness and joy to our lives. I would say that both poor and rich can make really bad decisions and plans. Neither of which bring joy and freedom to life. As I think back on those experiences, I wish that both groups of people would have aligned themselves more with God and His ways. In both cases the people were trusting in themselves to get out of poverty or to control their wealth. They can both eat you alive. They can take the joy and satisfaction out of life. They can be the anvil that drags you down the whole.
TRANSITION ? THE USEFULNESS OF ALIGNMENT
What I’d like to do today is work our way through a series of alignments related to achieving satisfaction with both job and money.
Alignment is a useful thing. If you’ve ever driven a vehicle that is misaligned, you know how much effort it takes to overcome the car’s tendency to pull to the left or to the right. You and I are sort of like that car: When we are living in alignment with God’s purpose, we’re able to track straight and true along the path God has laid out for us to walk. When we’re living “out of alignment,” we find ourselves veering off course. All throughout Scripture, we’re encouraged to keep our feet on the path of righteousness, which means the path of right living, the path that honors God.
Today, let’s look at eight alignments pertaining to work and money that help us to stay on that right path. The key verse for today is what gave us the idea for alignment. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Proverbs 3:5-6
We’ll begin with the alignments related to our finances.
PART ONE ? ALIGNMENT IN OUR FINANCES
1. The first alignment regarding our finances is this simple belief: All I have comes from God.
In our culture, we tend to be suckers for the rags-to-riches story. We love to hear of the young man who grew up in a rough neighborhood and overcame a thousand obstacles, eventually rising to become the CEO of a successful corporation. We give that kind of person lots of credit, lots of accolades, lots of press, lots of awards. But here’s what we mustn’t forget: When that guy takes the stage to receive his umpteenth award, what does he do? He thanks a whole slew of people. He thanks his mom, for persevering in raising four kids alone. He thanks his teachers and his high-school principal, who saw something special in him and worked to draw it out. He thanks his coaches and his mentors, who refused to quit on him even when he was about to quit on himself. He thanks all the people along the way who helped him rise above his circumstances and “make something of himself.” But does he think to thank God for all his blessings?
If you and I are honest, we have a whole slew of people to thank too. Our parents, teachers, bosses, mentors, coaches, neighbors, extended family members, and friends all played a part in our being where we are today. And guess who was behind their investment? God.
God knew you before you were born and has cared for you every step of the way.
He gave us helpful people to cross your path so that you, too, could rise above the challenges you faced.
In addition to placing helpful people around you,
c. God has wired you with helpful gifts. He gave you capabilities. Talents. Insights. Specific bents that allow you to excel. He gave you
d. Educational opportunities and chances for development and growth.
He’s also given you material possessions along the way, the “stuff” you own in life.
And What He asks for in return? Use all these things for his good. He asks that you be grateful for all these marvelous things you have—your talents, your possessions, your network of friends and helpmates. He asks that you stop and say thanks.
People who are living in alignment financially are those who recognize that everything they have and all that they’ve become is a direct result of a loving heavenly Father. They know they aren’t “self- made.”
2. Here’s a second alignment pertaining to our finances: I live joyfully within God’s current provision for my life.
You want to know what kills financial alignment faster than anything else? Discontentment. Discontentment says: “I don’t have enough.”
Discontentment says: “What I do have is not nice enough . . . or new enough . . . or big enough.” Discontentment says: “I want what she has.”
Discontentment says: “I need what he has.”
Discontentment says: “I deserve what she has.”
Discontentment says: “I know I can’t afford this, but I’ve already decided it’s mine.” Discontentment says: “I worked hard to be able to buy nice things. And so I will.”
Discontentment says: “Nobody else is going to take care of me but me.”
Discontentment says: “Once I get this [house, car, article of clothing, vacation], I’ll be happy.” Discontentment says: “I’m not asking for the world. I’m just asking for a little bit more.”
You want to know what kills discontentment faster than anything else? Contentment. Any guess as to how we get to the place of contentment?
b. So…We practice gratitude, like it’s our job
We practice gratitude like it’s our job. Because truthfully, according to Scripture, it is our job. First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”
Gratitude says, “Thank you.” A million times, it says thanks. “Thank you for seeing my need, God, and for promising to provide.”
Knowing that God is the true Provider, gratitude says, “I trust you.”
Gratitude says, “What I have is enough.”
Gratitude says, “What I have is big enough, new enough, sufficient for my real needs.” Gratitude says, “I don’t have to live in want.”
Gratitude says, “I don’t have to covet what others have.”
Gratitude says, “I don’t have to keep up with the spending habits of others.”
Gratitude says, “I refuse to go into debt to buy something I cannot afford.”
Gratitude says, “God sees me. He cares for me. He provides.”
Gratitude says, “I know that happiness comes only from God.”
Gratitude says, “I’m simply a steward of all these resources.”
Gratitude says, “I’ve trained myself to live with contentment.”
God says, “Prove yourself faithful in the small things, so that in the big things you will be found faithful too.”
Whatever your provision level today, insist on being content right there. Prove yourself faithful in this when nobody’s looking. Strengthen contentment’s muscles, and you’ll be strong. [Pastor: Insert a quick illustration of someone you know who lives with a grateful heart. How does gratitude simplify his or her world? What words would you use in describing the freedom he or she enjoys?]
3. Here’s the third financial alignment: I honor God by giving the first tenth of all my earnings to his work at my place of worship.
If I had to recount every conversation with an individual or a couple that ended with “and then we started tithing, and that one act of faith changed everything,” I couldn’t do it. There have been far too many of those conversations. And I delight in every one. Show me someone who is faithful to give the first tenth of their earnings to God’s work through the local church, and I will show you a person who has radically simplified life.
Not any tenth, but the first tenth.
Not 9 percent or 8 percent or 3, but the first tenth.
a. People who give the first tenth of their earnings to God’s kingdom work have clean hands, light hearts, and easy sleep.
Because they are obeying the Scriptures.
And because they are walking by faith.
And because they are trusting God to do what God says only he can do.
Only God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
Only God owns every beast in every forest.
Only God sustains all of creation by the simple act of his will.
Only God can feed thousands upon thousands with a few loaves of bread and two fish.
Only God can part waters and rescue an entire nation that is being chased.
Only God can raise a dead person to life again, able to walk and talk and thrive.
Only God can do the things you and I desperately need done for us . . . the stuff of miraculous multiplications and radical rescues and dead things coming to life. Isn’t that true?
Who among us can’t relate to having more debt than dollars at the end of a month? To staring down an unexpected expense and realizing there isn’t enough money to cover it? To giving in and buying something unnecessary, despite funds already being tight?
We’ve all veered off course at one time or another. God says, “You can track true today.” And the best place to start is with tithing.
b. With declaring to yourself, your family, and your money that as for you and your house, God is in charge.
c. You want cool God-stories to tell, about how you achieved mastery over your finances? Give God your first 10 percent. Then stand back and see what he will do.
4. A fourth alignment: I set aside a portion of all my earnings into a Savings account for emergencies, for giving opportunities, and for my later years.
After you give your first 10 percent to the church, take that second 10 percent and give it to yourself. You heard right: Pay yourself. Put that second 10 percent into a savings account of some sort, knowing that you’ll absolutely need it someday.
Water heaters break.
Cars fall apart.
Medical emergencies arise. Taxes increase. And we always act so surprised!
There are thousands of ways that a “financial winter” may come to you, but I guarantee you this: Winter will come. The easy, breezy days of financial summertime don’t last forever, friends. Winter is going to come.
But when it does, you can stay steady, knowing you’ve planned for it, you’re ready, you’re okay.
Pay yourself with the same discipline that you pay your tithe. Do it each time, on time, whether you’re “in the mood” or not.
5. And finally, our fifth alignment related to our money: I live each day with an open ear toward heaven,
a. Eager to respond to any whisper from God regarding my resources.
This is where things get fun.
I heard a powerful speaker share of a time when he turned his ear toward heaven. Nabeel Qureshi and his wife Michele were smuggling a trunk full of Bibles into a closed middle east country. He was allowed in the country because of his citizen ship. They had a ton of bibles in the back and they knew they would die if anyone found out. They needed gas on there very long drive so they stopped a station. They noticed that there was a soldier in full gear standing at attention at the end of the gas station. They were certain they would be caught. They prayed like crazy, finished off the gas, paid and drove off. Michelle was relieved they were still alive. Then Nabeel said, God is telling to go back and give the guard a Bible. Michelle thought he was crazy…but they backed into the station and gave the Bible to the guard from the trunk. The guard said, “I was told by God that if I stand here at attention, someone will bring me a bible.” Thank you…amazing storing that led to life, excitement and inspired Nabeel’s ministry. God will speak if we listen.
See, you just never know what cool things God will do through you, if only you have ears to hear him when he calls. Tune your hearing to his voice.
B. Be available when he calls. Be a river, not a lake: be a person through whom God’s resources can freely flow.
All I have is God’s
I live joyfully within God’s provision for my life.
I honor God by giving the first tenth of all my earnings to his work at my place of worship.
I set aside a portion of all my earnings into S
I live each day with an open ear toward heaven
Now #6 which is in PART 2 on Alignment in our Working World
PART TWO ? ALIGNMENT IN OUR WORKING WORLD
All right. Let’s switch gears and look at the second of the two places where we tend to get locked up. The first is by living in misalignment with our finances. The second? It’s in our working world.
You and I will spend at least one-third of our lives at work, doing our jobs. And yet, for far too many of us, we’re barely surviving in those environments, let alone thriving hour by hour. The writer of Ecclesiastes describes work as a “gift from God” and says we can actually be “happy in our toil.” Let’s talk through the THREE workplace-related alignments so that this vision of work can be true for you.
6. The first is this: Passion.
Someone once said that passion is energy. I think that’s a fitting description. As you survey the experiences you’ve had, the opportunities you’ve been given, the coursework you’ve studied, the hobbies you’ve dabbled in along the way, what would you say gives you the most sheer energy? What seems to consistently pumps you up? What gets you excited? When do you say…if I could have that job I would love it?
Is it mentoring at-risk youth?
Writing or editing—the process of refining the written or spoken word?
Tinkering under the hood of a car?
Caring for animals?
Caring for elderly people?
Caring for people with disabilities?
Caring for your family?
There are a million things that fire people up; the question is . . . what is it for you?
Can I encourage you today to spend a few minutes this week with that question? “What always seems to fire me up?” Ask the question and then answer it, not with what you think you should feel, but rather with what you do feel.
a. Then, take a closer look at your current job. Does it relate at all to what you’re most deeply passionate about?
Listen, there are seasons in every one of our lives when, because of certain situations, we find ourselves doing a job we don’t want to do. [WHEN DID I DO A JOB I DIDN’T WANT TO DO? JILL AND I WERE SO BROKE IN SEMINARY THAT WE WORKED AS TELE MARKERS AT A CHRISTIAN MINISTRY SELLING THE JESUS CD…we had to call people when they were eating dinner because these guys had figured that was the best time to reach people.…WE DID IT FOR A while and THAT WAS IT.]
Let’s be clear: I’m not asking you to up and quit your job, just because it doesn’t perfectly align with what you’re most passionate about.
Instead, a reasonable response to this exercise is to
b. Keep an eye open on that area of passion, while you do the job you’re blessed to have right now. Ask God to open doors that will lead you closer to your passion. Find volunteer opportunities that will allow you to get near it. Take evening classes to learn more about it. Talk to people who are good at it.
Keep your central area or areas of passion top-of-mind, so that if and when God presents an opportunity for you to do that thing vocationally, you’re ready to jump in with both feet.
7. The second working-world alignment is Culture.
There are two aspects to this alignment I want to address. The first is this: What is your work culture doing to you? If you’ve ever received a paycheck, then you know that every place of employment has a certain culture that is distinct to that organization. Culture is the set of norms that guides everything from how decisions are made to the dress code that employees must follow. Culture is what tells you whether it’s okay to arrive at a nine-to-five job at nine-fifteen or if you’d better be there at eight forty- five. It’s what tells you how prepared you should be for a given meeting. It’s what determines how likely you are to speak up if you think something unfair is happening.
Culture is established by people, which means there always will be aspects of corporate culture that we wish would change. Be that as it may, I still find it wise to step back every so often and assess: What impact is my workplace culture having on me? Go ahead and think it through. Do you enjoy going to work each day, or do you dread it?
a. Do you feel spent in a good way by day’s end, or do you feel empty, exhausted, or even mad?
b. What is the impact of your workplace culture on yourself? On Your family? On your friends? On your dog?
My point is this: Examine carefully the impact your workplace has on you, so that you’ll know where things stand on this front.
And then there is the second aspect of the culture alignment: What are you doing to your work culture? What Impact are you having on it? In my leadership experience, I find there are two types of employee: One type makes the culture better, and the other type makes it worse. Pretty straightforward, don’t you think? Bill Hybels calls these people culture builders and culture busters. Fair enough.
Once you’ve assessed the impact that your workplace culture is having on you, I strongly encourage you to consider the impact you are having on that culture. Now it’s easy to draw up a list of all the ways that your workplace culture is awful:
“They make me work like a dog.”
“They don’t pay me for unused vacation.”
“My boss never includes me in decisions that affect me.”
On and on it goes. You could paper the walls of your house with this list. But what you’d be overlooking is the second part: How are you affecting the culture? Do you add to the culture—or take away from it?
Do you bring it life? Energy? A sense of diligence and expertise?
Or are you an outright drain?
Here’s what I know: Every one of us can do better on this front. And until we rightly assess how we’re adding vibrancy and vitality to our workplace culture, we’ve only addressed half the equation.
If your workplace culture is broken, first consider how you can help fix it. Show up on time. Come to work with a teachable spirit. Be a person who is true to his or her word. Find ways to encourage your boss, even if that person is tough to get along with. Don’t be a gossip. Be honest in all your dealings. Smile. Instead of playing Candy Crush on breaks, roam the halls to see if there is something you can clean up, someone you can encourage, some problem you can help solve. Even if your colleagues look at you like you’re crazy, choose to be a culture builder.
And then, only after you’ve racked up some time in the culture-building camp, are you allowed to sort out what still remains broken in the culture you serve. If you find that the brokenness is just too much to take, then begin asking God to open a door of departure for you, so that you can preserve the health of your soul.
If, on the other hand, you discover that you were part of the problem . . . and that now that you’re committed to building up the culture around you, things seem to be getting better, then ask God for wisdom and grace to stay the culture-building course.
Let’s keep going.
8. There’s a third working-world alignment, which is called Challenge.
You’ll talk in your small groups this week about this issue of striking the right balance between being dangerously over-challenged and being under-challenged in your work, so I won’t spend much time on that here today. But here’s a key point I would like to make: As you absorb the teaching this week about locating and living from your sweet spot, remember that only you can manage this dynamic.
In ministry, especially, we’ve established a bad reputation for using people up and spitting them out. You and I both have seen far too many pastors and ministry leaders burn out, sometimes in tragically spectacular ways. This is a horrible trend! But I think it stems from something as simple as poor self- management.
If the organization where you work is known for using and abusing its staff—to the tune of eighty- hour workweeks, substandard benefits, the modeling of inappropriate moral conduct, dishonesty with overseers, and the like— A. then you’ve got to take responsibility for standing up and saying “enough.”
B, Similarly, if you are foundering in a job that underutilizes your skills, initiative, or expertise, please, please, please begin praying now that God will lead you to a role that’s a better fit.
But again: Only you can manage this stuff. Only you know what’s right for you.
It is hard to talk about the working world. There are wonderful things and horrible things about work. There is an age-old balance in the workplace that most of us try to strike—even if it’s only subconsciously: We want to love what we do (there’s that passion idea again), and we want to be paid a lot of money to do it.
Right? Don’t we tend to feel this way?
That’s why so many educators in our nation are so vexed: They are incredibly fired up about pouring knowledge into the next generation’s minds, but they are incredibly frustrated about the pittance they receive to do it. And they should be.
By way of contrast, we have professional athletes in this country signing contracts that will net them hundreds of millions of dollars. Miguel Cabrera signed a ten-year contract with the Detroit Tigers spanning 2014 through 2023 for $223M. Two hundred and twenty-three million dollars. The guy makes more than $180K for each game he plays. Actually, he gets paid whether he shows up to play or not.
Now, listen: I’m sure Miguel Cabrera loves to play baseball. I’m also sure he is being paid quite handsomely to play it. This is what we call a win-win on the pay-versus-passion front.
But for the rest of us, it’s often not this clear. Sometimes we love what we do but realize we’re not receiving a fair exchange. Sometimes we don’t necessarily love what we do, but the hefty paycheck sure is nice.
I simply want to raise the issue today: Where do you fall, when it comes to passion versus pay? And, what might God be asking you to do in order to supplement one side or the other? Do you need to find a second job, so that your “pay” side is up to par? Do you need to seek out a meaningful volunteer opportunity, so that your “passion” side can light up?
IV. THE POWER OF ALIGNMENT WITH OUR GOD
God made you. He knows you. He loves you and is committed to your success. Ask him how to sort these things out, and then lean in to hear what he says.
Made You to Live Free , Acts 12
There is a fantastic story in Acts 12, about the apostle Peter’s unexpected prison break. Here, we find
King Herod on a rampage, going after church members—people of “The Way.” Herod had no use for any of Christ’s followers, and he was committed to snuffing them out. He’d just murdered James, another apostle, and now he’s thrown Peter into jail. Just to be sure there wouldn’t be any funny business, he assigned sixteen guards to Peter’s cell.
As the story goes, one night while Peter was sleeping—can you imagine sleeping in a situation like this?—an angel of the Lord appeared right by his side and woke him by shaking him and yelling, “Hurry! Get up!”
The shackles that had bound Peter to a nearby guard inexplicably fell away, as the angel said, “Get dressed! Put on your shoes!” Stunned, Peter did as he was told. You and I would have been stunned too.
The angel then told Peter to grab his coat and follow him—the angel—out of the jail. I’m sure Peter was flabbergasted over this mind-blowing turn of events, but he was smart enough to follow, even though he couldn’t explain what had just taken place.
The text tells us that the next morning, the entire jail was in an uproar, as it was discovered that Peter had fled. How did he get out, when sixteen strong men were guarding him? What kind of magic trick was this?
You know, I read this story, and I can’t help but think about how God wants freedom for us, too. He never wants us to be bound—whether it’s literal bondage in a dark, dank prison cell, or bondage of the figurative type.
If you’re in bondage today—either in your workplace or in your finances—God stands ready to set you free. What he asks of you is the same thing he asked of Peter that day: that you’ll go. That you’ll go quickly. And that you’ll be willing to go by faith.
Go by faith.
Nobody is going to achieve these alignments for us, friends; this is work that is ours alone to do. Will
we do it? Will we stop acting as if we’re destined for imprisonment and instead live as if freedom is ours? It is ours, just as it was Peter’s. All that remains is that we get up and go.
We go. We resolve in our hearts that we’re ready to change—to live in alignment in these areas, for once.
We go quickly. We don’t let grass grow under our feet here; we say, “Today, I’m taking a stand.”
And we go, as always, by faith. We say, “Heavenly Father, only you know the parts of my work and my money worlds that are imprisoning me, and only you can make a way of escape.” We trust God to lead, and we commit to him that we will follow. And then we move out in faith toward the land of the free.
Friends, can I speak to you as your pastor here for a moment? Today is your day to move. Get going. That step you know you’ve been needing to take, regarding your finances or your job? Decide today to take it. Let’s pray.
CLOSING PRAYER ?
[Pastor: Close the service in prayer by asking God to help congregants take the steps they’ve been needing to take. Consider closing the service with encouragement for people to sign up for a Simplify small group, if they haven’t done so already. Be sure to provide instructions accordingly.]