For a long time, I have half-heartedly followed the financial practices and principles taught by Dave Ramsey in his book and his program, Financial Peace University. If I had whole-heartedly followed them, I would be in a much better place financially. But alas, I have made poor decisions with my money. Whew! There, I’ve said it; I know that I have not handled my money well, and sometimes I’ve wondered if God is disappointed in me. What does He want with my money anyways? Should I even save for retirement? Doesn’t saving display a lack of trust in God for His provision and a brazen assumption that we’ll be living until the golden years? Doesn’t God want me to give away what I make?
As a hard-working professional and newly launched business owner with a heart for those in need, I have struggled. I have been caught in this place of experiencing success and financial blessing, wanting more of it and feeling guilty. I have also been caught in the place of being called to do more with the little money we have, and because of my poor financial past, unable to do it with as much freedom as I would like. I have judged myself and others against a standard derived from societal misconceptions of success. I have felt guilty for the position our family is in financially at times. And all the while, I just want to know and experience more of Jesus in my story — even the financial aspects of my story. I know that I need to understand stewardship and implement stewardship practices more and more in my life, and I wonder if some of you feel the same way.
Wanting to Share the News
As I began to seek out more wisdom on the subject of stewardship, I ran into none other than Dave Ramsey. I sought out an interview, and Dave graciously agreed to talk with me about this very important matter. We talked about wealth, success, stewardship, the heart behind our motives, enjoying the blessings and the ultimate purpose of our money. At Shattered, our hope for all of us is that maybe this conversation will re-energize us to steward well and manage what God has given us for His glory.
1) What was the personal experience that motivated you to write “The Legacy Journey: A Radical View of Biblical Wealth and Generosity?”
When my wife Sharon and I went broke, lost everything and filed for bankruptcy, we were two 28-year-olds with a toddler and a brand new baby. We had this old beat up car we borrowed; its primary color was Bondo. But we vowed never to borrow another dime. We pinched pennies, cut coupons, skipped vacations and worked eighty hours a week. We clawed our way out of that mess.
Years later, after I had wealth in the bank, I was driving a car with more than 200,000 miles on it — the latest in my proud line of cheap cars. Oil leaked onto the manifold and the exhaust, so everywhere I drove there was a cloud of smoke behind me. But I was ashamed to go buy a car. I wasn’t sure what the level of “holy car” was. I figured it was probably a 93’ Camry — anything nicer — and my salvation may have been in jeopardy. My company VP told me, “You seriously have to get a better car.”
I shopped all over for a great buy and finally found a great deal on a two-year-old Jaguar. That was kind of cool because I drove a Jag right before I went broke. So there I stood in the parking lot of my office, just looking at my new car. You’d think I’d feel joy, but I didn’t. All I could think about was, Did I do something wrong? I started thinking about all the hungry children I could feed with the check I had just written. Then I started worrying about what my friends, customers and clients would say. Would they call me a phony?
This is why I wrote “The Legacy Journey.” God had been teaching me about money for ten years, and now He was teaching me about wealth. Today I realize I didn’t do anything wrong in buying that car. In fact, I think God smiled as I wrote that check. I started studying God’s Word and what it says about money. It’s a much different message than what you’re hearing in the culture today.
2) Why should Christians be successful with money?
Christians are called to be a peculiar people. We’re called to be different. We’re called to build wealth for the Kingdom of God. I actually think we have a biblical mandate. It’s one of the things God tells us to do for Him. We’re supposed to be good stewards. Good stewards are going to end up with more money. It’s not so you can pile up stuff so you’ll be happy; that’s not it at all. This is a Kingdom assignment. This is about evangelizing the world, acts of mercy and the things we can do when we have money that we can’t when we don’t. That is your mandate, your holy calling: to build wealth to feed the poor, to do acts of mercy, acts of justice and acts of evangelism with that money. It’s a calling.
3) What is the ultimate purpose for Christians to have money?
I’ve been saying for more than 20 years — if you live like no one else, you can live and give like no one else. “The Legacy Journey” is a biblical framework for building wealth, and when you do, your vision broadens, and you start to see the world through God’s eyes. You see needs, and you see evangelism that needs to happen, hungry children that need to be fed, wells that need to be dug and homeless people who need help. The Bible says God loves a cheerful giver. Being generous is the most fun you can have with money.
4) This is a personal struggle for me. I want so much to be a good steward of what God gives me, and I want to do so much for Him, but I also want to have things in life as well. And then I feel guilty. Should we as Christians (especially in America) feel guilty for what we own?
You’ve touched on what “The Legacy Journey” is about. We’re getting mixed messages in the culture about money and wealth. As a result, many godly men and women are confused about what to do with the resources God has put in their care. If wealth is bad, then we’re all supposed to be guilty. We’re all supposed to feel sad for our success, our productivity, our creativity and our passions. We actually have seniors graduating from college who aren’t sure if they should go be successful or not. I don’t think this is what God has in mind.
5) So many people are aware of the so-called Prosperity Gospel and preach against it. But I’m not sure that we understand the same danger present in the Poverty Gospel. How do we order our financial lives around simply The Gospel?
First by knowing it, then by living it. God has a lot to say about money. He’s serious about it. It’s mentioned in the Bible over 800 times. Our goal should be to become biblically mature with His money and a good manager of what He has provided. And there is a framework for this. In the book, I call it, “Now- Then-Us-Them.” This is your legacy journey.
Now focuses on taking control and cleaning up your financial mess. In the Now, the goal is to stop the bleeding and get your feet under you. Then, when you can breathe, the pressure comes off, your head comes up, and you start looking past the Now and into the Then.
That means you’re at Baby Step 4 — investing 15 percent of your income into retirement, and Baby Step 5 — funding your kids’ college accounts. You can even start attacking the mortgage so you can pay the house off early, which is Baby Step 6.
At this point your vision expands, and you get what we call the Us — leaving a legacy for your family. You start building a little bit of wealth in your mutual funds and 401(k), and as you get closer to finally paying off the mortgage, you start to realize you really are going to retire with dignity.
And now, finally your vision broadens all the way, and you can see Them. Them represents all the needs in your community and around the world. You start to see the needs through Christ’s eyes. And that’s where we get to help change the world. That’s a powerful legacy.
6) What originally drove your family to financial intentionality?
After the bankruptcy and when we got to where we could breathe, the first thought we had was to make sure financial stupidity never happened to the Ramsey family again. The second thought was to safeguard the next generation. My life and the life of my wife Sharon had an intersection with a man named Jesus. Grace is pretty cool. Grace says you get a do-over. We declared not only that we would never be in that situation again, but also that we would permanently sear proper money principles into our children’s beings so they would never be in the same situation. We declared that we would change our family tree.
7) With such success, how has your view on money changed personally?
When I was a baby Christian, I hadn’t yet learned everything that God had to say about money. So, when I started to build wealth the second time, I started to worry that I could become that guy — the one who ruins his life with wealth. After a while I got over that, but then I started worrying it was going to screw up my kids. I’ve met generational wealth families all over this country. There are some incredible third, fourth and fifth generation, young people out there walking in wealth. And there are some fruit loops. So I started studying Scripture. I needed to learn what the Bible has to say about managing wealth from a proper spiritual perspective — the framework outlined in the book.
8) As your income has increased, what else has increased? What else has decreased?
The truth is everything doesn’t get better with money. Everything that’s bad gets worse and everything that’s good gets better. Your marriage problems aren’t going to be solved because you get money; it’s going to make them worse. Above all I learned I don’t own it. It’s not mine.
9) Do you feel like Christ has called you to this financial adviser type role for a greater purpose than lowering family’s debts? What’s the bigger picture for you?
The bigger picture is this. Imagine what your life would look like if you didn’t owe anything to anyone. If you were completely debt free. How much less stress would you have? How much more peace? What would your marriage look like if you knew how to communicate without money fights? How would you feel about your future if you were telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went? Just imagine what the people of God could do for the kingdom of God if we were debt free. That is the greater purpose.
Throughout everything we talked about Dave was, as always, insistent that everything we have been given is God’s, and to God we should give first. The foundation for our families should come next. But what I found refreshing was that the foundation isn’t about going out and getting more or making more; rather, it is about being content with what God has given us. And then, just like when you put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others, you’ll be in a position to impact others financially for the glory of God.
Note from the Author: This article brought up some interesting discussion within our team. We had concerns that people would see this as the end-all-be-all for finances done God’s way. Even when talking with Dave Ramsey and his team, it wasn’t like that. They were more than open to the fact that we need to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives — even in our financial decisions. His views are biblically based, wise principles for making financial decisions and serve as a good guideline, but as one of our wise counselors Jesse May put it, “Our financial decisions aren’t ‘either them/or us’ but ‘both them/and us’ as the Spirit leads.” Our hope here at Shattered is to encourage each other to see our money as both a blessing to enjoy and a responsibility to use as a tool to usher in the Kingdom through loving acts meant to share Jesus with others. // Rachael Jackson