I’ve recently had a surprising revelation. Money really can make you happy.
I live in a western capitalist democracy, so if I were to say that for most of my adult life I’ve not had enough money, it’s going to be generally understood that statement is relative. I’ve never been really poor. The problem with living in your friendly neighbourhood western capitalist democracy is that it’s expensive. You are supposed to live in an expensive house, drive an expensive car and eat expensive food. And unless you have an income that matches your outgoings, you’re going to be pretty frustrated a lot of the time.
For the past twenty years, I’ve been pretty frustrated. No one to blame but myself, but nonetheless, frustrated.
Recently, things changed. Our family made a decision to move away from a regional area and into a city. Mainly because we are getting older, and we are a bit concerned that we will be living in a caravan park at the rate we’ve been going financially when we can’t work anymore. We came to the big smoke for better paying jobs, and we found them. So far this year, for the first time ever since we’ve been married, we have paid out our credit cards, covered our rent, registered two cars, bought major appliances for the home (and replaced bed linen we have had since 1992) and managed to save money as well. It’s amazing. I actually had begun to doubt we were worthy, let alone capable, of this kind of prosperity.
The best thing about finally having two decent incomes is the amount of money we can not just spend, or save, but the amount we can give away. And it’s been this, more than being able to spend or buy or pay the bills, that gives me a feeling of true prosperity, I think because it involves extending a different facet of my faith. There once was a huge amount of faith involved in trusting God just to keep the rent paid. And I’m so grateful for the times when God came through, and when people and churches reached out and helped us get through. But there is something wonderful about being told you have answered someone else’s prayer. But it’s a shift, and one that I have struggled with accepting.
There is a strange comfort in being the one who constantly needs helping. It’s living on the edge, but it’s a rush you can get used to. In a way I did not want to do well, because I did not want to stop relying on God to supernaturally and spectacularly come through for me. I liked being rescued. I liked being able to tell people what God has done, because great testimonies get attention. Contrast this with the lot of the benefactor. The generous are obliged to remain anonymous, dignified and silent. Discretion is of the utmost importance. You can talk all day about what God did to help you, but you must never tell about what you did in His name to help another. And this is as it should be. But it creates a kind of miracle addict – abundance-seeking junkies who never grow up into a capacity to help themselves, because they see it as their Christian duty to create vast swathes of lack that God is obliged to supernaturally fill up again and again and again.
But at some stage, you have to grow up and be your own miracle.
The Sudanese lady who did my dreadlocks almost a year ago has become a good friend. She tells me how she came to Australia from a Sudanese refugee camp without her husband. He had been drafted into an education program in America and was staying there to complete a law degree. When she arrived, she found her hairdressing qualification was worth nothing, so she enrolled and did another four years study and work experience to become a qualified hairdresser – again. Whilst she did this, she worked at a blueberry farm and saved the cash she needed to open her own salon. And all this while raising a child alone. She is now studying business at college, so she can go back to Sudan and set up a development program. Her husband Yai works in refugee advocacy and law, and he too is working to empower others in his country of origin to become independent and free.
Recently Yai asked me to help a young Sudanese friend of his who wishes to study business in Uganda to pay his study fees. I thought, for crying out loud, do you think I have money just lying around? I’ve got bills, kids to raise, school fees to pay. We are saving to buy a house. I don’t do that sort of thing, I’m not one of the blessors – I’m a blessee. Couldn’t he see this?
But as I spoke with Yai, I could see deep, unswerving faith in his eyes. He knew God would help his friend. And he expected that I would know this too, and I would help him. He had faith, and did not doubt. He had prayed for help, and here I was. And while I sat there speaking with this man of faith, I felt myself shift almost physically from being a taker to being the giver. It was like my shoulders grew wider, and my face changed from a frown to a smile. I knew I had the faith to believe God would bless me as much as he had when I was the one who was being helped.
God is in both the miracle of provision, and the miracle of providing.
“I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Phillipians 4:12 – 13