There are not many topics upon which you could get all financial advisers to agree. One such topic though would be that it is good to save. There might be disagreements about how to save or where to put those savings, but almost everyone would agree that having savings is a good thing. Even the Bible clearly indicates we should save.
The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets. Proverbs 21:20 TLB
But is there a time when saving may not be such a good thing? Could there actually be dangerous reasons to save money?
Do you have a family member or acquaintance who, every time you get together, very quickly turns the topic of conversation to the latest big financial success they had, or the newest big-ticket toy they bought, or how they are raking in the dough at work, etc? I think most of us have known someone like that.
Particularly for guys, or at least for those with type A personalities, money can sometimes represent a score card.
- Saving and building wealth.
- Not just keeping up with the Jones’s but staying a few steps ahead.
These things can come to represent winning on that score card of life. Our self-worth starts to be defined by the size of our bank account. This is a very dangerous place to be.
The problem is when we take pride in what we have accomplished, we start to forget who is responsible for our success. It is easy to forget that we could do nothing, earn nothing if it weren’t for the skills and talents that God has blessed us with.
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength. 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 NLT (my emphasis added)
When our savings start to become a source for pride, it is a clear sign we have forgotten who is the real source of our success.
A close cousin of pride is greed. Another danger of saving is it may start to feed a desire to have more and more and more. I think we see this in one of the parables of Jesus:
Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’
“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” Luke 12:16-21 NLT
The rich fool’s response to his blessings was not one of thankfulness to the God who gave him a great harvest. It was not to consider who he could help with those blessings. His response was greed. He was going to build bigger barns so he could keep it all for himself.
The third and I think perhaps most important reason not to save is fear.
A reasonable amount of fear is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact it may be the product of some God-given common sense. If I have absolutely zero savings such that if the battery died in my car I would have no way to get it replaced aside from going into debt, then the fear I feel may simply be the Spirit prompting me that I need to get a little better control of my finances.
But sometimes fear goes beyond simple wisdom. When we have some emergency savings and we are making at least some progress in savings for long-term goals like retirement, and yet we are still motivated by fear, then there may be a deeper problem with our saving.
Sometimes fear is a sign we don’t really trust that God will take care of us. “I’m not sure I can count on God to provide if I had a serious financial issue, so I better just take it into my own hands.” “If I have a big enough bank account then I can trust it for my well-being, because in my heart I’m just not sure I can rely on God.”
I think this is the reason that Jesus spent more time talking about money than he did about heaven and hell combined. Money is one of the main things that can easily take the place of God in our lives. When my bank account starts to become my trusted source of provision and protection, I have turned money into my god.
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 1 Timothy 6:17 NIV
The Great Recession should be a reminder to us all that wealth can be fleeting. It is foolish to put our hope in earthly wealth that can disappear in a heartbeat, instead of trusting our Heavenly Father who loves us and is eternal. But sometimes fear can lead us to place our trust in that tangible dollar in our hand instead of the God that we do not see.
So why you should save?
I believe there are two valid reasons to save.
To provide for ourselves and our family.
Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8 NIV
God tells us to take care of our family. That includes providing basic necessities of food and shelter. I think God also smiles when we are able to provide some wants beyond our needs within reason. I also think part of providing for our family is saving for long-term goals like retirement. All of these things within reason are good and even commanded.
To help those who are in need
In that Timothy scripture I quoted earlier, Paul tells Timothy to command those that are wealthy to not put their trust in their wealth. But if that is the case, what should they do with it? He goes on to say in the following verses:
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:18-19
If God has blessed you with savings that exceed what you need to provide for your family, be generous. I have often heard financial teacher, Dave Ramsey, say “Broke people can’t feed starving children.” I think there is much truth in this. When we are barely surviving ourselves, it is pretty hard to meet the needs of those around us.
But when we gain control of our finances, live on less than we make, and save and invest the difference, at some point our focus changes. We reach a point where we can meet the needs of our families, and we begin to see those who are hurting around us. When we have done a good job saving, we are in a position to generously make a difference in our world.
That is a very different place to find ourselves than the places where pride, greed, and fear lead us.