Why I Don’t Want to be a Millionaire, Updated

Last year, I published the following post in hopes of encouraging people that found themselves in a similar boat—doing ok financially but not exactly racking up the dolla-bills in the old 401k (or Roth, or what have you). Since that time, I read a blog by Pastor Daniel Grothe (GROW-thee) that opened my eyes a little bit more to how God works with our finances, and I’ve added some thoughts to the end of my original post. If you’ve already read the old one, that’s fine; scroll down to the updated section. Otherwise, read on.

Blessings – Joey C

I got in a Facebook fight with a friend the other day about this article from Yahoo finance about how any normal person can become a millionaire.

I’ll briefly sum up the fight for you:

  • I think the article isn’t exactly right because most americans, working full-time, don’t make enough to put away the kind of money the article talks about. 
  • My friend’s rebuttal was that, while my point is true, most people can sacrifice some nights and weekends (the ever-coveted “side-hustle”) to save that much money. Think delivering pizzas, working at a gas station, and so on.
  • My answer was… yes, but I have a family. My nights and weekends are my family time. I work full-time in a salaried church position, and while my income is totally fine, it’s not enough to stash the sort of cash the yahoo article prescribes. Most americans are in the same boat.

And then I realized all of our points were moot because I’m not making decisions the way I should be.

What I mean by “should” is that if I wanted to be reasonably wealthy, I shouldn’t have become a pastor. I should have been something else I was good at, and I’ve had several options since high school—welder, pilot, oil field grunt, and a few more after that. I actually tried to join the military at one point, and I nearly aced the ASVAB, so I could have done basically anything I wanted to in the armed forces and made bank. I actually had a chance to be a warrant officer as a helicopter mechanic. That pays well, perhaps not at first, but former military aviation mechanics are well-paid in the private sector when their service is up.

But I didn’t do any of those things and it’s for a seemingly foolish reason, well… a seemingly foolish reason to any person who’s only thinking about income versus expenses and how to save up for retirement.

I make decisions based on what the Holy Spirit tells me to do, and He told me to become a pastor.

Here’s the skinny. I graduated from business school, so I understand money. In fact, my best marks in college were in my accounting and finance classes. We keep a tight budget in my house using a great app called YNAB (short for You Need A Budget), so we’re in control of our income and expenses. We’re striving to be good stewards every day.

But the key word there is steward. Our financial future isn’t exactly in our hands. What’s in our hands is what’s in our hands right now, because that’s what God has provided for us.

It’s not that I haven’t tried out some side hustles. I have. Not much has panned out. And we both work a couple of odd jobs throughout the year to afford some fun things we otherwise could not, so we’re not lazy. We’ve just decided that my main focus is being a pastor, and her main focus is being a mom, and a million dollars by the time we’re in our 50’s isn’t what God has us doing at the moment. He’s tasked us with raising our children and growing our church, so all of our energy and time are devoted to those two things. For me, delivering pizzas after the kids go to bed would take away from the much needed rest that I need to focus on the church and my family. I’m no good to anybody if I’m stretched too thin.

And that doesn’t make good financial sense, I’ll admit. I should be working nights to stash away for college funds and retirement. Abigail should be working a second job so that we can stash away for, well… college funds and retirement. But we’ve realigned our priorities because of what Matthew chapter 6 says:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

To be clear, my friend is right: we should be doing all we can to make our future more secure. In fact, I think that basically everyone should follow his advice and not mimic how I’m living my life right now.  There’s nothing sinful in saving money for the future by working nights delivering pizzas. Unless God has called you to something else.

And He’s called us to something else.

What does that mean for you? Well, probably nothing. Unless you’ve found yourself in the same situation I’m in. In that case, I want to encourage you: wait on the Lord.

If you’re sure of your calling right now, then wait for Him to provide your needs. It’s that simple. Be willing to work, be willing to serve, be willing to do whatever you need to do, but don’t fret over it. Don’t lose sleep over it. Don’t feel like a lesser person because of it.

God has you where He has you and that’s the best place to be. 

Update: financial wisdom from Eugene Peterson

If you didn’t know, Eugene Peterson died a week or so ago. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, you’re probably wrong because if you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, you’ve read (or at least heard of) The Message Bible. Peterson wrote the entire translation himself over about 25 years. He’s also published about 30 other books, all of which are fantastic and I’ve just started digging into them. I can personally recommend The Contemplative Pastor and As Kingfishers Catch Fire. He’s in my top 5 favorite authors of all-time.

He also had a profound personal influence on the pastorate of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. If you haven’t heard of them, just understand that they’re a low-key big deal in the non-denominational evangelical church world. Right up there with John Piper, Judah Smith, Robert Morris, and Bethel Music.

Anyway, Daniel Grothe, one of the lead pastors at New Life, developed a personal friendship with Eugene Peterson over the last 10 years or so, which is pretty cool considering Eugene was friends with Bono.

Yeah. Bono. From U2. That Bono.

And about a year ago, Daniel Grothe went up to Peterson’s house near Kalispell, Montana. He wrote a rather touching blog post about it, and I wanted to share a little bit of it with you.

I want to share it because he asked Peterson if he had any wisdom to share about handling money. Peterson’s answer was astounding, considering that publishing The Message easily made him a multi-millionaire nearly overnight. Here’s what Grothe wrote:

I asked Eugene about a lot of things, but I stumbled onto something. I wanted to know what he has learned about money. To give a little context, this is a guy who translated a Bible that has sold over 17 million copies. I was interested to know what that has taught a guy who grew up in a modest home during the Great Depression, in a hard-working, small-town community, who himself lived paycheck-to-paycheck for most of his working years.

Eugene was totally silent for about 60 seconds. He was rubbing his fingers through his grey beard and staring off into the distance across the lake where the Rocky Mountains are in view. Through so many of these moments with Eugene over the years, I have learned to wait through the long pauses.

It seemed like he had gathered a thought. 

“I don’t think I’ve learned anything about money,” he said. And then he went silent again. I waited, but I was thinking, What do you mean you haven’t learned anything about money?

Then it hit me. This is a guy who lives in his childhood home. They have one car, a Honda. There is not an ostentatious bone in their bodies. These are people who have turned down opportunity after opportunity in order to preserve a life of simplicity and quiet faithfulness. A long obedience in the same direction. I have long said that it only took Eugene Peterson 65 years to become an overnight success, and the success came when he had gotten over his need to be successful. God must have known he could trust this old couple with that kind of money, that kind of acclaim.

What I discovered is that Eugene and Jan have been doing this their whole lives, been giving themselves away, their strength away, their money away. I basically made him admit that he and Jan have paid for scores of his students to pursue Masters or Doctoral degrees. Full scholarships out of their own pockets.

“We determined that that’s why God gave us this money. That’s what it’s for,” he said. They have given to local and global mission work. As the Psalmist said, “They have freely scattered abroad their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever; their horn will be lifted high in honor” (112:9).

And this gives us a lot to pause and think about when we consider money.

The goal of my financial stewardship has nothing to do with building up a nest egg. I mean, that’s important, and I’m trying to do that. It’s small right now. Real small. But it’s there and I trust that God will continue to help me look to the future and steward with a good plan.

But that’s all in the context of His plan. If he asked me to give it all away tomorrow, I would. We might fight about it for a second, but in the end I believe I would say yes.

The Apostle Paul admonishes Timothy (and by extension, us) concerning the wealth of this world:

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. 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.  (I Tim 6:17-19, NIV)

Dave Ramsey is right. Crown Financial is right. Budgeting is right. Saving is right. But we have to keep it all in context. It’s God’s money, not ours. If we remain faithful, he’ll provide.