April 01, 2009

A Different Kind of Financial Goal

I remember as a kid going to video arcades. My parents would buy us a number of tokens and say "These are your tokens. Use them wisely. When they are gone you are done. We're not buying anymore." So I would walk around the arcade, decide how I wanted to spend my tokens, and the use them to play video games. My brother would hold on to his tokens. He would use a couple here and there, but sometime we would leave the arcade and he would have tokens left over. This was frustrating to me sometimes. When I ran out of tokens, and he still had some, I would have to watch and wait for him to use his tokens, if he decided to. Then when it was time to go, I couldn't understand why he wouldn't just give me a couple so I could help him use them up before we had to leave. Once out the doors, the tokens were no good anyway!

I've been reading the book "The Treasure Principle" by Randy Alcorn with my kids as our morning family devotion time. Alcorn does a great job of simplifying the discipline of giving in such a way that even kids can grasp and understand. I even made them memorize the 'Treasure Principles' that are taught in the book.

We are about halfway through the book, and it is talking about whether or not we should leave an estate to our children when we die. In this book, Alcorn says that we should not leave a large amount of money for our kids when we die. Instead, we should be using those resources while we are alive to further the Kingdom of God. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." - Matthew 6:19

My wife Nancy asked this question yesterday: "Some teach that we should be saving for retirement, for emergencies, etc. This book seems to teach that maybe we should save money but give it to God and His church. So which is it?"

What a great question! We talked about it for a while (with our kids present...they need to learn this stuff too). Here is my conclusion - our goal should be to have just enough money to last until we die, with none left over. Of course, we don't know when we will die, but we can estimate based on average life span. We should be responsible with the money God has entrusted to us (it is His), and have emergency funds so that we can take care of our family when things come up. We should plan to be able to take care of our financial needs when we are no longer able to work. But we should not 'hoard' money until we die. Having millions in the bank on the day we die doesn't do anyone any good. God gives us control of his resources while we are alive so we can manage it and use it for His Kingdom and His Glory.

Our financial goal should be to die with nothing left over. You can't take it with you. You can't use it anywhere but here. Use God's money wisely, but don't leave any at the end of your life.

What do you think? Do you agree? Should we have money left over when we die?

1 comment:

C. Michael Pilato said...

Technically, you can't have "money left over". What you have will all go somewhere, be it to your kids, to charities, or elsewhere. You can choose to make it go somewhere specific before you die (via donations and gifts); you can choose to make it go somewhere specific upon your death (via your Will); or you can forgo the choosing altogether. This last option seems to me the most clearly unbiblical. But the first two aren't so clear.

It would be easy to argue that leaving a large estate to your kids is an investment in family (the first institution established by God), which could empower them to be more gracious in their own giving. It would be just as easy to argue that doing so fails to teach your children the value of working for and earning what you have, and the power of giving sacrificially instead of merely out of one's excess.

So it would seem (as in many things) that avoiding extremes makes the most sense. In death, give not-obnoxiously-sized blessings of your estate to your kids — perhaps incrementally, and/or with contingencies they must meet that demonstrate financial responsibility — but teach them in life the power and joy that comes from giving freely and sacrificially towards "Kingdom work".