I was meeting with my financial advisor over tea and chocolate chip cookies one afternoon a few years ago. Jim was also a brother in Christ and a good friend, and we used to talk not only about investing but also about life. During one conversation we talked about how to manage finances while keeping one’s heart free of worry. I will never forget his comment : “After all, it’s only money”.
How many financial advisors would tell you this? Probably not many. Yet Jim was right, and I’ve never forgotten these simple but powerful words. Being a good steward (or manager) is a worthy undertaking, but in the end, when all is said and done, money is only money. It is not God, and has no ultimate power over my life.
Psalm 112 is a tribute to those who have put their hope in God.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.
Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely,
who conducts his affairs with justice.
Surely he will never be shaken;
a righteous man will be remembered forever.
He will have no fear of bad news;
his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.
I determined years ago that this is the kind of man I want to be – a generous man who trusts in God’s sufficiency and is therefore free enough to be gracious to others; a man whose heart is steadfast, with no fear of bad news, trusting the Lord.
I’ve had reason to remind myself of these things over the last couple of weeks.
Two days after Marion and I returned from our thirty-fifth anniversary road trip, our son Reuben and his bride Jess borrowed our 2002 Toyota Highlander SUV for a road trip of their own. The Highlander, although 9 years old, seemed to be in great shape and had been a reliable, trouble-free vehicle since we bought it last fall. We were somewhat surprised to learn that the oil was quite low when we had it changed after our trip, but since we had never had problems with the engine, and had noticed no symptoms of burning oil, we agreed that it was probably OK for Reuben and Jess to go ahead with their trip.
Trouble began to surface on their second day. The vehicle didn’t display any symptoms of burning oil, but they had to add a litre and a half of oil every day they were on the road. Research revealed that 2001 and 2002 Highlanders had a history of developing problems with oil gelling. At this point Reuben and Jess were in Thunder Bay, on their way to the West Coast, and they were getting concerned about crossing the Prairies. By the time they had reached Winnipeg, we all reluctantly agreed that instead of continuing West, they would head south to Minnesota where our son Simeon lives with his wife and family. They made it to Bloomington and the car went to the local Toyota dealership, where we learned that it would need a new engine. Over a week later, they are still there, waiting for the repair to be completed. So, Marion and I are dealing with a hefty financial hit, Reuben and Jess are dealing with disrupted honeymoon plans, and Simeon and Heather are dealing with much-loved guests who arrived a lot earlier than expected and have had to stay longer than anyone had counted on!
I have gone through a range of emotions and shifting concerns as I’ve processed these events. I was briefly concerned about whether Simeon and Heather could handle an unplanned visit, but they rose to the occasion admirably. My next concern was for Reuben and Jess, as it became clear that they would not be able to complete their planned trip to the West Coast. At the same time, I was very grateful that they made it safely to Simeon and Heather’s place. It’s not the Rockies – but it’s way better than being stranded!
Once we got the garage’s diagnosis and their estimate for the repair, my concern shifted to the financial impact of this situation. As I began talking things through with Marion, we reviewed our options. Should we have the SUV repaired in Minnesota? Should we ask the dealer for a trade and get them home in a different vehicle? We soon realized that having it repaired was our only option, since a US dealer cannot take a Canadian-owned vehicle in trade. This was what we needed to do – but the price tag was high.
As I went to the Lord with my concern, He reminded me gently of Jim’s words : “It’s only money”. It is so good to remember this. Yes, we got an unexpected hit. Yes, Reuben and Jess had their plans disrupted. But in the end, these things do not need to define our lives. How we respond – the spirit in which we choose to respond – that is what defines our lives. I knew that I was able to respond with faith, because God is our provider and He is faithful. So, my peace was restored. Everything would be OK.
So we had a way forward. The car would be fixed and Reuben and Jess would be able to continue their trip – no longer to the Coast, but at least they’d be able to get in a week and a half of camping before heading home. Then we discovered that due to mistakes on the part of the dealership, the repair would not be completed on schedule. The dealership had promised that they would have the SUV ready by last Friday, a week after they had first looked at the problem. Now it appears it will not be ready until this coming Tuesday, four days later than promised.
When I first learned that there might be a further delay, I got mad. This wasn’t right! I had been promised that Reuben and Jess would have the car on Friday! I left the service manager a voicemail message that was less than gracious.
Then I remembered that God loved this man. I began asking the Lord for His heart and His perspective on this situation. I heard back from the service manager – not once, but several times, even on his day off – who evidently felt very badly about the cascading delays which had been caused by several errors on the part of his staff, and offered to give us a discount (although the price tag was still going to be considerable). In the end, I decided that although I might be able to justify tearing a strip out of him over these further delays, possibly leading to a further discount, God was giving me an opportunity to show him mercy so that I could speak to him about the kindness of Jesus and how He had shown mercy on me when I was far from Him. This is what I plan to do when I talk with him one more time on Tuesday. Compared to the eternal value of one man’s life, the cost of the engine repair is a small thing.
I have learned that as I go through life, things will happen that I cannot prevent or control, no matter how carefully I plan. Life is full of upheavals of one sort and another that upset my carefully laid plans, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in large ones. In fact, events that we cannot control are one of the main tools that God uses to call our hearts back to himself. What we can control – by the grace of God – is our response to these situations. These events have reminded me that when I anchor my hope in God’s promises, he can establish His peace in my heart, and give me the ability to respond with grace and mercy even when things seem to be going all wrong.
We forget sometimes that God has a bigger agenda than we do. He has made us for glory, and we’re not going to get there without being changed. If I need to take a financial hit to grow in faith, I’ll take it. God is well able to replace the loss – after all, it’s only money. Every time I choose the path of faith, hope and love in the midst of unexpected troubles, I am allowing God to develop my capacity to walk in His blessing and give it away, and He promises to reward me with an inheritance that, unlike money, lasts forever and can never lose its value. Sounds like a good deal to me.