Standard of Living

Disclaimer: This post is fairly long, and it rambles a bit, but please stick with it. I would love to hear your feedback, no matter where you have landed on these questions or how confident you are in your answers. Thanks.

The title of this post really says it all. One of the biggest questions I’ve been entertaining for years is “What standard of living should I aspire to?” Worded another way: “What standard of living is appropriate given my commitment to follow Christ, love God, and love my neighbor?”

For as long as I have been considering this question, I’ve never once heard someone make a definitive statement. I understand the nature of this question needing to be answered on an individual basis, but I feel that too often we are simply dodging the real answers.

I’ve mentioned before that I read The Irresistible Revolution a few years back and that this book has radically changed my outlook on what it means to follow Jesus.  In the book, Shane Claiborne tells his story of living among the poor and giving up his middle class lifestyle to serve “the least of these”.  He does it selflessly and calls others to find their own way to follow his example.  It was probably reading this book (combined with my very limited experience of serving the poor) that made me first re-consider my ideal of making enough money to “live comfortably”.

At this point, I was still planning to be a research biologist or possibly even a medical doctor. I knew that I could make a very comfortable living this way. A small part of me that was ever growing wasn’t content with this ultimate destination for my life.

I worked at a summer camp for 3 summers making very small amounts of money. I believed that the amount of money wasn’t important as long as I was serving Jesus. Because of this, I wasn’t saving very much throughout college. I wasn’t building my credit or establishing myself financially as I know some of my peers were.

Then, I decided 3 years ago, to change my major. I had been very unsettled in the field of Biology for quite some time, and eventually everything came together and I felt that I was supposed to get my degree in Social Work. I wasn’t thinking about money when I made this decision. Of course it would be somewhat less, but I was far more motivated to change my major because of where I felt God was leading me.

As the reality of how little money I’d be making settled in, I began reasoning out that I would simply further my education by getting my Masters Degree. Once I had my Masters, I could make enough money to live comfortably.

Well, now I have my Bachelors degree, and I still want to get my Masters, but I have chosen to delay going back to school in order to get some work experience first. When I consider my financial future, there is still a part of me that wants to go back to school just for the chance at more money.

I desire to ultimately make this decision based on factors other than money, but before I can, I feel I need to have a better grip on God’s desire for his followers when it comes to their finances.

More recently, my small group has been reading and discussing the book Crazy Love. Throughout the entire book, Francis Chan has been challenging the reader to fully follow Christ and love others in such a way that we have to trust God to take care of our needs. He is encouraging us to love unconditionally and to give sacrificially as an outpouring of our love for the Creator who has pursued us relentlessly. He poses some of the more difficult questions about what this means for Christians and their financial affairs.

I am going to list off some of the questions he has asked and some that he has inspired me to ask:

How much money should a Christian keep back for their living expenses?

How should a follower of Christ go about planning for their retirement?

When it comes to saving money, what is the difference between being a good steward of our resources and hoarding?

Should a Christian’s giving to the church and to the poor be based on an income cap, or a percentage of income?  For example, Chan suggested that a possible way of setting our standard of living would be to give away all of our income above the median US income.

If Jesus told the rich, young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor”, what does this mean for the rest of His followers?

If Jesus sent out his disciples without any extra supplies to go and bear witness to Him, where should we draw the line in our abundance?

Why do we put up with so much inequality within the church if the early church sold their possessions so that no one was in need?

If we are to be servants of Christ within an American context, there are certain luxuries that are almost commodities in order to serve effectively. How do we live counter-culturally when we are still connected to so many things that set us apart as wealthy? (ie Internet, television, movies, music)

Why is the church so reluctant to believe that Jesus really meant what he said about sacrificing our material comfort to follow Him?

Why do some segments of Christianity balk at the idea of giving to the poor when they have an abundance?

When those who are more socially-minded try to focus our attention on helping the poor, why are they deemed radical?

Shouldn’t those who are trying to follow Jesus more fully be an example we try to follow rather than an exception that we talk about as if they are impossibly out-of-touch with reality?

Why do we most often consider God’s blessing a financial thing?

What was the last thing you (or I) did that actually required that we have faith in God’s provision?

On top of reading Francis Chan’s book, I was also upset by another source:   Glenn Beck.  In a segment of his show where he was attempting to debunk “Black Liberation Theology” to protect his viewers from the socialists, he said a few things that I disagreed with strongly.  He was very clear that he “earned” his wealth and “earned” the job that he had and it was his

right as an American to hang onto it as tightly as he wants.  This angered me because as someone speaking to Christians, he seemed to be more concerned with them being good Americans than with them being good followers of Christ.  Christ was never about hanging on to what we have earned.  Every time the early church is spoken about or instructed in the New Testament regarding money, it seems to always be about giving freely and supporting one another.  Besides the familiar passages in Acts 2 and 4, we have this one in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 8:13-15

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

In all of this, I am still trying to discern what this means for my own life.  I feel guilty at times for how I spend my money on entertainment and fast food when I could be finding much cheaper alternatives to enjoy my free time and feed myself.  Yet, it’s so hard to make changes in these areas of my life when I look around at the church and see Christians living in extravagant houses with new cars, sailboats, jet skis, etc.  (The notion of comparing the way I follow Christ to others is a separate post).  I am not making a ton of money right now, and there are many people who would advise me right now to save as much as I can and look towards providing for my future and the future of my family (which I don’t have yet).  And this message seems to be fine if I want to live comfortable and achieve the American Dream.  However, when I listen to Scripture and other voices that I respect, I hear a different message of sacrificial giving and sacrificial living that seems to be the opposite of comfortable.

I would greatly appreciate your discussion and input on this topic.  I asked a lot of questions in this post, and after having read back through all of it, I believe I have captured many of my thoughts and have represented them as scattered as they are in my own mind.   Whether you tackle one question, two questions, or all of them is up to you.  Maybe you will offer an entirely different perspective than I have entertained.  Either way, I hope you won’t let that stop you from sharing.

The question that sums up all of this post, and the question that I aspire to ask any time I approach the Bible is this:

How then should I live?

Final Disclaimer:  This post is meant to be about how a Christ-follower lives out Kingdom values.  If any of my questions or ramblings seemed to make it into a political / economic discussion, I apologize.  This is meant to be about how we choose to live our lives as an expression of our love for God, not about how we vote or pay taxes.


11 thoughts on “Standard of Living

  1. I often think about the same things, especially after a sermon I heard about a month ago about tithing. I feel like I can give so much more to my church, yet I am surrounded by so many people telling me to save for college. Its hard to listen to God and trust Him.

  2. You’ve offered up an excellent post with many good questions, none of which I can devote the proper time to at this moment. But I felt this question in a strange way this past week, and I thought I would share.

    I’m moving in the fall, and I’ve been working through different housing options. The short of this is, just as I thought I had settled on an option, we hit an ‘expectations game’ snag, where a type of giving I thought would be automatic for a Christian community simply wasn’t. By all typical standards, nothing they were asking was the least bit unfair, but it lacked the selfless graciousness I realized I’d come to expect, and as such rubbed me wrong.

    It made me realize just how deeply I appreciate my current home and church communities. which both largely operate on an culture which offers up abundance before anyone thinks to ask.

    Let me throw out a few examples from past week. First, a friend mentioned at a party — to the entire room — that she would be out of the country for the next six weeks, so her car and apartment would be open and available to anyone who wanted them. I took her up on the car offer, and let me tell you, it turned out to be a very nice car. And so I have another month to tool around in this snazzy car, without having asked, without even having a deep need, and with no expectation of cost, just because it became excess. Second, a group from church is going camping over the weekend. On the email chain, some people were all in, but those who were unable to come just offered up — unsolicited — any camping supplies they had. Third, one of my roommates is moving and won’t need her furniture, so she just started handing off furniture, clothes, whatever to anyone who wanted it, without even thinking about the fact that she could sell it and make a little money.

    Now, I actually have stopped, somewhere along the way, thinking of this as radical. Instead, I see it as normal and automatic. You’re not going to be sleeping in your bed? Who might need it? Someone can’t pay their rent, you cover it. Can you sleep on my couch? A silly formality of a question. Lost your phone? Surely someone around here has an extra, old one which is at your disposal. I toss needs out there, and they get met. I realize I have access to something that might meet someone else’s need, even an unspoken one, and it gets offered up.

    In many ways, that’s not the radical type living you can get to through your post. But, in the moment when it suddenly seemed I might not have that any more, I realized that it IS quite a start. And a community which operates in such a fashion experiences, I would say, a far deeper level of intimacy. It is, perhaps, the difference between being family and being friends.

    • Great thoughts on how community plays into the way we choose to use our resources. If we take relationships out of it, it’s simply another discipline we check off our list when we “write the check”.

  3. Great post, Andrew. I love the self-reflection, your willingness to be open and honest (with yourself and others), and the desire to constantly search, constantly grow, constantly realize what the Love of Christ requires of us.

    As you know, the concept of money is something that greatly disturbs me, and yet although my ideal is the absolute denial of self-possession and hoarding of unnecessary materials, the reality of my life is the exact opposite – my selfishness is unabated, despite what I desire myself to be.

    I think you and I have extremely similar viewpoints on life, the need/impact of social justice, etc. You have an acute awareness of the impact of Love, and I know that you are passionate about expressing that awareness in a manner that is selfless; that is an emulation of Jesus. And yet, I sense that you are having an increasingly difficult time discovering in what manner you should utilize your talents and resources. To that, I would implore you to worry less about where your life is going (career, level of education, money) and focus more about how you are living your life (living a life of Love). I know that may sound vague, and I know that you are certainly focused on Love … my point is that your commitment to Love will determine where your life is going. Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn’t focus any effort on a Master’s, contemplating the impact/influence of money, etc., but that these should be secondary; they should be responses to your ever-changing view on how life is to be lived.

    I know that I’m rambling, and for that I apologize. Thanks for sharing your thoughts – it is always great to hear you express your point of view on myriad topics.

    • “I would implore you to worry less about where your life is going (career, level of education, money) and focus more about how you are living your life (living a life of Love). I know that may sound vague, and I know that you are certainly focused on Love … my point is that your commitment to Love will determine where your life is going. Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn’t focus any effort on a Master’s, contemplating the impact/influence of money, etc., but that these should be secondary; they should be responses to your ever-changing view on how life is to be lived.”

      Austin, I think you’ve called into focus the one piece that I wasn’t grasping as I wrote out my thoughts last night. Thanks. Too often I am so much focused on future decisions that I miss out on what I can do right now. And what I can do right now is focused on how I am loving those that I am in community with (a point that Stephanie made quite well).

  4. The type of living that Stephanie has pointed out is the type of living that I have always tried to follow. I’ve not always done well with it, but I see the need for it. Giving with no thought of reward has become more or less natural to me. I don’t say that out of pride- it was simply the way I grew up.

    I face a unique challenge, though, in the fact that I am in a business major. If I go into business and make a lot of money, I don’t think God sees that as any worse than giving away everything to the poor. God needs both the wealthy to give and the poor to receive. However, I will be grinding against the grain in how I handle that wealth. It’s my prayer I pass the test of prosperity as I have passed the test of poverty.

  5. Andrew, this is something that I have often struggled with, and is a major reason why I have no savings. I have always lived with the mantra of “God will provide”, and he ALWAYS has. No matter where he’s taken me or what has happened in my life, he’s always provided, and I’ve often been in the position to bless others with my bounty. If I have something I’m not using and someone else needs, I give it. If my bed’s empty for the night, I’d often find someone who needs a place to stay, I give rides, I make meals, I spend time, I work for little or no pay, I send clothes I don’t wear often to a friend who needs help making ends meet and doesn’t buy herself new clothes, I’ve gone online and paid to have hot food delivered to a friend who hadn’t eaten in 3 or 4 days. To me, this is just common sense living. I’m not listing off these things to toot my own horn, but to give examples of the many ways that GOD has been working to meet the needs of those around me. I agree with what Austin said about Love. These are ways that I have shown my love for God in my love for others and God has shown his love through me.

    It’s hard for me to balance what I give away and what I keep, and what extra I may have, if it goes towards paying down loans faster so I can give more later, or if it needs to be given now.

    Lately I’ve found myself in a position of having less than nothing to give, and not even being able to meet my own basic needs. But Just as God used me to meet others’ needs, he is now using others to meet my needs. And he’s helping me redefine what is a need and what is a want. When I suddenly had no roof over my head, he found me a place with a friend from church who needed a roommate. I had no bed, but a lady from church had an extra one in her guest room that wasn’t used very often, so I spent only a week sleeping on a sheet on the floor! I had no furniture, but I only spent 2 weeks living out of a suitcase because God had a plan in the works for over a year with the boss of a friend here who had put a dresser in storage specifically to be able to bless someone with it when the time was right! I’ve been given food left overs, grocery money, and taken out for meals, so I have yet to go hungry, though I’ve not had an income in over a month. He’s opening the doors to get me back into college this fall, so my loans should go into deferment for another year and help me worry a little bit less about money. My mom’s bond matured with one day to spare to keep my phone on (so I can stay connected to my parents and call on jobs), and pay one of my smaller student loans and my Care Credit. My dad got a load of scrap that he was able to haul to the recycler to give me enough to not default on my BIG student loan this month, and half of my rent. I was recruited by a friend who is giving me a ride to go to the plasma center on a regular basis, starting last night, so earn a small bit of money that way.

    GOD PROVIDES! He has *NEVER* failed to do so in my life, and he never will. I sure would like to know when he has it planned that I will get one of my many jobs I’ve applied for, or get a car (the reason two job offers were retracted), but I’m learning that where there is a willing and obedient and *HUMBLE* spirit, there is a way. As someone who is more used to being used to bless others, it has been a hard lesson to learn to bless others by letting others bless me.

    Going beyond the immediate goings on in my life, and moving towards the future, I’ve never planned to be wealthy or even “well off”. I know that no matter what God wants me to do, I will be taken care of and hopefully able to help him take care of others’ needs. But should I be reaching towards wealth to better be able to bless others? Am I settling for status quo by not having that be my goal? I’ve often wondered that, but I don’t have an answer.

    I think I’ve gotten a bit rambling there, but I hope my intention is clear. Maybe?

  6. To build off what Othella said above, I think it ultimately is less about the amount of money you have, and more about how tightly you hold to them.

    Now, there is something to be said for eschewing lavish living in general. More than something. But, in the end, is it better to have a five bedroom house with a revolving door for friends and people in need, or to live in a modest two bedroom and guard it tightly?

    You can be rich or you can be poor, and both bring with them their financial pitfalls. I have found that I can be just as arrogant in my poverty as anyone else can be in their wealth. But in either circumstance, do you know how to hold money loosely? Are you willing to give away, even when you lose a level of self-protection, or self-provision, in doing such? Can you graciously invite others in to share your home, be it grand or plain? Will you loan that car, or that bus pass, or cover that tab, or be willing to let a debt fade into forgetfulness?

    I don’t say that to dodge the retirement questions, or to let us off the hook about whether ten pairs of shoes is an unconscionably high number. It’s not a get of a jail free card. No, I actually think that if we play it through, that’s an incredibly high standard to hold ourselves to. “Freely you have received, freely give.” Matt 10:8

    Few interpretations of Scripture bug me more than when people use ‘God loves a cheerful giver’ as an excuse to give less when they can’t do it cheerfully. Look to the attitude first, and the actions will follow naturally.

    • Having just complained about one interpretation of scripture, I feel it’s only just that I acknowledge that the verse from Matthew I quoted isn’t actually about money, but about the Spirit. Nonetheless, I think that particularly as we DO so often consider what we have been given in terms of money, the principle holds. But, yes, even more so when it comes to all of the other blessings of God — deliverance, healing, forgiveness, love, compassion, and so forth.

    • Stephanie, I agree very much with you about the attitude with which something is given, and would also add with which it is received. If you don’t receive graciously, even though it be what you’ve “earned”, and with a generous heart, it seems to me as though it would be just as bad as being stingy or grudgingly giving of your bounty.

      I think a lot of it comes down to living by faith, and listening to the Holy Spirit’s guiding in your life. Specifically, learning to discern your own desires from God’s desires, which a person can easily choose to mistake. If you live with faith that God will supply all your needs, I believe that it will become clear how to save and how to give, and though you may lack in wants, you will not lack in needs.

      Maybe I’m wrong, but until I’m shown or convicted otherwise, this is how I strive to live my life.

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