Financial Survival For Christians, Part 5

Title: Financial Survival For Christians, Part 5

Text: 2 Kings 4:1-7

Time: July 20th, 2010

We’re continuing our study of God’s promises for financial survival. I’m still in the Old Testament story of Elisha the prophet and the widow woman because it contains so many examples and plenty of encouragement for people going through money problems. Today, I’ll continue drawing out helpful examples of how God provides for his people in times of need. I mentioned this before but I want to touch on it again, especially for those of us going through financial challenges – and who isn’t during this recession that has lasted now at least two years? It’s important we take stock and appreciate what we already have so that we know how to go forward to get what we need. I’ll explain further. Here’s the passage: 2 Kings 4:1-7, “The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.’ Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’ ‘Your servant has nothing there at all,’ she said, ‘except a little oil.’ Elisha said, ‘God around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.’ She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’ But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.’” The key verse today is, “Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’” Why is this verse so important? Because it draws our attention to an important principle in surviving financially tough times – know what you already have and use what you already have. In other words, before looking for more resources, utilize what resources you already possess. Why does this need mentioning? Because we all have a natural tendency to think we have no money or resources, but upon closer examination we find we do have some money and some resources. And it’s important that we use what we have, use what we find ourselves with already, use what God has already given us, before we go searching elsewhere. When we are operating under normal financial circumstances we might not feel the urgent need to take stock in what we already have because when things are going well we don’t have to count every penny and try to save every little bit to make it. We can afford to be a little more loose and casual about our financial income and our outgo. But when things get really financially tight, when it looks like we are in jeopardy of not paying our bills, when we are sinking deeper into debt or even when we are at risk of losing our house in foreclosure or losing our car or some other possession in repossession, then we need to be more careful with our finances. That starts by taking inventory and examining where we really stand financially, not guessing, but making a sober evaluation. Then we’ll know where we stand – and how far we have to go to make ends meet. Here are a few key questions to ask yourself as you enter financially challenging times. 

First, what is in your house, as far as money, sources of income and lines of credit? 2 Kings 4:2, “Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’” Are you working full or part time? Are you working occasionally? Ok, if so, what kind of income do you think you’ll be able to generate month-to-month? Ideally, you’ll be able to live on your full-time income, but sometimes not even that is possible in emergency situations, but at least you can get a pretty close figure as to what kind of income you can generate for the month. Let’s use monthly income because bills are usually paid every month, so that’s a good time period to use. Next, what other sources of income can you think might produce additional resources for the month? Finally, what kind of line of credit do you have currently? Figure bank credit, such as an overdraft protection accounts, possible home equity loan credit, or credit card accounts, for example. Believe it or not, people often overlook possible financial resources that are right under their nose. Elisha asked the widow woman an important question, “Tell me, what do you have in your house?” Or in other words, “What resources do you still have?” Now some people are really good at exploiting all their financial resources, and so this question won’t make much of a difference with them, but most people don’t have to think this way most of the time, so it forces most people to think differently and think carefully about their resources or at least what resources they have access to. It’s better, of course, to live off of one’s salary or earnings from a job, but if you’ve lost your job or some other emergency situation has occurred you may need to tap into a line of credit temporarily. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before you can begin again to rely on earned income from employment, but in the meantime, in order to survive financially, it’s helpful to have different lines of credit available. Some people are very strict about not borrowing or going into debt. That’s great if everything is working out as planned. There are financial advisors and planners who tell people to not go into debt – or if they do borrow, to only do so on items that go up in value. Well, that’s great advice for non-emergency situations, but if you need to pay bills each month rather than fall behind, you may need to borrow for a little while until things turn around. There’s nothing wrong with using this option just as long as it’s understood that it will be temporary, for emergency purposes. Most Americans do carry credit card debt, not even because of an emergency, so it’s true that we’ve grown casual about the use of debt; that isn’t good. But in any emergency situation, if you have limited cash resources and different lines of credit, there’s nothing wrong with using these resources in an emergency, within limits. It’s part of the answer to the question, “What is in your house?” So you find out how much cash you have coming in and how much credit you have available to draw upon in an emergency.

Second, what is in your house, as far as possessions of value that could be sold for cash? 2 Kings 4:2, “Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’” Now why did Elisha ask the poor widow woman about what she might have in her house? Because he wanted to know what she had to work with in going about solving her financial problem. That’s the same reason why we need to take inventory and determine what we have in our house – to help us establish where to begin in solving our financial challenge. How about starting with items that you’ve already purchased but haven’t used. Maybe they are still wrapped up in the same box unopened, or maybe they haven’t been used and they are just sitting on the shelf or in the closet someplace. Could anything you own be returned to the store you bought it for the refund? In our modern American economy we are all consumers, meaning, we are purchasers or buyers of many goods. We go to Wal-Mart and to the shopping mall. We go to Home Depot and all kinds of shops, stores, and markets. Are there things we’ve bought in the recent past that we haven’t used or haven’t even opened that we could take back for full refund? If so, let’s do it. Remember, we are trying to survive financially. This isn’t normal time. Under normal situations we’d probably not worry about taking anything back and we’d just let it sit unused on the shelf, but in tough times, when every penny counts, when every dollar saved can mean the difference between paying our bills and not paying them, we need to follow up on this. Go around your house or apartment and see if there aren’t things that could be returned, that you haven’t taken out of the box or bag. Some stores are very generous at returns, others are not. Some will not give you cash but rather store credit. Some require a receipt, others don’t. Since you weren’t planning on returning any of these items you may not have kept the receipt, if not, try returning the item anyway. Maybe they give you cash, maybe they won’t. But it’s worth a try. Anyway, maybe the refund in the form of store credit they give you instead of cash is something you can use to buy something you need in the store, something of higher priority than the thing you are returning. Finally, apart from returning items, there are things you can sell that you own that can generate cash for you in order to pay your bills. You’ll have to determine what you could sell, how you could sell it, and how much you can expect to get for it. There are many ways to sell things, but placing a want ad in the local paper is typical. What do you own that you could sell in your emergency financial situation? Extra furniture? An automobile? Electronic equipment? An extra computer? Jewelry? Collectible items? Take a look in the want ads and find out what other people are selling and the prices they are asking; that should give you an idea of what kind of items you own that could be sold. If you live in an apartment, look there and in any storage units you may have for sellable items. If you live in a house, go through it and determine what could be sold and how much you could raise in cash. Don’t count on getting top dollar, but anything descent would help. Elisha asked, “What do you have in your house?” Everyone with money troubles should ask the same question.

Third, what is in your house, as far as an expense that shouldn’t be there? 2 Kings 4:2, “Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’” Now this question is different from the first two because it’s not trying to determine what you have of value that could be sold for cash to help you pay your bills, rather, this question is forcing you to ask the tough question: “What am I spending money on currently that I don’t need and shouldn’t be wasting valuable resources on?” What is in your house that shouldn’t be? What is in your house that is wasting important financial resources better spent on other things? What is in your house that needs to go? What needs to be cut out of your budget? This is where tough and sometimes painful choices need to be made. It raises the issue again of wants versus needs. What is an essential need and what is merely a personal want? Praying to God to help you meet your needs is different from praying to God to meet your wants. The key promise in the Bible found in Philippians 4:19 deals with God meeting our needs not meeting all of our wants or desires. “And my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in heaven by Christ Jesus.” God promises to meet our needs, not our wants. Now in God’s goodness we are given more than our needs, we are often given our wants and the desires of our heart, but we are not guaranteed these extra things. An important part of going through a financial challenge is determining what can be cut and what can’t be cut out of the budget. In going through money troubles, there’s no question that there are things that have to be cut, probably many things. You need to answer the question, “What do you have in your house?” and then the additional question, “What things can be eliminated from your house that are costing too much?” And you can’t throw out kids! And you probably shouldn’t throw out a pet either!  But there are plenty of other expenses that can be gotten rid of. List all your expenses and ask yourself, “Is this thing absolutely necessary?” If not, cut it — at least temporary. For example, do you have Internet access? How much is that? $25-$50 per month? Cut it. You need to survive. You can always hook up later when your financial situation turns around. Cable TV or Satellite TV? Cut that too. Use a simple rabbit ear antenna to pull in free TV like everyone used to do, or if you can’t pull in any TV, live like people used to live only 50 years ago — use the radio; it’s free. Cut your expenses down to bear bone, as far as you need to go to eliminate any needless expense. “What do you have in your house?” Hopefully, only those things that are necessities. Survival means sacrifices. Be prepared to survive by sacrificing anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

One of the great ironies I’ve noticed in walking around Jamestown, NY is that even in the poorer sections of the city people still have a lot of clutter in and around their homes. I’ve often thought to myself, “If only these people would sell some of their “stuff” they could probably afford to make ends meet. I think a lot of times we find our lives cluttered with more and more stuff because that’s just what our consumer society teaches us to do. We are bombarded with commercial ads about what we need to buy so often that most of us begin to think that we really do need all that stuff when really we only need just a little bit of it; the rest is mostly a waste because it sits around barely used, eventually wearing out of its own. An important point that goes along with the same theme of this message is not only do we need to cut expenses that we find we don’t absolutely need, we also need to eliminate purchasing things to begin with that we don’t absolutely need – especially during financially hard times. That means we need to change our buying habits. We probably shouldn’t be eating out very often if we can’t pay our monthly bills. We should probably buy our food at the grocery store, or discount stores for bargain prices. We should be buying real food – not all kinds of sweets and “fun” food that has low nutritional value. That’s all a waste of money, money we don’t have! We shouldn’t be buying anything that isn’t absolutely essential. Can you eliminate wasteful spending? Do you have enough discipline to say “No” to something you’d normally buy, that you feel like buying even when you know you can’t afford it? During a financially challenging time it’s good to challenge yourself to buy only what you need. Don’t splurge, don’t waste a penny. Now for some people, they are so used to spending on whatever they want, whenever they want it, that this might seem cruel, mean. But it all comes down to this: do you want to make it financially or not? Do you want to be able to pay your bills each month and stay current, or do you want to fall behind? We’re talking about the difference between financially surviving and not. It’s the difference between making it and not. Yes, you could spend recklessly and buy low priority items, yes, and you could continue to spend like you normally do, but where will that get you? If you are really in financial trouble, that could bury you. It could bring you to bankruptcy. It could bring about a total financial collapse. Do you want that? Are you willing to accept that? If not, then make the cuts as necessary to allow you to make ends meet each month. And be willing to part with some of your possessions of value, your “stuff,” that could raise needed cash to pay bills. We have God’s promise to meet all our needs in life, but we have to work along with him in getting that done.

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