Sunday, February 23, 2014
Shabat Thoughts: Biblically Frugal
Several years ago, when the mailbox was filled with bills every day except Sunday, I wailed to John , "One day I want to walk to the mailbox and not find it full of bills!" It seemed we were always struggling to keep up with what we owed. Want and lack were always the order of the day, as was complaining and whining.
Eventually the verses in my Bible began to sink in. God never meant for us to spend our days whining and complaining. Instead we should spend them in gratitude and joy and praise...and coughing that up when you can't see your way through the day's needs is quite a stretch, let me tell you!
As we paid bills one night, John told me that he had a vision of us being debt free and he was certain it was God's desire for us. Nothing looked any more impossible to me than being debt free. We'd spent years pinching and scraping and struggling just to keep up with the bills. We began to study every Bible verse that seemed to relate to our financial lives.
Oddly the first verses I came across spoke of lining up my words with what I wanted to learn to produce in my life (Proverbs18:20-21 A person's belly is filled with the fruit of his mouth; with what his lips produce will he be filled. The tongue has the power of life and death; those who indulge it must eat its fruit). I began to keep a gratitude journal on a daily basis. I found as time went on that many of the things I was most thankful for were not monetary based. How could I place a financial value on things like my children giving hugs, or an incredibly blue sky? It also helped me to realize that almost daily there were especial blessings in my house that did relate to our financial status: gifts of food items, found money, a hand me down item of clothing that perfectly suited an immediate need, gas mileage that exceeded our expectation, an unexpected reduction in a bill.
I learned that God should be honored FIRST. That meant the first portions of all income that came into our home was given to God. Tithing is a hard principle to grasp when you cannot make ends meet with all the income at your disposal. It is backwards from our human understanding of how money should work. I thought if I give God 10% of my income then I have a shortfall of 10%. If I give God 10% of what comes out before taxes, then I have about 65-70% of my income left for my use. That was the way I looked at it then. But God's ways are not ours. I say this sincerely: I have never, since tithing, not had enough to pay my bills, put food on the table, meet every unplanned need. When a pastor we were under said that God would bless us on what we gave whether it was from the net or gross amounts, John and I, having practiced and seen the result of a net blessing decided to give 10% of our gross (that's before tax) income. Essentially we said to God that we trusted Him more than we did our government (who gets a lot bigger portion of our pay by the way!). Proverbs 3:9-10Honor Adonai with your wealth and with the first fruits of all (note it says ALL)your income. Then your granaries will be filled and your vats overflow with new wine.
As I continued to look for Biblical references I found that often the verses were subtle but appropriate. In Isaiah 30:14: "...and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel that is smashed so ruthlessly that among its fragments not a shard is found with which to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern." (NEV). I gleaned from this verse that even a broken pot had it's usefulness as a hearth or kitchen tool. It seemed to me to embody the very principle of the adage so many of us frugal folk live by: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. I took these verses to heart and really began to rethink what I did with the items in my household that appeared to have outlived their usefulness.
When Ruth went out to glean the fields of wheat, I learned what foods we could forage from the wild here on our property (pecans, blackberries, plums, dandelion greens if I chose) and just as she took the leftovers of her meal home to Naomi at the end of the day, I learned to gratefully accept the extras that were given to me and made sure they were used in our meal plan. For two years running, I made up nearly half our property taxes from selling the pecans from the tree in our backyard. One pecan tree = half our property taxes. The blackberries provided jelly, fruit for cereal and pies. The fruit was FREE and cost me nothing other than the time it took to pick (and a few scratches, ant bites and the occasional bit of sunburn, lol).
In the New Testament, when Jesus feeds the crowds who gathered with just a few loaves and fishes, one interpretation of the scripture refers to the disciples gathering up the leftovers so that nothing should be 'lost' or wasted. I learned to gather up my leftover foods in one basket in the fridge so that I could really work to incorporate them into our menu plan each week and reduce our waste. I also learned to plan meals so that the fresh produce and fruits we bought each pay period would all be eaten.
Many women have said that the Proverb 31 Woman is merely an ideal for women to strive for, but not at all attainable. I certainly haven't reached the standards set in those verses but I do glean a lot of information about what she did to make her household profitable. She didn't waste time nor goods. She was mindful of the needs of her household and worked to provide them (Proverbs 31:13 says 'willingly' works with her hands in one interpretation) and describes how she 'orders her servants'...We might think we haven't any servants but just as this woman ordered her servant girls, we can learn to operate properly the servants we have: washer, dryer, dishwasher, vacuum, sewing machine, etc. in order to save time and money.
Proverbs 27:23-27 shares the principle of good stewardship. In this instance it's livestock but the ideals within those verses can be applied to your wardrobe, home, car, furnishings, or any piece of equipment.
We are to pray about every thing...and I soon learned that I had the most successful shopping days when I took time to pray over my list of needs before I left home. I still pray over my list each pay period. "Show me unadvertised bargains, remind me of what I've forgotten to add to my list, show me where you want me to shop and which items I should leave off entirely. Help me to be mindful of my budget and my pantry needs."
I prayed for wisdom in my household dealings. I believe it is because I prayed that prayer that God introduced me to a group of women who wrote blogs that provided me with knowledge beyond my own, women who had learned to save money in areas I'd never before considered, women who were supportive of my walk along the uncommon path of financial freedom.
But most of all I learned to trust God as we walked this path to financial freedom. Worrying and fretting is a habit that can be broken just as it was made. Matthew 6:25-34 is an oft quoted passage about financial peace. It begins,"Therefore I tell you, don't worry about your life--what you will eat or drink..." Practice makes perfect when it comes to breaking the worry habit. I used a visualization tool that was given to me when I first began trying to break the worry habit. I had been praying about a heavy financial worry and I felt as though a burden were lifted away. The very moment my mind decided to take up that worry again I'd get deep pain in my shoulder. I'd pray and the pain would go away. I'd worry and the pain would return. I finally realized that God was showing me when He carried my worries, they didn't weigh me down, but that if I carried them, they were painful!
We did realize John's vision of being debt free eventually. We did take a personal loan out when we had to purchase a car a couple of years ago, but we held hard to the idea of being as free of debt. We worked diligently to pay off the loan quickly and this month we managed that. Each time we made a payment on that bill, we prayed over it to be paid off. Never at any point in the time we were making payments did we merely pay the minimum amount due. There was always something extra we could apply to it, whether it was a small windfall of cash or a reduction in another bill amount that allotted us extra.
I know that the world tells us debt is normal. I know how overwhelming it is to look at a stack of bills and think there's no end in sight. I know what it looks like from inside the walls of debt. I know how impossible it seems to ever be free, but there is a wealth of wisdom in our Bibles that will show us the way to freedom if we only look for it.