Nathan was an outstanding student. He was involved in sports, a fraternity, a part-time job, and even Bible study. He mentored guys on campus and spent time with internationals. Upon graduation, he wanted to do something incredible with his life. He wanted to be a missionary. One thing stood in his way: $25,000 in student loans.
Some people are fortunate to be debt-free. For most, debt seems synonymous with the American lifestyle. Debt is spending money you don’t have. Biblically, Christians are to be channels of blessings. Psalms says, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us” (67:1). This is not a psalm about simply receiving God’s blessings. We must ask why God wants to bless us? The psalm continues, “That your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations” (v. 2). Everything God does is focused on bringing Him glory, even when He blesses us. We must ask ourselves, “How am I stewarding God’s blessings?”
The Threat of Debt
The majority of people walk a fine line regarding debt. For Christians the stakes are high. It is a major obstacle to fulfilling the Great Commission. It affects how much we give and whether we are free to go. I’m not able to step out in faith when I am miles deep in debt. It can sideline you from ministry. It’s an issue for anyone desiring to play a role in world evangelization, regardless of geography or vocation. The simple reality is consumer debt is a threat greater than we imagine. One financial adviser observed, “I have known people who have not been able to go on the mission field because of debt. Going is their intention, but unfortunately life happens. They start off working hard to get the loan paid off, but end up with more obligations and ties as time rolls on.”1
Ralph Winter, founder of the US Center for World Mission, said, “Most evangelical families are so terribly in debt that there’s no possibility they will change their pattern of consumption in any significant way.”12 We have managed to make debt look normal, even appealing. However, Scripture clearly warns about debt: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave” (Prov. 22:7, nasb). Slavery might be a strong term, but a slave has no freedom. Debt robs you of your freedom. A slave is tied to his master the same as a borrower is bound to his debt. Debt will own you. Your free time will be gone to second and third jobs. It will command your family and ministry time. A master rules over a slave like debt rules over the debtor. Once we see our debt robs us of freedom, we begin to see the seriousness of it. Our tendency is to buy everything with borrowed money. Spending money you don’t have on clothes and vacations, gadgets and grills, has made debt a way of life.
Are You Healthy?
The best way to stay out of debt is to not spend money you don’t have. Simple principle. Hard to follow. There are times it is appropriate to borrow money. Here is a principle to consider. There are two types of debt: healthy and unhealthy. Instead of trying to prescribe what is good and bad, it is more helpful to describe examples:
Healthy: Going to college and taking out some student loans.
Unhealthy: Taking out student loans and using money to buy stuff. Then dropping out of college.
Healthy: Taking on a mortgage for a home within your income range.
Unhealthy: Buying a house and not having adequate income.
Healthy: Using a credit card with a reasonable interest rate to pay for items you budget.
Unhealthy: Always needing the latest gadgets, so you charge them with money you don’t have.
For a deeper heart check, here is some helpful advice to serve as a guideline for making purchases:
1. Ask yourself, “What are my motives in buying this product?” If you are trying to keep in step with the latest fashion or improve your self-esteem, maybe that purchase isn’t the best idea.
2. Wait and pray forty-eight hours. If at all possible, wait before making a purchase to avoid impulse buying. The larger the investment, the longer we need to think about the purchase.
3. Seek counsel before you purchase. If you are married, ask your spouse. Go to someone you respect for the way they spend their money and ask them if it is a wise purchase.
4. Stay away from plastic! Have a healthy fear of credit cards. They are dangerous because of the fine print and lack of accountability. If you absolutely need a card for purchases, use a debit card. The scary part is the more we use a card, the easier it is to purchase things. Because we don’t actually see the money leaving our pocket, we don’t feel the emotion like we do with cash.
5. For the recent graduate, don’t try to mimic well-established, older people. The way they are living their life is a product of many years of income and sacrifices. Very few people will have a stable, affluent lifestyle directly out of college. Don’t pretend to be the exception. Pretending in the real world with real money and real consequences is a recipe for disaster.
Debt is not the end of the world. If you have debt, don’t be dismayed. Get accountability and realize there is hope. Live within your means and develop a plan to get out of debt. You will need to sacrifice temporary pleasures and discipline yourself for the long-term goal.
By Josh Cooper