Christians often talk about the physical and the spiritual as if they are two separate realities—but they are connected. Being worn down physically has an adverse spiritual effect. When we are weakened by lack of sleep, illness, or hunger, it affects our spiritual outlook and ability to make wise decisions.
In the same way, we cannot compartmentalize our financial management from our spiritual life. Not only can we get a clear picture of our spiritual priorities from our financial habits, but the decisions we make with our resources also impacts our spiritual sensitivity.
While debt is not necessarily bad in itself, there are dangers associated with it. American consumer debt is out of control. In 2013, the average household in America owed $6,225 on credit cards. That number climbed to $7,378 in 2017.
As our debt grows, it impacts our ability to hear and respond to God in these four ways:
1. Debt makes us feel poorer than we are.
Pastor Mark Batterson said, “When God blesses you financially, don’t raise your standard of living. Raise your standard of giving.” That is difficult when you live in a culture that is always encouraging you to live beyond your means.
When we are struggling to make payments on debts we have accrued, it feels like we are scraping by. This can happen with people making six-figure incomes just as easily as someone who makes $60,000. The problem is that debt causes us to lose perspective on our real wealth.
You do not want to end up in a position where your financial perspective and God’s are entirely at odds. He may have blessed you with an income that allows you to bless others, and there is a problem if you leverage that income in a way that makes you feel impoverished. You never want to hear God say, “I blessed you so that you could be a blessing. You struggled because of the choices you made.”
2. Debt discourages generosity.
The natural consequence of always feeling financially strapped is that we do not have the breathing room necessary to be generous. Instead of feeling the joy of giving sacrificially, we find ourselves in a position of giving out of obligation and insufficiency.
Paul’s advice to, “owe one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8, ESV) is sound. Outstanding debt infringes upon our ability to give freely and openly.
3. Debt affects our view of God's provision.
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus encourages us to pray for our daily bread. In the same way that God daily distributed manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:1–36), Jesus encourages us to look to look for His daily provision in our lives. After all, God does not always provide everything in advance.
What happens if you already owe tomorrow’s allotment of bread to someone else? Suddenly God’s provision seems inadequate. We find ourselves having to ask God for twice as much bread tomorrow because of the decision we made yesterday. If God does not provide, it feels like He has let us down.
4. Debt can make obedience difficult.
Every Christian wants to be able to respond to promptings and conviction. If moved by a national or local tragedy, Christians want to give when they feel led. Debt can create dissonance. It is another factor that needs to be taken into account when you feel led to meet someone else’s need.
What happens when you are drawn to more dramatic changes? Imagine feeling a very distinct call to the mission field or to join a ministry where you need to raise your own support. No matter how badly you want to be obedient, you are still responsible to the credit card company, retail establishment, or bank that you owe money to.
Too much debt can become a chain that holds you in place and an impediment to following God’s call.
Becoming Debt Wise
In the 21st century, it is pretty difficult to avoid all debt. If you want to buy a house or a car, you will probably find yourself taking out a loan. You also end up with an asset that you can sell to alleviate most (if not all) of that debt.
You want to avoid using credit for things that lose their value once you own them, or at least pay your credit cards off monthly so that they do not accrue into a mountain of debt that limits your freedom and negatively impacts how you perceive your worth.
Do you find yourself in the position where you already have debt and you're wondering, Now what? The next steps would be to differentiate between the types of debt that you may have so you can make educated decisions on which are the top priorities to pay down.
Even if you are not in debt, it is good to be knowledgeable about the types there are overall. Growing your credit is just as important, and you will want to know what kind of debt will increase your score long-term.
Find out what it looks like Recognizing Good, Bad, and Toxic Debt.