Money/Spending: How Spending Problems Are Often Spiritual Problems

Pastor Jeff Struecker

This is the third and final week of this really short sermon series, where we’re just being really honest with each other about money. I’m going to set this up by telling you a true story about what the refrigerator looked like in my house when I was growing up. 

I grew up under really serious poverty. I lived in the ghetto. Actually I lived in trailer parks. But in trailer parks, you have the front of the trailer park close to the road where the “rich people” in live. And then you have the back side of the trailer park where the people in the front of the trailer park don’t go because it’s rough back there. I lived in the back of the trailer parks. We spent most of my childhood way below the poverty line, and most of my childhood, we grew up on government assistance for food.

We grew up on food stamps. In my house, the food stamps came around once a month. Usually, we’d buy groceries, and in (no exaggeration) one day, an entire gallon of milk was gone. It was the only day of the month that we would have milk in our house, and I was looking forward to and longing for milk so much, just me and my little sister, that as soon as my mother bought that gallon of milk, (literally before the sun went down), I would usually have drunk the entire gallon of milk. 

I knew that it was going to be the rest of the month before we had another gallon of milk, and to this day, I remember blowing through an entire gallon of milk almost every month on the first of the month, in one day. For those of you who live overseas, that’s almost four liters of a milk gone in a couple of hours. My mother would pull her hair out saying, “Why do you have to drink the entire gallon in one afternoon?!” The truth is, I had been looking forward to that gallon of milk and longing for it. And now that it’s in the house, I’m blowing through it as fast as I can. 

Then it dawned on me (and it took me a while to figure this one out… actually a a few years), I really didn’t have a milk problem when I was growing up. We didn’t really even have a money problem when I was growing up. For me, milk represented something more, something bigger, something much more significant. For me, milk represented living like everybody else that I saw on TV. 

So, when that gallon of milk showed up in the refrigerator, I blew through it as fast as I could, because I just wanted to live like all the people that I saw on TV. It wasn’t a milk problem; it was actually just a contentment problem. 

Today, in our third and our final sermon in this series, we’re just getting honest with each other about money. We’re going to talk about your checkbook, your debit card, and how people spend money. We’re just going to answer some really honest, really raw questions about money. 

Here’s what I want you to understand about people who blow through money like I went through milk, those who, as soon as the check shows up, they spend it all in one afternoon, and now they’re living basically hand-to-mouth for the rest of the week or for the rest of the month, waiting for the next check to show up. If that’s you, and you’re just blowing through the money as soon as it comes into your bank account, I want you to hear something. 

For a lot of people, money represents something much bigger. For a lot of us (and this was me), it wasn’t really a spending problem. Sometimes spending problems are really something deeper. They’re soul-level problems. Sometimes they’re not spending problems; they’re spiritual problems. We’re trying to satisfy a spiritual problem with a physical or a monetary purchase. It never ever works out that way. 

Spending problems are often spiritual problems. 

We’re going to look at a passage from the Bible, but in order to really understand what God is saying in Isaiah 55, I need to set this up a little bit for you. If you were to read in the gospel of John, when you get to John chapter 7, there is a really powerful moment in Jesus’s ministry that I think is lost on us because we didn’t grow up in Jesus’s culture. You see, in Jesus’s day, the people of God were supposed to come together three times a year for a festival. 

Everybody stopped work, traveled to the city of Jerusalem, and took part in these festivals. The Festival of Booths (or sometimes called the Feast of Tabernacles, or Shelters) was perhaps one of the most important of these three festivals. During this week-long celebration, every man in Israel was supposed to stop work and travel to Jerusalem and party for a week. It usually ended with an entire night of dancing.

Then early the next morning, on the final day, the final Sabbath of the Festival of Booths (or your Bible may call it the Feast of Tabernacles), there were these temporary shelters that reminded Israel about the temporary shelters that they lived in for 40 years in the desert when God delivered them from Egypt, from slavery. Early the next morning, when the sun was coming up at dawn, they would do a celebration, a ceremony, using water. 

The high priest would gather the people of Israel around after an entire night of singing and dancing, and he would pour out a drink offering of water in front of the people of Israel. He would say, “Your ancestors walked through the desert, and they were thirsty. When they were in need, God met their need. He made water come forward from a rock.” This festival would remind them of what happened many centuries earlier. 

John chapter 7 says Jesus attends this festival, and the morning that the priest is getting ready to pour out the water, Jesus stands on a rooftop (if there was such a thing) and shouts to the crowd, “Anyone who is thirsty, let them come and drink.” And everyone in that crowd (we may lose the significance) knew exactly what Jesus was talking about. When He stood up and said, “If you’re thirsty, I am the living water. I am the one who can satisfy you deep down inside. A glass of water will satisfy your thirst temporarily, but I will satisfy you eternally.” 

Everybody in that crowd knew what Jesus was saying because they were familiar with Isaiah chapter 55. I want you to just hear. Imagine you’re in the crowd listening as Jesus stands up and shouts these words, and you are thinking back to what the prophet Isaiah said many hundreds of years earlier in verses 1 and 2 when he says this: 

Isaiah 55:1-3 “Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water; and you without silver, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without silver and without cost! Why do you spend silver on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. Pay attention and come to me; listen, so that you will live. I will make a permanent covenant with you on the basis of the faithful kindnesses of David.

“Isaiah, how can I possibly buy something to drink or to eat if I don’t have any silver?” Well, he’s going to answer that question. “Come, buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without silver and without cost. It’s free, what I’m offering you.” God is saying (and then listen to these words), “Why do you spend your silver on what is not food and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choices of foods. Pay attention, and come to me. Listen so that you will live. I will make a permanent covenant with you on the basis of the faithful kindness of David.” 

When Jesus stood up and said, “Hey, come and drink. Come and eat,” everyone went back to Isaiah chapter 55. They heard that God would one day send a deliverer among the line of David, and they heard Jesus say, “I’m the one who can satisfy you. You don’t need silver ,and you don’t need a big checking account. I can satisfy you.” 

We’re not going to really do a dissection of these verses today. What I want to use is the idea of buying without money and being satisfied deep inside, something that water and food and possessions can’t do from you from Isaiah 55. I want to use this as the jumping off point to talk about your spending habits. What I’d like to ask you to do right here while you’re listening is to just right now, I want you to think about the way that you spend money. I want you to think about how much you spend. 

This is strictly between you and Jesus. I want you to think about what you spend it on. I want you to think about, when you spend that money, do you blow through it like I did through a gallon of milk? As soon as it comes in, man, it’s gone. But more than anything else, here’s what I want to ask you to do: Would you just think honestly examine your heart? This is a checking account checkup. Would you ask the question, “Why do I spend my money the way that I spend my money? Why does it go where it goes?”

When and how much and what you spend it on? Those are important questions, but not nearly as important as why you spend it on what you spend it on. Today, I just want us to get honest about our checking account or our debit card for a second. If you’re the kind of person that blows through money as soon as it comes in, and now you’re struggling for the rest of the month to figure out how you’re going to be able to make ends meet, or if something bad happens, you know you’re not ready for it, then I just want to give you a couple of principles that can help you prepare yourself so that you are financially ready and so that you’re getting your spending back under control. That’s really what I want to do. 

Okay, I’m about to use a bad word. That word is…budget. 

Ballin’ on a Budget

You see, for a lot of people, the word “budget” is a dirty word; it’s a bad word. We hate that word. What I want to help you do is figure out how you can live it up on a budget. I had to ask my children to help me out with this phrase, because I didn’t really understand it. I want to help you figure out today how you can be “ballin’ on a budget”, how you can live the good life and live on a budget. 

You see, living on a budget, it’s really the soil that your finances grow in. It doesn’t matter what seeds you plant in that soil, if the soil is bad, then the fruit that comes out of the soil is going to be bad. But when the soil is good, you can plant good stuff in there, and you’re going to get good results out of it. Well, I want you to think about a budget like that. I don’t want you to think about it like a bad word. You see, for a lot of people, when they hear the word “budget”, they start to think, “Oh, those are rules. Those are restrictions that keep me from having fun.” You’re thinking about the word “budget” all wrong. 

You see, what the word “budget” does is, it helps you plug fun into your calendar and plug fun into your checkbook. Budget helps you prepare for the future. If you want to buy a new house and be able to put the down payment on it, you prepare today by creating a budget. If you want to buy a new set of golf clubs, or maybe go on that luxury vacation, you prepare today by budgeting today so that when the time comes to buy that thing, you’ve got the money. 

Let’s say you want to go to the Super Bowl. You start to prepare today, because you know you can’t afford those tickets in 2021, so you prepare today for 2022’s Super Bowl. Budget just says, “I’m going to make sure that every dollar that comes into my checking account goes out where it’s supposed to go.” 

So what I want to challenge you to do today is, if you’re not one of these people, I want to ask you to continue to or consider starting a budget, a zero-balance budget. That means every single dollar has a place to go before it even shows up in your bank account. When you plan a budget, you tell those dollars where to go by preparing a budget. And when the money shows up into your checking account, you already know where that money’s supposed to go. 

I want to go have fun this month, so we’re going to budget some money to go have fun. And when the money comes in, I set a little bit over here to have fun, and a little bit over here to do this, and a little bit over there to pay that bill. And the dollars know where they’re supposed to go. If you don’t budget your money, the dollars don’t know where they’re supposed to go. I promise you, when they don’t know where they’re supposed to go, that money goes crazy and doesn’t go where you really want it to go. And at the end of the month you say, “Where did it all go?” 

If you’re struggling preparing a budget, I want to challenge you. If you haven’t gone through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, go through it. You can take the first 14 days totally free. If you hate it on the 14th day, then just cancel. But in the first 14 days, they are going to teach you how to create a budget and then how to start to live on that budget. It’s going to show you how you can be “ballin’ on a budget” … if you understand that phrase. 

Some of us, the way to get your spending under control and to do a checking account checkup is to say, “I need a budget because right now, where my money goes at the end of the month, I have no idea where it went. Part of it goes where it’s supposed to go, but the rest of it, I don’t even know where it went.” 

Here’s step number two. Maybe for some of you, it’s not a budget. Maybe for you, your spending is starting to get out of control because you’re struggling to just enjoy what you have. In the United States, most people in our country have an abundance, even those like me who grew up way below the poverty line. The way that we live in the United States compared to the way much of the rest of the world lives, people way below the poverty line, most of them don’t worry about shelter, don’t worry about clothing, and don’t worry about food (and by the way, have some heat in their houses and have a color TV with cable hooked up). 

That’s just not how a lot of people around the world live. If you’re blowing through money again and again and again every month, I want to ask you, is it because you don’t really enjoy the things that you have? Is it because of a lack of contentment? If I were to be honest with you, I can get myself financially out of control really fast, and I can do it over books. In fact, I used to say, “It’s not safe to turn me loose in a bookstore without adult supervision, because I can come out of there with a whole lot more books than I really need.” 

In fact, I should just stand up in front of you and confess to you all that I’m a book-a-holic. I keep adding more and more and more books to my library. And here’s the insanity of it: I keep adding more books to my library, and I can’t even get through the books that I already have. But then I find another book that I really want, and I add it to the library. All of a sudden, I’ve got shelves of books that I’m waiting to read while I’m adding more books to my library. I have more than 25,000 titles in my library, and most of them are digital.

I can’t read all of those in a lifetime, and I’ll still keep adding books to my library. What I’ve noticed is, when I add more and more books, it takes away a little of the enjoyment of the books that I do have, because now I’m looking forward to the next book while I’m already reading this book. When Amazon was just a bookseller, our family is probably the reason why Jeff Bezos is now a bajillionaire. -because of all of the books that we bought, because our family is a family that just absolutely loves books. 

By the way, I don’t read new books. I tend to buy books that are 100, 200, 300 years old. Those are the books that I really enjoy the most. They’re really, really hard to find and usually expensive.

When I keep adding more and more to my library, it takes away the enjoyment of some that I already have. I’m just being really honest with you. If you were honest with yourself, maybe you would have to say that for you, it’s not books. For you, it’s the latest tablet or cellphone. For you, it’s the latest gaming console. For you, it’s the latest fashion item. For you, it’s the latest vehicle. Maybe for you, it’s not books; maybe for you, it’s something else. 

In reality, my problem is not with books. My problem is a contentment problem. I looked this week at the top selling items in Amazon. The number one top selling digital purchase in Amazon this past week was a PlayStation 5 gift card. The number one physical item for sale in Amazon this past week was gel coloring pencils, not the kind of pencils that you take to school and you use in elementary school. These are coloring pencils that adults use for adult coloring books.

The number one electronic item that people bought on Amazon last week was the Amazon Echo Dot speaker. Do you want to know the number one article of clothing purchased in Amazon last week? It’s high-waisted yoga pants with tummy control; that’s the number one item on Amazon last week, and not one of those items is essential to survival. They’re all kind of, “I want to add to my library, to my technology, to my wardrobe” items. 

If you’re looking to those things to satisfy you, they’re really not going to fill you up inside. Maybe some of the purchases that we make, maybe some of our spending habits are getting out of control because we keep looking for the next thing to satisfy our thirst. We keep looking for the next thing to fill us up at the soul level, and that thing doesn’t satisfy our thirst. 

Oh, it does for just a second. Those “Madmen” advertising wizards in Wall Street know when you buy it, you feel good for a day or for a week or for a month, but then it starts to lose its significance. So you buy the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing… 

Enjoying What You Have

How do you get off of this crazy train? How do you break this cycle of spending to find enjoyment? Well, the answer is number two. It’s enjoying what you do have and finding contentment. Maybe you just need the Holy Spirit to help you enjoy what you do have instead of wanting something that you don’t have. Maybe for you, it’s not a spending problem. Maybe for you, it’s not even the item that you’re purchasing. Maybe for you like me with books, there’s a problem with your “wanter”. And in order to fix the spending habits, you have to fix the wanter first. And when the wanter is fixed, then the checking account and the purchases will fall into place.

For some people, the money just goes out the door, and they don’t know where it goes because they don’t have a budget. For others, you have plenty of things; you just don’t enjoy the things you have because you have a problem with contentment. But let’s say for you that you, your problems are bigger than a budget or contentment. Let’s say that you’re looking for and longing for money to do something for you, a technology, a gadget, a purchase to fill you up on the inside. Money has started to cross the line, and it’s started to become a spiritual problem. 

For those of you in this boat, here’s a pretty severe solution to this problem. Give some of that money away. Now listen, I’m not going to beg you to give that money to this church. I’m going to beg you to give it away to something worthy, because money has started to have a stronghold, it’s started to have a chokehold around your heart.

Giving From the Heart

If you want to break the chokehold that it has around your heart, one of the surest ways to do that is to start to give money away to something that gives nothing back. Give it away to something or to someone that cannot pay it back to you. And what you’re doing is, you’re causing your heart to stop thinking about you and thinking about what that money can do for you, and you start to think about what that money can do for somebody else. That’s why I call it “giving from the heart”. 

There are some people, even church people, who give money regularly. But let’s just be honest; they’re really grumpy and very much have a grudge about how much they give. The people who give generously, the people who give willingly often live their life without the stronghold of money having control over their heart. 

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Jeff, I’m afraid money may have control over my heart,” a solution (not the only solution, but often one of the most powerful solutions) is for you to give it away. I’m just going to say this to you. If you’re thinking, “Here it comes. That pastor’s going to ask me to give money to this church because I have heard 15 other pastors who are always asking for money and always asking me to give money to their church,” I’m just going to tell you, don’t give it to this church; give it to someone or to something else. Give it to someone who will advance the gospel with it, who will push back darkness and make a difference for Jesus’s Kingdom. 

You’re giving money away not for us; you’re giving some of your money away for you. It’s your way of reminding yourself every time you write that check, or every time you make that donation, “Money will not control me. Here’s my way of making sure money doesn’t control me, I’m going to give this away to someone or to something that can’t possibly give anything back in return. Money, you have no control over my heart.” 

Listen to what Timothy says: “It’s not money that is the root of all evil; it’s when money has your heart.” That’s right. It’s the love of money that becomes the root of all evil. If you’re honestly thinking to yourself, “Uh-oh, I think money may have my heart,” then give some of it away, give it away so that it doesn’t have control over your heart. 

When we talk about money, I can stand up in front of you, and I can just courageously talk honestly with you about money, because I realize most Christians don’t cheat on this area of their faith. Your money really does shout to the world what’s important to you. I mean, when it comes to the way that you spend your time and the way that you spend your money, it doesn’t really matter what you say you believe. The world can see what’s really important to you by where your time goes and where your money goes. I have no problem standing up and just talking honestly and boldly about money because this is one of God’s ways, I believe, the Holy Spirit’s ways, of just showing you what it looks like inside your heart.

If you’re struggling with letting some of that money go, then maybe today, the Holy Spirit is starting to speak to you and say, “Maybe you have a spiritual problem, not a spending problem.” In fact, the whole purpose of this sermon to wrap up this whole sermon series, is to just ask the question, “Who is King of your checking account? Is it you? Is it Amazon? Or is it Jesus?” 

If you are the King of your checking account, if the latest technology, or the newest book, or a gallon of milk is consuming your heart and your attention, then perhaps there’s a spiritual problem here. I promise you, when Jesus has control of your soul, it will be easy to give Him control of your checking account. It’s really hard to give Him control of your checking account before He has control of your soul.