Money is not a topic I normally enjoy talking about. More often than not, it’s an unwelcome reminder of how my earnings keep slipping through my fingers rather than piling up in my bank account. Can you relate? Sometimes, if we’re honest with ourselves, we have that love-hate relationship with money—it promises all kinds of possibilities, but it can also leave us feeling quite limited, depending on how much of it we have. Recently I plucked up the courage to read Scott Pape’s virally successful The Barefoot Investor about the management of personal finances. Initially, I expected it to be fairly tedious, based on my prejudice against the subject. But, to my pleasant surprise, I discovered instead that Pape actually had some pretty incredible insights on how to how to manage your wealth well.
The overriding principle running through the book is that it’s not about how much you have, but what you do with what you already have.
When we first encounter the idea or concept of managing wealth, or “stewardship”, in the Bible it’s in a garden with the first humans—Adam and Eve. Their first task and priority was to care for and protect the new world that God had made. The first book of the Bible, Genesis, gives us a glimpse into that conversation when it says, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). God just handed over the keys to Adam and Eve so they could manage, expand and exercise care over all that He had just created. They had not brought a single thing into existence—stewardship for them meant making use of all the things they already had. Pape echoes this reality, when he concludes that one can live quite a comfortable life on an average income—it has to do with resourcefulness and making use of what you have.
The first humans were encouraged to “be fruitful and increase”, which for them meant expanding their influence and progeny over the face of the earth. It involved the concept of being fruitful, an idea that’s easy to miss, because we have to ask ourselves what it even means.
Jesus told a story in the New Testament book of Matthew about a man who went on a faraway journey and entrusted his finances to the care of three of his servants. Two chose to invest the money so that, when the journeying master returned, he received back the money that belonged to him with added profit. One servant, however, kept the money safe, but never did anything productive (or fruitful) with it—he didn’t even put it in the bank to accrue interest. The story ends on these words: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 25:29). It’s not that any of the servants had nothing to invest; the difference between them was how they used what they had.
A tree gets its value by producing fruit; when it does we can say it’s a fruitful tree. The concept of being fruitful basically means to be producing or giving from what has been given to us. For example, people are increasingly raising awareness regarding the planet that we live on and the resources that we share. A few months back World Oceans Day was an opportunity to raise awareness and discussion around the very real threat that we face with the continual dumping of plastic into our oceans. This is one of many examples of the value of being good stewards—of managing well the resources with which we’ve been entrusted.
This planet doesn’t ultimately belong to us, because we did nothing to bring it into existence. Our own bodies and our personalities are a gift that we have received rather than created ourselves. And while I can work out to improve my health and look great, and spend time socialising with others who help me to be the best version of myself, I still did nothing to contribute to my existence. All I can do is make the most of the life that has been given to me. In fact, our families and friends, and all the aspects of our lives are, to a large extent, gifts that have been given to us.
The Bible says “you are not your own” (1 Corinthians 6:19) and encourages us to make the most of what we have. Yes, I’ve worked in order to build up my personal wealth and assets, but the time, talent and energy I’ve needed in order to get there were never fully in my control. Working towards personal financial goals is great, but am I still valuable based on who I was made to be rather than what I have, even if I lost it all?
Suddenly my horror of finances slipping through my fingers seems insignificant; I realise life is about more than the stuff I own or simply having more. It’s not about a past that was never fully in my control or a future that I’m yet to contribute to, it’s about the present.
Life is a gift and an opportunity to be exercised in showing others how awesome God is, because He is the one who gave it all in the first place. But He desires more: that our lives lived here may be lived “to the full” (John 10:10).
As I close The Barefoot Investor, I realise that life’s also about more than just the zeros that I am capable of accumulating in my bank account—it’s everything. It’s my life. And it’s all wrapped up in the present and what I choose to do here and now—what I choose to do with my health, my family, my relationships, my time and, yes, my money. Sure, money can help me towards some pretty cool goals. I can dream of the ideal holiday or home and eventually get there one day. What gives life its ultimate purpose and abundance though, is God and the betterment of the world and those around me. Not abundance for the purpose of getting more for myself.
Making the most of what I have in the present moment helps me realise the value of who I am. And what I have points me to the One who gave it all.
Maciej Kuberek is a pastor from Mackay, Queensland, where he lives with his wife Evie and sausage dog Hugo. Listen to his podcast interview with Kent Kingston above.