In the 2009 movie Taken, actor Liam Neeson plays the role of a retired Secret Service agent whose teenage daughter wants to travel to Europe with friends. The young woman needs her father’s permission to leave the country, and he remains adamant about her not going. After reluctantly giving in to the pressures of his ex-wife and daughter, the father consents to the trip, only to be called within hours of her arrival with the news of her abduction.
The plot reminds me of another story in which a child demanded to leave home only to find himself in dire straits that could have been avoided. We commonly refer to it as the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32). This fellow, who was accustomed to living well in his father’s house, ended up losing his inheritance, forced to feed pigs and sleeping on the ground.
The great tragedy of his story is that he was entirely responsible for his plight. His character splintered along the fault line of his own greed, impatience and entitlement. His life had become a living hell.
Too many people today live just like this young man—experiencing a hellish existence of their own making. When we live for things we cannot afford—willing to do just about anything to acquire more stuff—we’re already in hell. When we spend money we don’t have and don’t know when we are going to get, we’re already living in hell. When we go to work every day and cannot write a check without worrying about having sufficient funds to cover it, we’re living in hell.
Getting Out of Hell
If we are going to get out of our hell, we have to own the bad choices we’ve made and the current hole we’re in. It’s humbling, but so is having a car repossessed or losing a home to foreclosure.
If you are addicted to shopping, if you are living above your means, if you are wasting and losing money, tell the truth— tell it to yourself. This is how the prodigal son got out of his hell. After he honestly saw himself, then he spoke to himself: “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” (Luke 15:17, NIV).
This is how you get out of debt and financial hell—you must have a one-on-one talk with yourself. One way to begin this conversation with yourself is to compile a written list of everything you buy, everything you spend money on. Write down the cost of every newspaper, magazine, cup of coffee and breath mint. Think through what you spend and why you spend it in an average week—write down the full amount you spend for groceries and eating in restaurants, parking or taking the subway, fast food and dry cleaning.
With this kind of written evidence of your conversation, you will have answered the question: “Where does my money go?” You will see exactly where and how you are spending your money. Within a month you will be able to account for all your expenses and tell yourself what you need to change.
Our real challenge has less to do with controlling our money and more to do with personal discipline and controlling our lives. Our money is out of control because our lives are out of control.
Finding a New Way of Life
The prodigal son talked to himself and ultimately got out of hell. But then he submitted himself to his father. He realized that he had to go back to his father’s house.
To get out of our financial hell, we have to do what the prodigal son did and submit to a new system that can save us from ourselves. When I found myself living in financial hell, I had to submit to a new system, a new approach to living.
Giving the first 10 percent of our income to God—which Christians call tithing—is better understood as a key part of God’s system. Saving and investing the next 20 percent of our income—this too is part of this new financial system. Balancing our checkbooks and living within a budget—these are all part of the system. Gone is the reckless extravagance of buying what one does not need, spending what one does not have, and living with no financial system in place.
Jesus died to change the system. He died to change the way we deal with our enemies. He died to change the way we treat our neighbors. He died to change the way we treat our children. He died to change the way we treat our families. He died to change the way we treat ourselves. He died to change the way we treat our finances.
Turning away from ourselves, from our own extravagant pig troughs, and turning toward Jesus leads us out of slavery, out of hell. He came to set the captives free and heal us of more than our physical ailments. He came to deliver us from the hell we often create for ourselves.
As we follow the example of Christ and pursue our relationship with our Father, we can break the bondage of this lust for things and the anxiety that accompanies it. As Christians, we must replace our preoccupation with the material with the Messiah and redirect our pursuit of stuff with the pursuit of the Savior.
When we put our minds to it, set our actions in motion, and invest our complete faith in God, we can do more than resist the power of culture over us. We can experience the freedom and fulfillment that’s truly priceless.
Adapted from dfree: Breaking Free From Financial Slavery by DeForest B. Soaries Jr., copyright 2011. Published by Zondervan. Used by permission. No portion of this article may be copied or redistributed in any form. This book is available on Amazon.