A great piece of advice is, “do first things first”. The order in which we do things can mean success or failure.
Mathematics gives us a great example of this. With the equation 4 + 4 x 2 = x, you might think the answer is 16. You would be wrong, because math has certain laws (designed by God), one of which is PEMDAS, or (Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction). This is called the order of operations.
Under this law, we must perform multiplication before addition, so 4 x 2 is 8. Then we must do addition, so 4+8, is 12. When we don't follow the order of operations we get the wrong answer - even though we may think we are doing it right.
This concept directly applies to our finances. We tend to over-emphasize giving, saving, retirement, paying off debt, and our lifestyle, all of which are great, but that’s only the addition and subtraction side of the equation. These are simply the downstream outcomes of things we need to do first.
If we primarily focus on financial outcomes such as giving 10%, saving 15%, no debt and on track for retirement, it may lead us to a love of money as we tirelessly strive to get our finances "right".
God must be the ultimate love and desire of our hearts. Recall Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There is nothing we should treasure and love more than God and out of our love for God flows everything else.
We treasure God by spending time with Him, in His word, in prayer and in fellowship with other believers. It may look different for each of us, but we should all long for more of Him.
How do we know we are growing in our love for God? When we no longer desire the things of this world. Or as John Owen puts it "the things of the world lose their luster." When we set our heart and mind on Him our love for Him overflows into all of our financial decisions. Loving Him must be first and primary in our lives and when we do that, our financial decisions may look very different from the world.
C.S Lewis put it this way: “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”
When we love our neighbor, we see them, and we’re aware of their needs and we desire their ultimate good. We should pray for God to make us more aware of the needs of others. It’s easy to be so focused on our needs and those of our families that we put on blinders and don’t see the needs of those around us. A simple prayer might be, “God help me to see the needs of others and help me to love them and care for them through the power of your Holy Spirit.”
Many people in our world need material assistance, but let us also look to their spiritual needs, whether we’re helping personally, or by partnering with an organization to provide services around the world.
When it comes to the order of operations for our finances, our love for God has to come first. Our love for Him then overflows into a love for our neighbor and when we put these two commandments in their proper order in our lives, they will ultimately guide our financial decisions.
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