I've been thinking about money. This is not so surprising for me at this time of year. I work in a school system that I value highly and enjoy. My colleagues from one end of the district to another are wonderful. Some of those are the people in Payroll. Our tradition is that we conclude the first half of the year before Christmas and we enjoy a long break from school, coming back the first week of January. In order to ease the Christmas giving frenzy, the payroll people work in a frenzy themselves to get our paychecks to us before Christmas instead of the last day of the month like usual. We're paid monthly.
This year we were paid December 18 and we will be paid again on January 31. So we will go six weeks between paychecks, and that is a stretch for anyone.
I am paid almost exactly enough to get by, with little to no surplus month to month. The job itself is a complete blessing. I work with kindergarten children as a teacher aide (now called para-professional.) It fulfills me professionally, because it gives me joy to be with children. It is clean, inside work. Ha, I've worked outside before and in very dirty jobs, and this is better, even when a five-year-old throws up on me. It is way better than picking the worms out of freshly caught cod in a freezing fish factory in Maine, which is what I did to pay the rent during college. Among other jobs. My school job also comes with health care benefits, which is a relief, not having had coverage for many years and whistling past the graveyard by on a promise and a prayer.
So the job has many benefits if not being cushy in the paycheck department. I was musing about this over the past week. I'm ending the month in very good shape. Projecting 6 weeks out is a hard things to do but I'm coming in for a precise landing and tomorrow when my paycheck arrives I'll not have wanted for anything. It takes discipline, self-denial, and constant prayer to make it through to the end of the month.
In the end I'm glad that my financial life is this way, I decided. My discipline flows from a relaxed reliance on the promise of God to provide for us. If I had more money I know I'd become spendthrift. I tend toward greed and selfishness. So with more, I'd turn to God less and I know I'd start to be greedy and selfish. I'd also begin to believe satan's propaganda that my comforts were self-acquired. I fear Him enough to know that when I get a glimpse of self-awareness, it's not a pretty picture, and to look back at Him.
I like turning to the scriptures to feed myself even if the fridge isn't stocked with everything I ever wanted. I know that it is HIM sustaining me. What a comfort.
Am I going to sing "In Christ Alone but send a few dollars extra just in case"? Am I going to pray, "I Need Thee Every Hour, except a bit of a cushion would be nice"? Or, proclaim, " 'Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus and my wallet"? What does it mean to sing, pray, speak, and think these things? It means what it means, trust Jesus to provide. Why do we sing "Trust and Obey" on Sunday and then go home and stress about finances on Monday?
So I was pondering these things. It'd good for me to live this way. Maybe other people can handle more money or more of a cushion, but the Lord knows, I can't. I'm blessed.
I decided to do some cooking and listen to Phil Johnson's latest sermon while chopping. His sermon is called "Not So Radical" and it is a message he is preaching through the Psalms of Ascents. He is up to Psalm 128.
Pastor Johnson explained that the psalms of ascents were songs the Israelites would sing on the way to Jerusalem. No matter what direction you approached Jerusalem from, and mostly the only way to go was the Jericho road, was uphill. You hiked. You climbed. You sweated. It was 3400 arduous feet uphill all the way. You did this three times a year. Grandma had to be carried in a cart drawn by an ox. The rest just hiked. These songs were songs they would sing in praise and anticipation of the worship festival to come, and would remind them of Who they were going to worship in the coming days.
Psalm 128:5 states the following:
"The LORD bless you from Zion! May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!"
Pr. Johnson looped back to verse 1 which opens with a message about how fearing the LORD brings blessing. He said,
"We don't hear enough about holy fear these days. Modern preachers like to encourage familiarity rather than fear, and that's why so much of today's worship is casual, flippant, man-centered. But Scripture is full of admonitions to fear the Lord. For many today, that is an unfamiliar concept."
Then he moved into explaining prosperity and blessing.
"The word prosperity here in our text speaks of the biblical concept of divine blessing, spiritual affluence, and material sufficiency. This kind of prosperity has nothing whatsoever to do with the worldly idea of mammon. The world's idea of prosperity is overabundance, opulence, luxury, self-indulgence--all dependent on material wealth. The Lord's definition of prosperity (by contrast) is full forgiveness, the imputation of perfect righteousness, and "grace to help in time of need"--all blessings of eternal value.
"Sometimes the Lord's supply seems meager, but it is always sufficient. He measures his blessings carefully, so that a glut of earthly prosperity doesn't extinguish our hope of heaven. And even that is a great blessing."
Sometimes the Lord blesses by sustaining with a large cushion, as He did with Job and Abraham. Sometimes the Lord blesses by sustaining exactly, as He does with me and perhaps with you. The Lord takes care of us financially and He takes care of us spiritually. What may seem meager is in truth perfection. I wouldn't make the trade for anything.
"Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all." (Matthew 6:31-32)
"So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” (Genesis 22:14)
For further reading:
Phil Johnson: Not So Radical
(if the link still isn't working yet listen here at sermon audio)
9 Marks: Trusting God Through Unemployment
Our Daily Bread: God provides...but how?
Pastor Rick Henderson: The False Promise of the Prosperity Gospel: Why I Called Out Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer
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