Until faith in Christ was shown to us as the way of becoming right with God, we were guarded by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until we could put our faith in the coming Savior. Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God. But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. (Galatians 3:23-25)
As a CPA of 15 years, I can honestly say I love budgets! I get an extreme sense of satisfaction and confidence as I command my finances through the design and utilization of a financial plan. Sadly, I think I’m in the minority when it comes to this. Most people tend to dislike budgeting and planning. To them it feels cumbersome, confusing and restrictive. It highlights what they don’t have and what they can’t do with their money. For some, a budget can be downright paralyzing.
In Old Testament times, God gave the Jews the Law to teach them his ways and to keep them safe. The Law contained both wisdom and practicality. Not only did it provide the way in which to be made right with God (before Jesus came), it also contained everyday safety suggestions around how to handle food, how to keep living accommodations sanitary and how to keep communicable diseases at bay, just to name a few highlights. Based on this information you might think the Law meant life to the Jews who followed it, but you’d only be partially right. While the Law may have kept the people safe in a practical way, spiritually it was killing them.
In order to be considered “right” in the sight of the Lord during this time, you had to follow the letter of the law perfectly. It didn’t take long to figure out this was impossible. Paul says in Romans that the Law reveals our sin nature and draws on our sinful desires such that the things we don’t want to do, we wind up doing and the things we desire to do, we can’t quite make happen. And so while the Law itself is perfect and good, Paul contends that it is this Law which highlights the imperfections and flawed nature of humanity. No matter how hard we try, the Law can’t make us perfect because we cannot follow it perfectly. Enter Jesus Christ. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and he bought our righteousness when he went to the cross, died and rose again, conquering sin and death for all so we no longer need to strive to be perfect under the old Law. Jesus is enough.
So what does this tell us about employing different boundaries and standards around our money? For one thing it should drive home the fact that no budget, plan or set of goals, in and of itself, is going to keep you safe financially. Just as the Law itself could not compel a person to act rightly, no budget or financial tool can control a person when it comes to their money choices. The Law stood to educate and assist in making choices, keeping those who followed it in “protective custody” until Christ came to show a better way of becoming right with God. Similarly, a budget’s main function is to provide boundaries and limits to keep your money safe and to help you make wise decisions when employing your money. Just like the Law couldn’t provide people with the power to fulfill the Law, a budget can’t provide you with the power to stay on track financially. Jesus needed to fill the gap between the Law and a person’s ability to execute the Law. He needs to fill the gap between your budget and your ability to execute your budget.
When Christ is shown to us as the way of becoming right with God and when we invite him into our finances and make him Lord of our resources, he has the ability to help us make good choices. This doesn’t mean we don’t have to do anything practically to ensure our money works properly for us. Think back once again to the portions of the Old Testament law that spoke to practical issues like food preparation, sanitation and disease. If someone in those days chose not to follow those laws, they could find themselves in danger. Jesus didn’t supersede the Law. He fulfilled it. In the same way, Jesus doesn’t supersede the practical wisdom of using a budget to manage our money. He fulfills this type of practical wisdom by enabling us to live, by his Spirit, within its statutes. Our spirit is conformed and our mind is renewed in such a way that practical tools like budgeting no longer mean restriction and judgment to us. They are simply tools we use to help us make good choices with our money-choices that naturally flow out of our Christ filled heart.
Today’s activity will take a bit of time, but your effort will be worth it! The objective for today is to create a realistic budget you will be able to commit to and follow going forward. You’ll be using the Traditional Budget Template to create a realistic list of monthly income and expenses. This will be your starting point. You will then analyze and discuss the numbers to come to a balanced budget. Follow these steps to begin:
- Spend no more than 1 hour on this worksheet. If you can't figure a line item exactly, make the best guess you can and move on.
- Use bank and credit card statements from the last 60-90 days to create the most realistic MONTH of income and expense you can. We suggest you look back at least three months to insure completeness in your numbers (i.e. you only get your haircut once every three months and last month won’t show that expense)
- If your net number is an overflow, that's fine for the moment. You will resolve these issues in today’s Discussion.
- If you're married, do just one worksheet for the household. If you're not yet married (but you're planning to be soon), you can choose whether you'd like to do two separate worksheets or if you'd like to use this exercise to begin to formalize your joint budget.
Set aside about an hour today to discuss the preliminary budget data you’ve collected. First, if your preliminary budget shows more expense than income, now is the time to talk about whether expenses can be scaled back or income can be increased. If you cannot get to a point of balancing the budget at this point, take a look at all of your expense line items and rank them from highest priority to lowest priority.
Second, discuss whether each line item has been appropriately estimated and whether anything is missing or should be removed. Take time to discuss your purpose and vision and make sure that your budget is realistic based on how you’re made. If you have the gift of Evangelism, for instance, but have no line item in your budget for eating out or socializing, your budget may not be realistic. Evangelists generally have to be out in the community to do what they do, so having a line item for this type of social spending is probably a good idea. Likewise, if you have the gift of Hospitality and love to have people over for dinner, you really should have a grocery budget to do that. It needn’t be extravagant, but absence of this line in your budget would be unrealistic. Get the picture?
Third, discuss what sort of budget you will be following. Will you be using the Traditional Budget Template, the Sliding Budget Template or the Grid Budget Template? If you couldn’t reduce your expenses to balance your budget, use the Sliding Budget Template to set up your budget. This will allow you to account for overages in the slide section of the budget and will tell you how much income you have to make up in the month to balance your budget. Fill out your budget of choice.
Lastly, have a look at the final budget you’ve created. Discuss if there are any places you may have difficulty sticking to the budget. Talk about ways to make it work. Talk about how you will cope when it gets difficult to follow the budget (i.e. call a support person, step away from the numbers for a little bit, etc.). This final discussion section should be used to solidify your decision to use a budget, to identify any challenges you foresee having and to plan good responses to the identified challenges.
During your prayer time today, dedicate your budget to God. Ask for his help as you determine to follow it. Talk to him about any fears you have around using a budget and ask for strength and practical solutions to help you stick to it! Lastly, pray that he would bless and protect your cash flow.