It is very likely that you, reading this, are owner to some measure of debt. You probably took a loan to be able to attend university, a loan to invest in a business deal, borrowed money from a family member, found yourself in a situation where you felt like you had to capitalize on a time-sensitive opportunity that you did not have the cash on hand for, purchase a car for your job, or help pay a family member’s medical bills. The reality is that most people between the ages of 20 and 50 are unable to live at what society has said is an acceptable standard of living without miring themselves in debt. In some circumstances, the acquisition of debt is even considered a wise move. However, I’ve always had the “creeps” about acquiring any type of debt. I hate it. And I don’t want it. But I have it. I have been trapped by debt.
But before I tell you about my debt…
Yesterday morning my cousin, my mom, my sister and I, all Christians, sat at our kitchen counter discussing the merits and demerits of taking loans. We listed all of the reasons why people take loans: mortgages, student loans, vacations, funerals, graduations, and medical costs and we tried to evaluate the wisdom in each of these moves. At the end of it all my mom and my cousin argued for the wisdom of acquiring loans, while my sister and I argued about how greatly we believed the acquisition of loans to be a violation of wisdom. If Scripture is to be the decision maker on which end of the argument holds the most wisdom, it would most likely decide in favor of the argument stating that borrowing – taking out loans – is not necessarily wise.
So why do we do it anyway?
We Are Wired To The World’s System
Everywhere I go I say it as loudly and convincingly as possible, “I’m NEVER taking a loan in this lifetime again”. Every time I say it, people, many of them Christians, look at me like I’m absolutely off my rocker.
I am a 27 year old woman living on the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. Between student loans, and borrowing to make certain business ideas a possibility, I have found myself mired in $18,000USD in debt. My debt burden has found me unable to move as freely as I’d like, it has made me wary of pursuing certain opportunities that would be beneficial to me and it has hindered me in giving as freely as I’d like to.
No matter how spiritual any one of us is, our reality is that we live in a world that works in a particular way. A large part of what drives the economy of the world is premised on debt. Banks make a large part of their profits by lending and charging interest on the loans given. And even when one has cash on hand, there is need to manage it well in an arena where “cash is king”.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Romans 12:1 (NLT)
There is also being part of a culture that says that you’re not living and haven’t quite lived if you can’t afford to travel extensively, spend time at fancy hotels and eat at fancy restaurants. The culture also dictates strict time frames within which certain accomplishments must be attained: first car by 25, Masters’ Degree and even PhD by 30, and first house fully paid off by 35. These accomplishments usually require substantial monetary inputs that most 25, 30 and 35 year olds do not have on hand. Even in church, some of the messages we hear encourage us to give into a culture that calls for us to drive a certain type of car or wear a certain brand of clothing all in the name of being God’s children. Spiritual or not, Saved or not, when it comes to our dealings with our finances and our understanding of debt, we most often take counsel from the wise men of the world.
But what does God say about how we should manage our finances and what we should expect out of life?
We Lack Wisdom
People often cite “using wisdom” as a justification for miring themselves in debt. I’ve even heard distinctions made between “good debt” and “bad debt”. But seeing how Scripture references borrowing, it suggests otherwise.
Just as the rich rule the poor,
so the borrower is servant to the lender.
Proverbs 22:7 (NLT)
I don’t think there is a verse which more clearly states how debt and borrowing should be viewed. It is akin to slavery and servant hood. The borrower is shackled to the lender. No matter how well we think we’re managing our debt or how well we think we’re living, when debt is present, there is a freedom that is absent. Most people don’t see it that way. They see a loan as a stepping stone to success or as a means to harvesting opportunities.
From personal experience I’ve seen how loans have shackled me. I am at the mercy of the bank. Until I pay off all of my debt, the bank dictates that I stay in jobs that I don’t necessarily enjoy, that I take on projects that I wouldn’t necessarily want to work on, or that I demand payment for the things that I produce even though I sometimes want to give them away as gifts. Particularly if you take counsel from the Bible about how to deal with people, how to approach paying one’s debt off, you see that acquiring debt is always a limitation of freedom.
We Are Impatient Or Inflexible
Most times I look to incur additional debt, my behavior is the fruit of impatience or the lack of exploration and/or knowledge of other options and opportunities available to solve my problem.
For example, I did not incur debt for approximately 2/3 of my university education. However, during my final year, circumstances dictated that if I wanted to complete the degree that I would have to take a loan to complete it; or so I thought. At the time I was a 21 year old student, not particularly open to exploring or even knowledgeable about the options and paths available to complete my university degree without incurring debt and I went along with traditional counsel. “Just take a small loan. You’ll be employed after university and pay it off in no time”. Well… I’ll leave the story about unemployment for another blog post, but I will say that I was unemployed for quite a bit of time. Nothing worked in accordance with my expectations and I paid the price for my myopia.
We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.
Proverbs 16:9 (NLT)
In hindsight, there were cheaper options. I could have opted to complete some of my courses via an extension campus based in my home country. I could have even taken a semester off to work and then go back to Trinidad and Tobago to finish off the degree. There were other options besides me incurring debt. But I did.
I’ve also seen how my impatience with God’s plan or timing has led to me incurring debt. When I get an idea about a business, or an opportunity, I go at it full thrust. I want to see it happen NOW. Sometimes, I don’t have the finances to bring the vision into fruition NOW and so I borrow to make it happen. I’ve seen how society’s standards have pushed me to acquiring certain things within certain timelines, and I mire myself in debt to do so, sometimes not recognizing that God’s denial is a re-route or a salvation of purpose. As of June 1st, 2018, this will no longer be my modus operandi. Often times delays and road blocks are simply God’s way of saying, “No” or “Not yet”. I’m learning to trust that.
Ask yourself a question:
If you cannot afford to do something that God has laid upon your heart is it possible that the time isn’t NOW?
We Lack Trust
Answering the question above, I want to note that your inability to afford a particular leading does not mean that the time is not NOW. And no, I am not one to place God in a box, so I NEVER say Never. Still, based on the revelation of God’s heart, character and behavior as evidenced in his Word it is very likely that if he has directed you along a particular path that he won’t send you to borrow or take a loan to fulfill the vision. It defies the wisdom placed in his Word. It defies his modus operandi.
When the Lord commissioned the building of his Tabernacle, an offering was taken and the response was so great that Moses had to eventually ask people to stop bringing in things. There was more than enough. (Exodus 35:4 – 36:7). In a time of Famine he sent Elijah to a widowed woman and she fed him (1 Kings 17). The list goes on and on. In making provision for his will, and for his people, the Lord has NEVER sent anyone to borrow. He has sent people to give to the cause, but he has never sent people to borrow on behalf of the cause. As a matter of fact in blessing the children of Israel, he proclaims that you shall lend and not borrow, thereby suggesting that when one is positioned to borrow one is not necessarily positioned in a place of blessing.
So what do I do if the time is NOW but I can’t afford it?
Trust in the Lord’s provision.
A few days ago, I really stopped to take account of the Lord’s prayer: “Give us this day, our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). This is such a profound statement of trust, in prayer. It is a call to daily seek from God what we need as opposed to seeking from him today what we need for the next 5 years. I think this is an area where many Christians, myself included, have failed. Like the children of Israel who received manna, we seek to store up God’s provision when he seeks to teach us to daily seek him and depend on him; to trust him and his faithfulness in provision. In our lack of trust, we do unwise things: we borrow.
Counteracting this reason for incurring debt requires a radical faith. It requires a profound adherence to the wisdom of storing up treasures in heaven as opposed to treasures on earth. It requires a great rebuke of the World’s system and an adherence to God’s terms, in faith.
So Is Taking A Loan or Incurring Debt Always A Bad Thing?
Based on what you’ve read here you may be tempted to believe that I am saying that taking a loan or incurring any form of debt is always bad. I’m careful not to say that because I believe that debt is allowed and acknowledged in the Bible. Why else would we be given strict instructions about being integral in the repayment of our debt? Still, based on my interactions and understanding of Scripture and God’s heart for humanity, I am firm in my belief that borrowing, taking a loan or incurring debt is NEVER a path shrouded in wisdom; it is never God’s ideal for his people and it is NEVER encouraged. The borrower always loses, and sometimes even the lender does too.*bites nails*
I bite my nails because I shudder to tell anyone who is seeking to pave a better way forward or pay for necessary treatments for an ailing person or family member by acquiring debt that they shouldn’t. But in the name of wisdom, I will encourage them to explore and pursue other avenues towards achieving their desired aims and chiefly, to trust in, and depend on the Lord’s provision.
Escaping The Debt Trap
This is perhaps the longest blog post that I’ve written since I started blogging but it’s a necessary introduction for the journey that I’m about to take. In the next 6 months, I will seek to pay off $18,000USD in debt in full and I will share with you openly and willingly the ups and downs of the journey. I will be accountable to you. I will tell you how much I spent on food, and how much I spend on luxuries. I will provide Scriptural evidence for my reasoning and as support for certain avenues that I choose to pursue. Feel free to critique, to scold and to make suggestions about things you think I can do better as I Figure Out How To Manage My Finances – both productivity and generosity- in faith and on God’s terms.