The first step toward changing your attitude about debt is realizing that debt is not normal, it is not healthy, and it is not God’s will for Christians to have consumer debt. Although debt is never strictly forbidden in the Bible, it is strongly discouraged and viewed as an unwise way to live.
Proverbs 22:7 says, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”
The Bible doesn’t pull any punches about debt. It doesn’t pretend that it’s any more normal to be in debt than it is to be in slavery. If you are in debt to a bank, a credit card agency, a person, or even the government, you work for them until the debt is paid back. Your personal freedom is limited by the fact that you owe money.
Proverbs 6:1-11 says, “My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have shaken hands in pledge for a stranger, you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth. So do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor’s hands: Go—to the point of exhaustion—and give your neighbor no rest! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler. Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest. How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”
Notice, that the Bible doesn’t consider getting out of debt optional. It considers it urgent.
It basically says, “Wake up. Do everything necessary to get out of the bondage you’ve gotten yourself into. Go to the point of exhaustion to free yourself before your debt destroys you! Don’t ignore it! Don’t pretend it doesn’t exist! Get up and do something about it!”
If you are a Christian who believes that the Bible is the inspired Word of God meant to be obeyed, then this is the attitude that you need to adopt concerning your debt. You need to start doing everything you can to eliminate it and live in financial freedom---NOW!
Here’s where we start getting practical. James 2:17-18 says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
When it comes to the topic of obeying the Bible and freeing ourselves from the bondage of debt, it isn’t enough to say “We believe this is the right thing to do.” We need to do it!
For this month’s practical challenge, here are some practical steps you can take to start overcoming your debt.
Step #1 Stop creating debt.
Making the decision to free yourself and your family from debt is like trying to save a sinking ship. It’s useless to keep bailing water from the boat without ever dealing with the hole that’s letting the water on board. First, you plug the hole that’s creating the problem, and then you start bailing yourself out. Otherwise, your efforts will be futile.
That’s why the first step in debt recovery is to stop creating debt. It’s time to stop spending and stop charging. Adopt the habit of spending only cash. If you don’t have the cash to purchase something, then you don’t really need it. Cut up the credit cards, close the line of credit at the bank, do whatever you need to do to stop adding to your debt today!
Step #2 Add up all your current debt.
It’s time to take a realistic look at your debt and find out exactly how much you owe. For this to work, you will need to include everything: mortgage payments, car payments, credit cards, consumer loans, school loans, home equity loans---everything. Write the full amount of each loan on a piece of paper, and then add it all together. This is the debt burden you are carrying.
This is an important point for all married couples: You need to reveal any secret or hidden debt. I wish I could say that we were the only family to ever experience the betrayal of one member keeping money secrets. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. In fact, it’s become so common the term “financial infidelity” has been coined to describe the practice. It’s destroying lives and marriages all over this country.
Step #3 Devise a plan to start paying off your debt.
Some people may be asking, “Why do I need to calculate my total debt?” The answer is so that after you overcome the shock you can start making a realistic plan to start eliminating your debt.
This was the step my Mom implemented almost immediately after finding out about my Dad’s debt. The entire family sat down together and my Dad revealed the total amount of our debt. We took all credit cards and cut them in pieces. Then we combined the amount of each card and got a Simple Interest Loan from the bank. We had one big amount to pay with one interest rate. That is how the Holy Spirit led us. His way for you may be different. Because we were obedient, God paid off our debt in 9 months.
Let me be clear: this may not be what works in your situation. I am not a financial advisor. I don’t know which plan will be best for you. What I do know is that you will need to make a plan and stick to it, it you want to get out of debt.
Proverbs 21:5 says, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”
Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
So where can you go to get help setting up a plan for debt repayment? I recommend that you go to Crown Ministries at www.crown.org. They have resources available to help you devise a personal plan to pay off your debt, including the Crown Money Map and Crown Money Map Coaches. If you need help finding a resource or you need them to recommend a financial counselor in your area, they can help with that, too. They are a credible, reliable ministry designed to help people obey God’s principles and move toward financial freedom.
Step #4 As you’re creating your debt elimination plan, don’t forget to seek the advice of the Holy Spirit.
James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
Remember, He knows your heart, your financial situation, and your future better than anyone. One of His chief roles is to be our Counselor and to reveal truth. He can guide you to the right resources, give you insights into your finances and spending habits, and show you ideas for how to save money and pay off your debts faster. Although it is important to seek godly counsel, this must be balanced with heart that is willing to listen and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit as He leads us.
Step #4 Make Debt Repayment A Top Priority.
Ultimately, you can make all the plans you want, but until you make sticking to your plan a top priority, your debt problem won’t be solved. For instance, the first step my Mom took in solving our debt crisis was developing a plan. Sticking to this plan required each member of our family to daily choose to make their spending choices according to the plan. Implementing our plan included:
Incorporating debt repayment into our budget.
Sacrificing to pay the debt off.
Looking into every possible avenue to save money or apply extra money to the debt.
Stop spending money on pleasure or entertainment until debt is repaid.
It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t tell you the truth about deciding to eliminate debt from your life. It is going to cost you. Your lifestyle is going to change dramatically---not forever---just until the debt is paid.
I remember my Mom used to say that we basically stopped living until our debt was paid off. We didn’t buy anything that wasn’t an absolute necessity. Our budget included paying our bills, buying food and necessities, and paying off our debt. There was no eating out. We stopped buying. The idea of a vacation or any entertainment was out of the question. All money that didn’t need to pay bills was directed toward debt repayment.
Not only did we stop spending, but we started selling. We sold anything and everything we didn’t need and put this money on the debt.
Reality is that it wasn’t easy. We had to streamline everything looking for ways to save money. The important thing to remember while you’re going through this is that this is only a time in your life. It will not be permanent. If you stop using credit, develop a plan, and commit yourself to sticking to it, there will come a day when your debt will be paid in full. After that happens, you will be able to start living normally again---not overspending, but living normally.
Although I have to warn you, it will be a new normal. It will be normal without the worry, stress, guilt and fear that accompany debt. Along the way, you’ll have picked up some new spending habits which will help you look at money more realistically, live a little less materialistically, and teach you that you can be happy with less.
The day my Mom opened that letter telling us about my Dad’s secret debt was one of the worst days of my life. But the truth is: we survived it. Even more importantly, because of my Mom’s commitment to following God and obeying Biblical principles, we were able to pay off our debt and start living debt free from that point forward.
If you find yourself today looking at a mountain of debt saying, “There’s no way we’ll ever get through this,” I want you to know there is hope. Don’t be afraid—be obedient to God’s Word and start doing something about your debt.
Remember, you can do all things through Christ Who gives you strength. (Phil 4:13) You can do this. Your family can do this. We did it, and we’re just your average American family who loves God and is committed to following Him. Take courage from our story and follow our lead. You can live debt free!
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