“Just follow your heart.”
It’s the stuff that Disney movies are made of. It’s about actualizing yourself and your potential; it’s about living your dreams; it’s about living happily ever after. It’s also a terrible piece of advice. That’s because I can’t trust my own heart. And neither can you.
If it’s happened once, it’s happened a thousand times to me. I do something, something (dare I say) good for someone else, and then in retrospect find that I didn’t really do that thing for them, but for myself. It was so that others would see me doing it. It was to garner praise from the person I was helping. It was to impressively display my aptitude or compassion for another. It happens all the time. And every time it happens, I’m reminded of that same fact which is in equal parts true and disturbing:
I cannot trust my own heart.
The prophet Jeremiah knew that truth, experienced that truth, and summarized that truth like this:
“The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable–who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:6).
Can we trust ourselves? Heavens no – we don’t even really know ourselves. And that lack of self-knowledge can go both ways. Sometimes we dramatically underestimate ourselves. We think too little of our faith, courage, resolve, or abilities and therefore never really take a chance or risk. And then sometimes we dramatically overestimate ourselves and end up underdelivering on those same qualities. Somehow, we have to stand in the middle of those things – to not think too highly or too lowly of ourselves. To see ourselves, as Paul tells us, with “sober judgment”:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you (Romans 12:3).
One of the specific areas of our lives that ought to be influenced with that sober self-judgment is our approach to money. And this is a topic we should think very carefully about for a number of reasons:
- Money is dangerous – the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6:10-12).
- Money is the primary competitor to God in our hearts (Matt 6:24).
- The way we approach money will tell the truth about what we supremely value (Matt 6:19-21).
Fortunately, the book of Proverbs gives us wise counsel about how we should approach money. And it does so with a sober judgment of ourselves in mind:
Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God (Prov 30:7-9).
As Christians, we tend to be at least a little familiar with what the Bible says about money. We know that it can be dangerous; we know it can be an impediment to our spiritual growth; we know that it can easily become idolatrous. And yet we tend to think of ourselves as being above those dangers. Or at least that those are dangers we are willing to take on if it means more disposable income!
At the same time, we also live in a world in which making, spending, saving, and giving money is not an option. Everything we do and need costs money, and furthermore, the Bible is pretty harsh on those who do not provide for their families. People like that are, in Paul’s words, “worse than unbelievers” (1 Tim 5:8).
That’s why Proverbs 30 is so beautifully balanced. It recognizes the reality that we need money, and it recognizes the danger that money presents. And so the prayer is founded in a sober estimation of oneself – don’t give me too much, and don’t give me too little. Because I might be prone to sin in either case.
In the end, this is the prayer of faith when it comes to money. It is a prayer that acknowledges that inasmuch as we don’t know ourselves, God does. And He knows what we can – and cannot – handle. And so we entrust this issue, along with everything else, to Him.