The other day a friend—I’ll call him Bill—was telling me about the car he almost bought. Bill’s current ride is twelve years old. To put that into perspective, Bill pointed out he purchased the car three presidents ago—he’s owned it that long. In spite of its age, the 120,000+ miles, the crack in the windshield, and flaking leather seats which were peeling like weathered paint, he loved that car.
I can understand that sentiment. I’ve gotten attached to a few of my cars along the way.
In Bill’s case, even the juice and hot chocolate spills which artfully colored the backseats and carpet, the collection of prehistoric Cheerio’s wedged into the nooks and crannies where his kids sat, and an the occasional reluctance to start up in the morning didn’t diminish his affection for the car.
At the same time, Bill knew his work required him to have more reliable transportation so, as the story goes, he began noodling around eBay for a replacement. He stumbled on an awesome hunter green Pathfinder with four wheel drive—a must where he lives since the snow can pile up several feet in a flash. By all appearances it looked immaculate. Bill said it was a “one owner” with all of the bells and whistles and, best of all, the price was right.
That’s when Bill and his wife had “the talk.”
Their need for more dependable transportation was clear. They had found a wonderful option with a clear CarFax history. And getting the Pathfinder would give him peace of mind on his various road trips. Everything pointed toward buying the car. “Everything,” Bill said, “except for four pesky words my wife and I apply to all of our decisions—can we afford it?”
After combing through their budget, they concluded the answer was “No”—so they didn’t buy the car. Trust me, knowing Bill as I do, that was a tough call. As he spoke, I could see how the purchase was completely justified. But as Bill said, “Jim, I’ve learned that those four words can radically protect my family’s financial future.” It’s Bill’s belief, and I would have to concur, that far too often we make financial decisions using the wrong criteria. We buy stuff or sign up for activities because, well, we want to.
Bill gave several examples, such as the desire to put a daughter in ballet, a son in baseball, a musically-inclined child into piano lessons. He said those are all good things that would benefit our children. They’re not frivolous things; God knows those are wonderful opportunities for instruction and growth. But, as Bill pointed out, no matter how praiseworthy these things may be, you and I will end up in financial hot water if we fail to stop and ask “Can we afford it?”
Even as I write to relay this conversation to you, I can almost hear the protests . . . but Betsy really wants to take ballet and if she doesn’t take it this semester she’ll fall behind the others . . . but Bobby is so good at baseball and his team is counting on him . . . but I want my kids to learn piano while they’re still young . . . but if we built that addition on the house we’d have a wonderful place for our home Bible study group to meet . . . but, but, but . . .
Yes, that may all be true. But as Bill would ask, Can you afford it?
As I’ve thought about my conversation with Bill that afternoon, I believe there’s a spiritual dimension behind those four words. Consider this verse from the book of Philippians: “And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (4:19). Think about that for a moment. God will meet “all” of our “needs” . . . not necessarily all of our “wants.” He’s not a celestial vending machine who drops whatever we want into our lap.
Furthermore, God knows the desires of my heart as a father and husband. He knows the good things that I long to give my family. However, if God doesn’t provide the financial means for me to afford those items, then I’ve got to trust that He knows what’s best and, in turn, forgo the purchase. Using restraint and living within our means is a radical concept.
Here’s the kicker—and it might be a bit controversial. The thought strikes me that if I go ahead and acquire things which Jean and I cannot afford, even praiseworthy things, in effect we’re saying we know better than God regarding what is best for us. Ouch! Don’t rush past that thought.
How about you? Do you agree with Bill’s perspective? Or is that a bit too extreme? And, given the fact that the holidays are not too far off in the distance, how difficult or easy do you think it will be to make a habit of asking, “Can we afford it?”
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