I’ve always been a goal setter. Lately, though, I’ve been torn about how to set financial goals that don’t just point me toward making more money. If it’s wise for believers to set financial goals, how can we do that well?
First of all, I get you. I’m goal oriented too. Years ago, I was in a career that was recognition driven, with no limit to the amount of money I could make. I often struggled with the same tension you’re feeling now.
I still set goals, but as you hinted in your question, how I set goals looks different now. I hope these few principles are as helpful to you as they have been to me.
1. Set financial goals that grow your faith more than your bank account.
When I used to brainstorm my goals, the typical list of life areas I desired to cover included career, finances, family, health, service, and faith. I realize now that I’d already made the mistake that caused the tension.
By including my faith on the list, I somehow separated it from the other areas of life. But faith was never meant to be merely an addition to our lives. Faith should be our foundation. Rather than another line item on my list, it needed to be the underlying motivation for every category. As Jesus put it, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
That change is what determines whether our goals are godly or not—not making sure God is on the list, but allowing God’s truth to affect every single goal we pursue. The only growth that lasts is growing your faith. All we do should aim to grow our faith—including how we handle our finances.
2. Jesus never talked about money without a warning, so we should do the same.
Loving money is what’s evil (1 Tim. 6:10), so it’s possible to have money and be godly. But since money is a top competitor for our hearts, we should never consider financial gain without caution—not merely out of prudence, but because that’s how Jesus talked about it. Sixteen of Jesus’s 38 parables concern the handling of money and possessions. He neither insults nor praises the wealthy or the poor—but he consistently points to the truth that stuff can’t satisfy and only he can. If we get satisfied in our stuff, we won’t look to be satisfied in him.
The only growth that lasts is growing your faith.
Some of his strongest words on this are in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
God or money: we have to choose one to pursue with our thoughts, time, and efforts. This is the only time Jesus makes a distinction like this. If he took the time to say you cannot serve God and money, we shouldn’t attempt to live as if we can.
3. Set financial goals that are grounded in needs and generosity—not in wants and wealth.
Here are some common financial goals:
- Pay off your debt.
- Increase your income.
- Save for retirement.
- Go on a vacation.
- Upgrade your home or car.
While there’s certainly nothing evil about any of these, every goal boils down to wants and wealth. Nowhere does the Bible say you’re automatically evil if you accumulate money and stuff. But remember, Scripture does warn of the danger in pursuing money and stuff.
The Bible also offers more direction than merely advice to avoid the gray areas. God’s Word guides us to use our finances to cover needs and challenges us toward generosity. For example, in Acts 20:34, Paul references his tent-making work as his means of providing for his needs and the needs of those traveling with him.
Here are some examples of financial goals that lean toward needs and generosity:
- Set a budget for living expenses that’s less than your income.
- Sell or donate possessions you don’t need.
- Support a missionary.
- Annually increase your tithe percentage to your local church.
- Create a blessing line item in your budget so you can plan to meet the needs of others.
I mentioned this in She Works His Way, but as someone who loves how faith affects our work, I’m so curious about Paul’s life as a tent maker. Though we have many of his words recorded in the New Testament, we still don’t know much about this part of Paul’s life beyond it being the trade he used to provide for his missionary journeys and a tool he used to participate in people’s lives.
Doesn’t that give us enough about how we should view our work too?
I’m sure Paul made tents well so he’d have enough money to provide for his missionary journeys. I’m sure he found satisfaction in the work because that’s what God’s image-bearers do. I’m sure he wanted to love his neighbor-customers by providing them a quality tent.
But tent making wasn’t Paul’s identity. I doubt he gave much brain space to expanding his market or heart space to viewing other tent makers as competition. Making money as a tent maker got only the attention that was absolutely necessary, so the gospel could get his main attention.
Let’s aim for the same. Set financial goals rooted in needs and generosity that will grow your faith. Trust God for the rest.