By Aaron and Jennifer Smith
A survey done by Ramsey Solutions published in February 2018 reported that money is the number one issue married couples argue about. We have definitely had our moments of arguing about money problems. However, as God transformed our hearts and minds toward money, not only did we get out of debt, but the contention around our finances drastically declined. We strongly believe having a healthy, biblical view of finances and being willing to embrace God’s perspective on debt and money is a significant part of pursuing a marriage after God.
Years before we started our online ministries or wrote any books, we were just a young couple trying to figure out how to survive. When we received the notification that we would have to start paying a set amount every month to the school loan, we were living in a back house on a friend’s property in the Thousand Islands area of Eastern Canada. We had only been there a few months, with an indefinite plan to help our friends start a nonprofit organization. It was an exciting project with the goal of raising awareness and funds to pave roads in Africa so that rural villages could have access to the well-drilling equipment needed to get clean water. We had the added benefit of working and living next to a beautiful river. Even though this new adventure was peaceful, appealing, and spiritually rewarding, we found ourselves battling growing bitterness toward each other because of our intimacy issues, with the now added pressures of my school loan payment coming due.
Before long, several more obstacles made us question whether we should stay in Canada. We couldn’t get jobs where we were living, the nonprofit status was going to take longer than expected, and the ministry support from family and friends, though generous, was not enough to cover our basic needs. With all of these challenges rising up at once, we were forced to reevaluate our situation.
How could we continue doing ministry for God if we had no money?
One morning I invited Aaron for a walk down by the river. It was overcast, with the crisp fall air blowing in from the water. The leaves were changing into magnificent colors, reflecting the coming season of change for our marriage. We both desired God to use us despite our weaknesses and lack of resources. We were okay with the little we had, if it meant continuing to be missionaries for his sake. But no matter how much we wanted to continue in ministry, we felt even more strongly we should get out of debt first.
As we walked, we shared how Scripture had convicted us. Aaron wanted us to pay off our debt and build up our savings. So I proposed that we move back to California to stay with family until we could be on our own. I missed being near my family and saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with them, as well as to pay off our debt. Thankfully, Aaron agreed.
Later that evening we broke the news to our friends. We also called our parents to arrange plans to come home. Just like that, we packed up our little red Jetta and drove 2,891 miles back to our hometown with a new mission: to become debt-free.
When we arrived in Southern California, we immediately began to search for full-time jobs. The biggest hindrance was the repercussions of the 2008 recession. Thankfully, Jennifer was quickly hired at the Christian preschool where she had worked as an assistant for several years prior to our marriage. However, it took me more than two months to get hired, and that was after I offered to work for that company for free for a few weeks, hoping I would impress them enough to hire me. My sacrifice of time worked, and they did hire me. I finally had a job, using my skills in graphic design and web development at a small firm that created branding and design for other businesses. Having two full-time jobs was a crucial component of our strategy to pay off our debt.
Paying off my school loan was not as easy as we had hoped it would be. Our budget was extremely tight, and our bank account often empty. However, during this season of our marriage we focused on building a strong financial foundation, confident it could help not only our marriage but also God’s kingdom. During this time, God was teaching us the value of money, what his Word says about it, and how to be in control of our finances instead of finances always controlling us.
A Huge Milestone
At last the day came: our school loan was paid off! What a day of celebration that was! Since then, we have agreed to live a debt-free lifestyle. We both recognized how painful it was to pour so much time, energy, and effort toward paying off debt, and we never wanted to be in that position again.
To stay debt-free, we continue to strive to be on the same page. We give each other permission to say no to each other on purchases, we continually communicate about finances, we work hard to contribute where we can, we have a shared bank account that we each have access to, and we keep each other accountable in our spending habits. When we notice that spending is out of balance or if we experience a tighter season, we adjust the budget as needed. Our budget started out based on our bi-monthly pay schedule. Every paycheck we received was accounted for and divided as needed to cover our expenses. We used a simple Microsoft® Excel spreadsheet to show us where each paycheck was going to go. This may seem elementary, but often the simplest things produce the most powerful impact over a lifetime, and it is those very things that often get neglected.
We have found it helpful to remind each other often of our budget and boundaries. We don’t use credit cards. We don’t use car loans. We save for the things we desire. And one of the most important financial decisions we have made is to be content with what we have. We discovered that our desire for things was being stirred up in response to discontentment. It is amazing how much less you crave or actually need when you obey the words of Hebrews 13:5: “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Checking our hearts when it comes to spending is an important strategy for us. Doing so helps protect our marriage from dangerously misusing what God has given us.
Living a debt-free lifestyle is a radically different approach to living. If you take a look around, you will notice the government, the college system, and the average American family are all slaves to debt. The idea that debt is acceptable—even that debt is the only way to live—is destructive, as it contributes to unnecessary stress.
We don’t want you to live under the burden of debt! God has so much more for you than a life dragged down by money you owe. Cut up the credit cards, stop overspending on things that you don’t need, learn to be content with what you have, and practice the virtue of patience. When you change from a debt-acceptance mindset to a debt-free mindset, you will realize, as we did, that you have more than enough to live an abundant life, and that God will take care of you with his gracious provision. Contentment is what we must desire. The reason most debt exists in the first place is because we are not content, because we are not patient, or because we believe a lie that debt will help our current situation. When we take matters into our own hands like this, we are trusting the bank, rather than God, to supply our needs. Don’t take away the opportunity from God to answer your prayers of need. Instead, trust him and encourage your spouse to trust him by living debt-free.
We challenge you to evaluate your current financial situation, communicate with each other on how you measure up according to God’s Word, and if necessary make adjustments so that you are faithfully stewarding all that the Lord has given to you. Don’t ever accept the lie that debt is the way to live. Seek to maintain God’s perspective.
Paul gives us a very clear and powerful command: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other” (Romans 13:8). It is easy to look at this verse and say simply, “Paul really wants us to love others.” But that’s not the whole concept being shared here. Paul is telling us that the only thing we should be in debt to is loving other people. In fact, we will be able to love more freely and more extravagantly when we do not have obligations to debt. Let this call to love others be our motivation to never cease chasing after a debt-free lifestyle.
Generous Along the Way
When we were paying off our debt, I told Jennifer, “I don’t want us to wait to give until we are debt-free; we need to give now. We need to be generous with what we have, and we need to make our account available to God to use for his purposes.” We already tithed faithfully, but I also wanted to give above and beyond ten percent. I shared with her Hebrews 13:16: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
God does not want us to value our money or possessions more than him, each other, or others, all whom we have been called to love. We experienced firsthand what happens when we put money or possessions on a pedestal. Every time we cared more about money or things than we cared about each other, we fought. It was a destructive behavior that I knew would destroy our marriage if we let it. I was convinced God wanted us to open our hands and release the grip we had so tightly on the money we had in our possession and see it all as his. I had a vision for our marriage. I saw us as people who were generous, people who wanted to be a blessing to God and to others.
We needed to be able to say, “Okay, Lord, you’ve blessed us, and we want to be a blessing with whatever it is we have; even if it is our last penny.” We had to refuse the lie that we couldn’t be generous until we had more to give. If we waited to be generous, we wouldn’t have exercised our giving muscles. We would have continued to believe that we needed more in order to give.
Remember the story about the woman who gave her last two coins to the temple? Jesus pointed her out to His disciples and said, “This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43–44). Jesus was declaring that giving is not about quantity but rather about the motives of the heart. Our motives matter. If our hearts are to please God and fulfill his purposes, we must operate with a conviction that what we have belongs to Him.
Generosity Does Not Come Easy
It is never convenient or easy to give money or to be generous with other resources, such as time or energy. Our flesh will squirm at the thought of self less living. But the example of Christ, his sacrifice and his teaching, motivates our hearts to give. We never give out of compulsion; rather, we give out of a heart to please God, to bless others, and to train our hearts and minds not to serve money. Through our experience of faithfully stewarding all that the Lord has given to us, we have grown to understand the significance of giving generously and how God can use our finances in ways that impact his kingdom for good. We have had the blessing of seeing his work fulfilled in the lives of others, and it humbles us to know we get to participate in that.
Generosity is a biblical principle that God desires his people to live out. Search his Word and meditate on the teaching he provides about being generous. Let his Word lead you and your spouse to be good givers and serve as the motivation for giving generously. Remember that the motive of the heart matters. Being generous is not about how much you and your spouse give and it is not about what you give; being generous is about why you give! A marriage after God is marked by generous living.
Adapted from Marriage After God: Chasing Boldly After God’s Purpose for Your Life Together by Aaron and Jennifer Smith. Click here to learn more about this title.
What if God has purposed your marriage for something so much more than happily ever after?
Since the very beginning, God’s design for marriage is for husbands and wives to be ambassadors of holy love to a hurting world. Still, so many couples stop short at happy and wonder why they feel unsatisfied. Rather than “you and me against the world,” God calls each couple to the rich and meaningful mission of “you and me for the world.”
Aaron and Jennifer Smith, popular marriage bloggers at HusbandRevolution.com and UnveiledWife.com, transparently share their journey from a marriage in crisis to a marriage built on Christ’s redemptive love. Through fresh biblical insight and intimate stories of their own struggles and victories, this book will guide you toward a God-centered, ministry-minded, and thriving marriage. You will discover the signature marks of a marriage after God, find principles for building an unshakable marriage foundation, learn how to let God’s story take the lead in your love story, and recognize the tools God has already equipped you with for a missional life together. Filled with helpful illustrations, this thorough and practical book will empower you and your spouse to dream, decide, and do as you step hand-in-hand into God’s ultimate purpose for your marriage.
Your oneness is also meant for witness. God has purposed your remarkable, romantic, and redemptive relationship to be a powerful light to a dark and hurting world. This is your invitation to marriage as God intended — a life-saving, hope-inspiring, and transforming force of God’s love.
Aaron Smith has been encouraging husbands to lead their families according to the Bible through his site HusbandRevolution.com since May 2011. He passionately urges men to strive for spiritual maturity, supporting husbands with daily marriage and parenting encouragement. Aaron has co-authored several books on marriage with his wife including Husband After God and 31 Prayers For My Wife. Aaron has been married to his wife Jennifer since January 2007. Aaron’s greatest motivation is sharing the Gospel.
Jennifer Smith married Aaron, her best friend, in 2007. Their first few years of marriage were challenging in many ways. However, God helped reconcile their marriage relationship. Jennifer began sharing positive encouragement for marriage through UnveiledWife.com in March 2011. She shares vulnerable stories from her marriage and things she is learning to inspire other wives along the way. With her husband’s support and help, she has traditionally published The Unveiled Wife and self-published Wife After God, 31 Prayers For My Husband, 31 Prayers For My Future Husband, and more recently 31 Prayers For My Son and Daughter. Jennifer is grateful to be used by God in an extraordinary way to bring hope and the power of the Gospel to wives around the world.