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Lane 3: Legacy

Not everyone is in the same situation financially. God calls us all to lives of faithful stewardship, but our paths differ. We can think of these paths broadly as 3 Lanes of stewardship. While we all differ a bit in the details, these lanes represent a good general overview of major financial conditions.

Our last two blog entries covered Lanes 1 and 2. People in Lane 1 are under water financially. They have a large amount of consumer debt and are not making progress toward paying it off. Their cash flow is often negative, meaning they’re losing ground every month. They often struggle to pay bills and find themselves prioritizing which ones get paid on time. Their primary need is for stability.

People in Lane 2 are better off – they’re cash flow neutral or slightly positive, so they’re not losing ground. But they’re treading water, not making any real progress toward paying down debt or building net worth. Where Lane 1 travelers recognize that they’re in trouble, Lane 2 folks may not see the danger, because they’re making ends meet. Their primary need is for clarity.

In this article, we’ll focus on those who are in the third lane. For these folks, their income exceeds their living expenses by a comfortable margin. They’re not worried about meeting their bills because they have more than enough money. If they have any consumer debt, it’s not significant and they can easily pay it off. They’re swimming financially – but they may or may not be swimming in the direction of Biblical stewardship. Their primary need is for legacy.

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Stewardship Tenet: God Gives All Things

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

James 1:17

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

1 Timothy 6:17

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.

Deuteronomy 8:17-18

God is the source of all that we have, even down to the ability to earn a living. As a result, we don’t put our hope in the things that God provides, but rather in God himself. Keeping this in mind enables us to pursue a life of stewardship. Everything belongs to God, and he has put money, possessions, and relationships in our care to manage for his glory. Part of that glory is the enjoyment he gives us through his provision.

Perhaps the best illustration of this in Scripture is the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). The master, before going on a long trip, entrusted money to three servants to manage on his behalf while he was gone. Two of the servants honored this trust, working hard with the master’s money. The third did nothing with the trust he was given. When the master returned, he rewarded the first two servants and punished the third. Each of the servants understood that the money was not their own but belonged to the master; their responses reflected their attitudes toward the master.

So it is with us. Our response to what God has provided reflects our heart for God. So we work diligently, give generously, save wisely, and spend prudently.

Blessed to be a Blessing

When God blesses us, he does so with a purpose – a purpose that includes our own enjoyment but also goes beyond ourselves.

God promised wonderful blessings to Abraham – land, a posterity, a great name (Genesis 12:1-3). And he fulfilled all those promises. But God’s blessing of Abraham had a greater purpose – to make him a blessing (verse 2) that would extend to all peoples (verse 3). The ultimate fulfillment of this promise was, of course, the Messiah. But that wasn’t the only fulfillment. The Psalms many times refer to God blessing Israel so that his name would be known in all the earth (see, for example, Psalm 67:6-7; 98:2-3).

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48

It only makes sense. Where God has blessed greatly, he expects a return. Paul puts it this way in the context of generosity:

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

2 Corinthians 8:12

But the principle goes further than generosity – it applies to all of our stewardship. Exactly how it applies varies by person and by how God has wired us (more on this later).

Three Examples

Scripture is full of examples of people responding to God’s blessing by being a blessing themselves. We’ll look briefly at just three.

Luke 8:1-3 mentions three women (of several) who supported Jesus and the Twelve out of their own means as they traveled with the disciples. One of these women, Joanna, was the wife of Herod’s household manager and so was likely a person of significant means. God had blessed these women in many ways – for example, one had been freed from evil spirits (verse 2). The women, in turn, blessed Jesus and the Twelve with their support – and through their provision for Jesus’ ministry, blessed many others.

While these women blessed Jesus and the Twelve ongoingly, Scripture gives other examples of specific “blessing” events in response to God’s provision. Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-37 recount instances of the disciples selling houses, lands, and other possessions in order to provide for the needy in the church. Acts 4:36-37 mentions one person specifically – Barnabas, who later became a major leader in the church at Antioch and Paul’s companion on his first missionary journey.

As a tax collector, Zacchaeus had lived a life of excess – and not all of it was honestly acquired. When Jesus blessed him by coming to his house, not only did he welcome Jesus gladly, but also made major gifts to the poor and reimbursed those he had cheated by over-collecting taxes (Luke 19:1-9).

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Steps to Legacy

Legacy is more than leaving behind an inheritance. And it’s more than how much we put in the offering plate (literally or figuratively). Legacy is about impact – impact on lives whether near or far, impact on God’s glory and reputation. Because of this, legacy starts with our hearts.

Develop Gratitude and Contentment

Since everything we have comes from God and belongs to him, the obvious heart response is one of gratitude and contentment. Paul knew both need and plenty, and was content in either situation (Philippians 4:11-12). He taught us to bring our requests to God with gratitude (Philippians 4:6-7), resulting in God’s peace. And this gratitude wasn’t just in response for what God had already done – we’re to be grateful to God for what he will do even as we make our requests.

As we’ve already seen, God is the source of all good gifts, even down to our abilities to earn an income. We’re responsible to work diligently – but our family, the economy, the availability of education and jobs, and so many other things are gifts that put us in a position for that diligent work to be fruitful.

Determine to Make an Impact

When we think of legacy, we’re tempted to think about how we’ll be remembered. But our real legacy is not about us. It’s about how our lives reflect on God and the impact that we have on others.

Real legacy comes from generosity – with our time, our talents, and our treasure. Multiplying our resources – as the first two servants did in the Parable of the Talents – is one step toward legacy.  But some of that legacy comes from our impact on our families. The one who spends a lifetime building a career and earns a lot of money may leave a legacy of financial generosity while at the same time failing to have a God-honoring presence in the family or an impact relationally in the church or community.

Honoring God with the impact we make begins with prayer and continues with obedience. Our legacies differ according to the way God has blessed us and the way he has created us. The important thing is not to leave the legacy that others want us to leave, but rather to have the impact that God leads us to have.

Devise a plan

Legacy doesn’t happen by chance. It requires a plan. People in Lane 3 may not need to watch every penny as closely as those in Lane 1, but they still need a plan based on prayerfully discerned priorities and non-negotiables.

Prayer should include seeking God’s priorities for us. Do we need to maximize earning in order to give generously along the way? Is God calling us to save extra in order to fund a foundation or maybe start a business to create jobs for people in need? Do we need to dial back on earning in order to be more present with family, church, and community? No other person can answer these questions for us (and we shouldn’t try to answer them for others!). We need God’s guidance (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Part of this may be praying for God to give us a particular passion. He has given some a vision for people beyond the reach of the Gospel; others a passion for the Persecuted Church. Still others he has impassioned for the needy in their own community or possibly victims of a natural disaster.

Finally, we need to monitor our stewardship to make sure we’re on plan. The beauty of a GPS is not just that it can tell us where we’re going; it can also course-correct us if we get off track. Similarly, tracking our income and expenses in some sort of spending record helps us stay on track with the stewardship vision God has given us. Again, a Lane 3 person may not need the same level of detail as someone in Lane 1, but we all need to be able to account to God for the resources he has put in our care.

Dodge traps

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 Timothy 6:9-10

Lane 3 has potholes, just like Lanes 1 and 2. They may look different, but they can still derail us in our journey toward financial freedom and Biblical stewardship. Several key traps are especially prevalent in Lane 3.

The first of these traps is pride. It’s possible even to take pride in our generosity, as the Pharisee did in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:12). Such pride is misplaced, since all that we have comes from God in the first place. Pride ruins legacy, because it makes our lives all about us rather than about God.

Another trap is misplaced hope. Paul told Timothy to warn those with means against putting their hope in wealth (1 Timothy 6:17). The deceitfulness of wealth is one of the thorns that Jesus highlighted in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:22) – thorns that choke out the Word and keep it from being fruitful in our lives. Solomon is a great example of someone who was deceived by wealth.

A related trap is serving money. Jesus warned that we have to choose between serving God and serving money (Matthew 6:24). In our attempts to create a legacy of generosity, it’s easy to get deceived by wealth and sidetracked to focus more on the wealth itself than on the generosity.

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Getting to Lane 3

If we’re honest, nearly all of us would choose Lane 3 over Lanes 1 and 2. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Often, Lane 3 is where believers can make the most kingdom impact, since they don’t have the day-to-day worries about paying bills on time, etc. As we’ve seen, that impact doesn’t happen automatically, but Lane 3 carries the most potential.  So, how do we get there?

As we hinted at the beginning of this article, the primary difference between Lanes 1 and 2 is cash flow. In Lane 1, we’re experiencing a negative cash flow, losing ground month by month and getting further into debt. In Lane 2, we have a positive or neutral cash flow and may actually be making a bit of progress on retiring debt (though usually not substantial progress).

The difference between Lane 2 and Lane 3 is net worth. Those of us in Lane 2 are making ends meet, but not really building net worth. Those of us in Lane 3 have some net worth built up and are making continued progress.

We’ll highlight a few steps to start moving from Lane 2 to Lane 3, but first a key thought – we don’t need to wait for Lane 3 to begin to make an impact! Too many believers in Lane 2 (and in Lane 1, for that matter), hyper-focused on improving their own financial situation, miss the opportunities that God brings to begin to build a legacy. The Great Commission and the Great Commandments are not targeted to Lane 3 believers – they’re for all of us.

Step 1: Grow in Generosity

Generosity comes first because this is how we get our hearts in tune with God and how we avoid many of the Lane 3 potholes we mentioned above. Jesus told us that our hearts follow our treasure, not the other way around as we might expect (Matthew 6:19-21). And generosity is a major part of legacy and impact – generosity with our money as well as with our time and abilities. Starting here lays the foundation for the steps to follow.

Step 2: Manage Expenses

Remember we said earlier that Lane 2 believers often don’t realize that they’re heading for trouble financially? This is because they’re making ends meet. But they’re not making any real progress on debt retirement, an emergency savings fund, or other key financial goals. As a result, an unforeseen crisis could easily move someone from Lane 2 to Lane 1.

We also said that the difference between Lanes 2 and 3 is net worth. But in order to build net worth, we have to manage expenses so that we’re living below our means. What needs to happen in order to free up resources to retire debt or add to savings? Generally, some discretionary expenses need to be reduced. The key skill here is the ability and the discipline to manage trade-offs.

Step 3: Build Net Worth

Net worth (which is very different from our worth in God’s sight!) is simply the difference between what we own and what we owe. So building net worth can be done in two ways: reducing debt, and increasing savings.

Good places to start include:

  • Building an emergency savings fund of at least 2% of annual gross income;
  • Maximizing any employer match on a 401(k) or similar retirement savings program;
  • Retiring consumer debt (such as credit cards).

Lane 3 is not the goal!

While getting to Lane 3 is something we would all likely aspire to, Lane 3 itself is not the goal. Significant net worth alone does not equate to stewardship or to financial freedom.

The rich young ruler had significant net worth, but he was not free. When he encountered Jesus, his enslavement to wealth prevented his following the Lord. “He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22).

The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21) illustrates another dead end in Lane 3. Having built up enough net worth to live on for the remainder of his life, the man in the parable decided to retire and enjoy “the good life.” His enjoyment was short-lived, however, as his life would end that night – without legacy, without impact.

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Stewardship Keys

Lane 3 is like swimming financially. You’re making progress in a direction. The key question to ask in Lane 3 is, “Am I making progress in a God-honoring direction?” 

If you’re in Lane 3, you’re in a position to make a significant kingdom impact. Some of that will likely be financial. But, with your needs taken care of, God may also be calling you to different kinds of impact. Hopefully these keys will help you as you prayerfully discern the specific legacy God is calling you to.

Key Principles
  1. God owns it all. This is the most basic stewardship principle, and it applies regardless of what Lane we’re in. Everything in our possession actually belongs to the Master.
  2. God expects us to be faithful with the resources he has entrusted to us (1 Corinthians 4:2). This includes financial resources but also ministry opportunities, relationships, and all the other blessings God has given us.
  3. God’s blessing is not primarily about us. There’s a purpose behind his blessing – he wants to make us a blessing.
Key practices
  1. Establish priorities. This is a key practice in any stewardship lane, but in Lane 3 we have the most freedom to determine and pursue priorities because we’re not in financial need.
  2. Emphasize generosity. Because God has a purpose for blessing us, we must be God-centered and others-centered in response. Generosity often begins with our finances, but encompasses much more – like our time, our talents, our influence.
  3. Exercise accountability. Accountability starts with a spending plan and spending records, but also must involve other people – first, our spouse if we’re married; then, some other trusted friend who can help us stay on track.
Key Posture
  1. Gratitude: Recognize with thanksgiving that everything comes from God. Often in Lane 3, we’ve worked hard to get where we are – but the results still represent God’s blessing on that work.
  2. Humility: Pride is a great temptation in Lane 3. Obvious forms of pride include pride over our wealth, possessions, or career. But less obvious forms may include pride over our generosity, our industriousness, or our skill. Our very lives come from God; ultimately, we have nothing that we haven’t been given.
  3. Open-handedness: Hold everything with open hands, allowing God to do with our possessions as he will. Be attentive to the voice of the Spirit leading us.
Key Perspective

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.

Deuteronomy 7:7

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:16-17

God has chosen to put some of us in Lane 3 – not because of anything special about us, but so that he might accomplish his purposes through us – purposes of his glory and of blessing to others.

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