(The following is a transcript of Steve Carter’s message “Healthy Relationships with Time and Money,” from our Game Changers series. The video is also available to you.)
So we are going to continue in our Game Changer series. You remember week one. We taught on how to find rest in a culture that’s so anxiety ridden. And week two, we unpacked what it meant to find energy—to actually view our bodies as a temple for the Holy Spirit. And week three, we taught on how love does not keep score.
And I’ve been really impressed, because a number of you have sent me pictures on social media of you stepping into the gym or certain salads that you have chosen to eat. You have been sending me pictures of score boards with your family’s name on it and almost like you ripping it up: “We’re not keeping score anymore.” Your vulnerability... I was impressed by.
So I thought I would return the favor. What I want to do today... I want to teach with you... for you... the two biggest arguments that happen in the Carter household. And... I think some of you might relate.
Now, I’m not gonna pull up a couch and pay you all $100, because you’re not my counselor. But I hope that this teach will be honest and... connect with you in some reality.
So some of you are wondering, what’s he going to say? Well. I drew out for you the two biggest arguments in the Carter household. And it’s... time and money. Can anybody relate? Yeah. Uh-huh.
This is such a good drawing. I’m going to sign it. So if you wanna help me get my finances in order, there we go. You can buy it. Just kidding. Such a terrible joke. But I love it.
Let me begin when Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John. I want you to hear the words that He says. John chapter 10 verse 10, He says,
I have come that they [the disciples, the people] may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus says, “I’ve come so that people would experience the fullness, the abundance, the goodness of what life can offer.” But I wonder. How many of you are experiencing that? Cause many of you that I sit with, and many of you that I talk with, are experiencing a full, anxious, overwhelmed, frenzied, stress-filled life. And Jesus is like, “No, no, no, I didn’t come for that. I came that you would have life to the full, not this full, overwhelming life.” And He also says in John chapter 10 that there is this enemy... this thief. He says that the thief comes only to steal, to kill, and destroy.
And if I steal something, that’s because I wanna take it as mine. I don’t have it. I wanna take it. If I wanna kill something, I wanna end its life. But if I want to destroy something, I want there to be no memory or recollection that it ever... existed. And this is what the thief does. He wants to steal that joy, steal that peace, steal that freedom. He wants it to be killed and destroyed. He wants you to live that full, overwhelming, frenetic, stress-filled life.
And for many of us, here, or watching online, our relationship with time, and our relationship with money... it’s quite difficult. Maybe for some of you, you grew up in a house where, man, any time one of these two topics came up, there was just conflict. And so you made the choice, “I don’t wanna go near these topics, because I don’t wanna create more tension within me or more tension for those around me.” And so we just... don’t ever talk about it.
And I want us to have an open and honest conversation. Because I believe if you can have a healthy relationship with time and with your finances... it can be an absolute game changer.
Let’s start with time first.
I remember going to my father. I was in my twenties. My dad’s really good with his schedule. If you threw out a day of the week and a time at night, I could tell you what he was doing. He was... very detailed. I always knew where he would be. And I didn’t live like that early on.
I remember going to my dad and I just simply asked him, I said, “Dad, why is it that you... live this way?”
And he said these three words that became so influential in my life. He said, “Steve, structure breeds freedom.” Structure breeds freedom. But I think for some of you right now, you hear that, and you’re like, “Finally, somebody said it.” You’re the one who has your time manager. You love—you’re like Type A. Everything scheduled. Everything has a home. Everything’s detailed.
And I also know that there are some of you here who are like, “Structure? Those are for nerds. Like, I’m always spontaneous, man. I wanna live into the moment. I wanna be free. I want... why put it down in schedule? Let me just do what I wanna do.”
And yet, for many of you, who live more like that... let’s be honest. It sounds like freedom. But is it really?
And I wanna take you into Paul’s words. Ephesians chapter 5. He speaks the same kind of verse and anthem in many of his letters. But he says this to the church in Ephesus:
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.
Paul is saying, “Hey, how you live? It matters.” Friends, how you choose to orient your schedule and your life? It matters. And you have two choices. You can be wise... or unwise. But for Paul, he understood that every moment was brimming with redemptive potential. It was an opportunity for God to use him... use the spiritual gifts that God had given him, and he did not want to miss a moment.
Have you ever missed a moment in which God wanted to use you?
See, our lives are built on moments. And the wise, they see moment after moment, opportunity after opportunity, and they wanna do whatever they can... to orient their life to be ready for when God wants to use... them.
The unwise... there is no structure. They’re just going and going and going. Doing and doing and doing. Chasing and chasing and chasing. And they’re missing it. They’re missing it.
I don’t know if you feel this, but I know these next five weeks, going into the Christmas season, many of you might have company parties and it might feel like family gathering after family gathering. And you might be looking at your schedule, and you’re like, “It’s already... crazy making.”
But I want you to actually get ahead. If you can’t make changes right now, into the next week and the next month, I want you to begin planning your schedule for 2018. I want you to take ownership of this. I want you to grab your schedule by the reins. And I want you not to be someone who just goes through life. But I want you to be someone who makes the most out of every opportunity. Cause structure? It breeds freedom. And the wise understand this.
So how do you do it? How do you be someone who actually understands the power of a schedule? Because here’s what I want you to know. Bill’s been saying this for twenty years. Even before I was on staff, when he was mentoring me, I remember talking to him about schedule because I was so fascinated... by how he approached both leadership and teaching. And he told me this. He said, “The way that you arrange your schedule is one of the most holy endeavors you can do.”
I was like, “Woah. Say that again.”
He said, “It’s one of the biggest spiritual practices. Because how you view the 168 hours in a week, 720 hours in a month, how you view that and arrange that... is not about trying to get things done. It’s about who God wants you to become.”
When you start thinking about a schedule like that, it is a game changer. I’m not just trying to check things off a list. I’m trying to become everything God has intended me to be in this world. And the same is true for you. If you just kind of go through your day, you’re gonna miss moments. But if you actually become quite active in your planning and your preparation and in your belief that one of the greatest spiritual practices you can do is arranging your schedule... you’re not gonna miss very many moments. So let’s even take it a little bit deeper.
How do you do this?
So in my schedule, my wife and I, we have four buckets: God, You, Family, and Work. And this isn’t just a list of things that we want to check off. This is about, again, who does God want us... individually and as a family... to become?
For me, this begins with my relationship with God. It has to. I have to attach, like John 15, to that vine. Apart from Jesus, I know I can’t do anything. So it begins in my chair. Now, for the four months that it’s really, really nice in Chicago, I go on early-morning prayer walks. For the other eight months that it’s filled with snow, rain, and freezing-cold weather, I sit in a chair. But I read the Scriptures. I spend time reflecting. I spend time in silence. I spend time journaling and praying. This is in ink in my schedule.
Second is church. Jesus, the Scriptures say, went to the synagogue, as was His custom. He didn’t miss. He showed up. And I think about this because, so often, in our community, it’s so easy just to go one week, miss another week, go one week, miss another week. I keep thinking about what this means for our kids.
If you think about this from a generation standpoint, if you only go 50 percent, the stats say your kids will only go 25 percent. And your grandkids will probably only go 15 percent. So when you make it a priority, what you are showcasing to your kids and the next generation and the next generation is that it is a priority. I go because I wanna connect with God. I go because I want my kids to understand that this is so important for their life and who they become. It’s important. Chair. Church. Number three, community.
If you show up at a local... restaurant on a Wednesday mornings, you’ll see me sitting in the same booth with my two close friends. For five years, we’ve been meeting—accountability. Talking about life.
Thursday nights, in someone’s living room, just sharing, living life. Sunday afternoons, twice a month with another family, doing the same thing. Community. I was never meant to live this on my own. Christianity is not a solo sport. We need each other.
This is in ink. It’s not in pencil. It’s in ink.
I think for you, for me, personally, there’s ways in which I wanna put my gifts on display, and I wanna serve. What does that look like for you? Every one of us who is a Christ follower, God has given us gifts. How are you using those gifts to spread the good news? To live out the good news?
For me, personally, I like to go to the gym, work out. My friends and I, we started a little sports podcast. I thought if I talked about sports, it would make me not talk about sports as much on the sermon. So it’s hopefully helping people out.
Family. You know my daughter. She likes what she would call “spinkle” donuts. So we have a spinkle-donut date every week. We go to a little local bakery. We get some sprinkled donuts. Spinkle for her. And then we sit and we talk. My son and I, once a week, we do a mandate—that’s what he calls it. He likes the word—mandate. And we go to this breakfast joint. He gets pancakes or French toast. We sit and we talk about life. My wife and I, we have a date night. Twice a month. It’s in ink! It’s in ink.
And the other nights, you’ll just see, it just says “Home.” And when it’s in my schedule, and somebody says, “Hey, do you wanna go do this?”
I’m like, “I’m booked. I got church or I got home or... it’s already in ink.” When it’s nothing there, it’s easy for me just to fill it and let life happen to me. And then... there’s no margin. There’s no space. I keep missing moments with my kids and not making the most of that opportunity.
And then with work, obviously there’s stuff with content and teaching and developing communicators and meeting with people on our congregation. All of that matters. But one thing I have been doing that’s been a game changer for me is in hour-long meetings, I’m only doing them for fifty-five minutes. And at the end of that fifty-five minutes, I have five minutes to just breathe, to pray, and to prep for my next meeting.
For so long, I was just going sixty minutes, and then another sixty minutes, and another thirty minutes, and another thirty minutes, another sixty minutes. And by the end of the day, I was like, oh, I’m so tired. But just giving myself space to pray.
Friends, you... control your schedule. You are the one that chooses what goes in ink and what doesn’t. And the day in which you take ownership of that and you say, “For my schedule, for my household, for me as a person, I wanna honor God with my time... all hours. All minutes. All seconds of the day.” When you start to live with that as your primary focus... game changer.
You will feel the fullness of God’s love and His abundance. And you will watch where the enemy can’t steal, can’t kill, or can’t destroy the joy and the grace and the peace God wants for you.
That’s just the schedule. Now you ready to talk about the real thing?
Let’s talk about the most boring word. Budget! Alright? It is a boring word. Any of you in this room... grow up in an environment where money was quite tense in your household? Yeah. I think, for many of us, we were not given a map on how to handle this conversation well. What I wanna do in our remaining time is kind of invite you into our living room. And allow you to experience that second big argument... around finances.
And I wanna do this through Proverbs 21 verse 5. And oftentimes, when my message prep, I’ll start with the NIV, and then I’ll start looking at different versions of that text. And Proverbs 21:5, I’m gonna read three different versions. I’ll start with the New Living Translation that says:
Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty.
Or look how The Message translates it:
Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run; [the] hurry and scurry puts you further behind.
Or in the Christian Standard Bible, the CSB, it says this:
The plans of the diligent certainly lead to profit, but anyone who is reckless certainly becomes poor.
So you have these two kind of types of people—the wise or the unwise. You got the wise where there’s this good planning. They’re people who have this careful planning and hard work. You have this sense where they are diligent. But you also have those that... take shortcuts. Those that live with the hurry and scurry. And those that are quite reckless. And they both lead to certain places.
Let me just ask you. When it comes to your money... are you someone where there is careful planning? Where there is this sense of hard work and looking out ahead? And being diligent and working your plan? Or are you someone who’s taking shortcuts? Hurry and scurry. I got no time for a plan. And, to be honest, maybe you’ve even been a little bit reckless with the resources that God has given you.
And what I want you to understand is three numbers. Sixteen, six, and one trillion. That’s twelve zeros. One trillion—let me start there—is the combined total of credit-card debt in the U.S. alone. One trillion dollars. Which means... that the average U.S. household has $16,000 of credit-card debt. Which means that $6,000 is the average amount of money... that the U.S. household, average U.S. household, pays each year in just interest. Not against the actual $16,000, but just in interest, is the average amount of money we are paying banks.
And I sit here and I read Proverbs 21:5, and I go, “Hurry and scurry. Reckless and shortcuts.” And just the weight of it. And I think it would be pastoral malpractice if we never talked about this. Because there are companies and there are thought processes trying to raise this money and trying to get you to pay more interest and rack up more credit-card debt.
And until we actually create a plan, we’re not gonna live a life of freedom and peace. We’re gonna live a life of slavery and debt.
So how do we do it?
I often talk about this when anybody asks me. Your budget, it’s all resources given to you by God. And I think of it from a 10, 10, 80. Ten percent, right off the top, is a tithe. I give back to God right away. Because it’s God’s. The other 10 percent I put in savings.
Now... can I just talk about savings for a second? What is savings?
Many people, I hear you use this word—savings. That you told me you “saved money recently.” And I’m like, “Well, what?”
“There was a television that was on sale. It was going for $1,000 dollars. And I saved $800, and I bought this brand-new television for $200. I got a deal!”
Let me just tell you one thing. You didn’t save any money. You spent $200 dollars. If you took the $800 and you put it somewhere, to save it, then you saved $800. If you just... mysteriously watched a number of a thousand drop to two hundred and you thought you were getting a deal, you did not save money. You just spent $200.
Savings is money you have placed in a specific home. This is what I do. And I want you to be able to do. Ten, ten, and then try to live off this eighty. If you can live like that, you will learn what Paul calls “the secret of contentment.” What is the secret of contentment? It’s simply this: learning to live with joy below the line.
And Paul says in Philippians chapter 4 he has learned the secret of contentment. He’s learned when he’s had much. And he’s learned when he has had little. He’s learned how to live below the line.
But, for many of us, it’s a struggle, isn’t it? Because we might get paid every pay period $2,500. But, all of a sudden... in two weeks, we’re actually spending $2,800. And we’re racking up $300 of debt.
And what is debt? Debt is telling God, “You’re not doing a good enough job.” Debt is saying, “God, you’ve given me this much to live with, but I think I can do it better.” Debt takes us back to the garden. When the man and the woman decided not to live in God’s arranged design. And they said, “You know what? I think you’re holding back on me, God.” And it created this legacy, this generational broken pattern, that happened... until Christ came.
And I find myself thinking about this often. Man, how many of us have found ourselves, not intentionally, but we find ourselves just spending more than we actually bring in? And what are we doing? We’re just basically buying slavery. We’re buying anxiety. We’re buying pressure. Or we’re buying stress. And, all of a sudden, for what? For the goodness of some feeling that we get in a store?
And I’m watching this happen. And watching family after family, person after person, single person, college student, racking up more and more debt. And who gets that money? Banks. Let me just ask you this. If there’s $6,000 that people are paying to some bank or organization... for interest... what if our church was actually filled with people who were 100 percent debt free?
What happens... instead of paying $6,000 to banks, what if we actually could leverage all of that money for the city of Chicago? For good news to be advanced? For Kingdom initiatives? Don’t you think our city, our county, our state, and our country would look wildly different? I do.
But it requires... us to have a plan. And let’s just be honest. Budgets? Boring. They’re so boring. And I know, I got a few people who texted me, they’re like, “I love my budget. I love it. I love it.”
I’m like, “I will never be you.” But... here’s what I’ve learned. If you’ve ever found yourself tasting debt, and I’ve sat with many of you who have, and you’ve gone through Financial Peace or you’ve gone through a ministry here at Willow, and you’ve fought, and you’ve clawed, and you have worked and you’ve watched every cent that’s come in, and you’ve fought your way out of debt, you’ve tasted freedom, and you’re like, “I’m never going back there. Because I never wanna put myself willfully in that place.”
And I find myself sitting with people... who... and this church is filled with them... day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, they have had a plan and they’ve worked that budget plan. You know what they have? Peace. Freedom. Contentment. Joy. And they have tasted what it feels like to see God use their resources to watch good news advance.
They’re not living in stress. They’re not living in anxiety. And when I sit with every one of these people, it always comes back to working a plan. And I’ve met many of them. They’re like, “This is the boringest thing ever, but we sit with our—each other, with our spouses, or with help, a counselor, and we walk through it. And we just keep working that plan.”
Friends, here’s my question to you. Do you have a plan?
My wife and I, one afternoon a week, we sit down, we pull out our schedules—our time, and our finances, and our budget—and we have the conversation. And we wanna work that plan. Because, you know what? I wanna give my kids a different life. I wanna give them a healthy relationship with money. A healthy relationship with time. I don’t want them to be pushing that. I don’t want them to be filled with stress. I want them to understand what Jesus taught two thousand times, or what was taught about two thousand times in the Scriptures, I want us to be able to have that in a real and honest and human way. God wants that for you.
So how do we do it?
I wanna tell you that freedom comes in three ways. Number one, freedom comes when you have a plan. Do you have a plan? Do you have a plan for your schedule? Do you have a plan for your budget? Don’t leave today if you don’t have a plan. Make that decision before you walk out of these doors or before you stop watching, make that decision. Today, I’m gonna have a plan. And I’m gonna start. Maybe you find yourself just stressed or in slavery to debt. Make the plan. Today, I wanna begin to take a step towards freedom. Freedom comes when you have a plan.
Number two, freedom comes when you choose contentment... over debt. When you choose to be content. When you choose to live below the line. And not tell God, “I can do it better.” And contentment might mean you wear the same outfit every weekend. That’s what I do. I don’t care.
And I know a lot of people who don’t. But they live, and they choose, different, different, different, different, different. Every day. And I’m like, “I’m gonna choose contentment.” Every time. Every time. Because there’s joy, there’s freedom, there’s peace, there’s more of God in that. Choose contentment, friends.
And freedom comes, number three, when you stay diligent. When you work that plan. And you stay focused on it. And you keep saying, “I want to be free.” Because, you know what? The enemy wants to steal, kill, and destroy. But freedom comes when you stay diligent on the vision that Christ has put before you. And it’s not about getting things done. It’s all about who God wants you to become. And God wants more for you.
God wants more for you. More of His favor. More of His blessing. More of His love. More of His grace. More of His goodness. Not just for you, but so you can give that away. And it begins when you make the decision with your schedule and with your finances. And I, I just gotta say it, watch what God’ll do. Cause structure breeds freedom. Amen?