Dollars and Sense

Dollars and Sense

In August 1972 I was a successful businessman employed in the selling of life insurance. I had graduated from college ten years earlier, married, had three beautiful young children, a nice home in the suburbs and to put it modestly, had done everything the world had told me to do to become successful and it had worked!

That was on the outside. I was actually much like the Florida Everglades: on the surface, I was calm and serene, but under the surface, my anxiety and current were churning at about 60 miles an hour. I had earned several sales achievement awards, was active in my church, and loved my wife and children very much. I really loved being a father. However, sales is a high stress business. You have a banner year and on January 1, your boss tells you, “OK, you are starting over from scratch. What are you going to do to improve this year?”

I Am Going to Use You

Earlier in 1972, the Lord had spoken audibly to me saying simply, “I am going to use you to motivate my people.” My emotions were like John the Baptist, and I jumped for joy! Actually, I did not have the vaguest idea what God was telling me. By August of 1972, Jesus Christ manifested Himself to me through a renewal in the Church called the Charismatic Renewal. I had attended a few meetings at the encouragement of a friend, and it was like a new Pentecost to me.  

I made a decision to begin calling myself a Christian financial planner. I, of course, was challenged by one of the people in the office who asked, “What is a Christian financial planner? How does that differ from a regular financial planner?” God had provided me with the insight through a wonderful pastor by the name of Fr. Bob Keane who told me one time in a discussion, “If you want to be a good Catholic, a good Christian, you must take the vow of poverty. I don’t mean selling everything and giving it to the poor. I mean divesting yourself of ownership of your possessions and developing an attitude of being a manager; a steward of God’s possessions.”  As I look back over the years since God first spoke to me, selling everything would have been the easier way. But I also came to realize that God was teaching me His Principles of Finance. 

Fr. Bob was right. One of the temptations in Christ’s time in the desert was Satan coming to Him, and as they looked out over the world’s riches and possessions, saying, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” Jesus responded to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'” Matthew 4:9-10

Miracle After Miracle

From the time I gave my life over to Christ on August 10, 1972, my business began to falter. I am a good salesman, but sales I would have made in the first six months in the business, fell through like a rock. We literally went broke. I got up one morning and said to the Lord, “OK, Lord. You have me just where you want me. I do not have any money in my savings account. I do not have any money in my checking account. Actually, Lord, I do not have any money in my pocket. However, I am not going to sit here and feel sorry for myself. I am going to the office and somehow, someway, you will lead us of out of this.” I went to the office and at lunch time, one of the guys I worked with who was an acquaintance, not a friend, knocked on my door and asked me to go to lunch. I was/am a proud man and figured I still had my credit card in my pocket, so I said yes. When the check came, he said, “I’ll get the lunch this time. You can buy next time.” I went back to the office and closed my door and prayed, “OK, I get the message. What is the next move?” Miracle after miracle kept happening. Every time a bill came due, God met the challenge. 

I Want You to Start Tithing

One day in my prayer time, God spoke to me and said, “I want you to start tithing.” I really argued about that one because of the financial stress. He told me to trust and obey. I did. Over the next two and a half years, our debt load doubled. I was behind on my mortgage and had a second mortgage. I called the man who held our second mortgage and told him my sad story. He said, “Make sure you keep up with the first mortgage because if the bank forecloses, there is nothing I can do.” That went on for eighteen months. It was extremely stressful, yet, at the same time I had such hope and confidence (not in me, but in the Lord.)

In 1975, God said that part of my education was finished and He led me to an insurance sale to a large foundation that was over $4 million dollars. The commissions on that sale were enough to pay off all of our debts and add an addition to our home that was made necessary by another one of God’s great blessings: we named her Laura.  The end of a matter is better than its beginning; Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit. Ecclesiastes 7:8

God then began to work His Will out in my life in even a deeper way. Without going into detail, let me just say that in November of 1993, my wife of thirty-one years of marriage told me she wanted a divorce. About sixteen months after that on February 10, 1995, our eighteen-year-old daughter, Laura, was killed in an automobile accident. Sixteen months after that, our divorce was final. Three days after the finalization of the divorce, we were at a reception for one of our kids’ wedding, and my (ex)wife announced to me that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. She died in November of 1998. That was five years of intense trusting in God to show me His way. Again, part of the lessons of His Principles of Finance. 

The weekend Laura died in 1995, I was participating in a Cursillo Weekend. She died Friday morning about 1:00 AM. I of course had to leave the weekend and rush home. I know God was present in that situation because there were over 1,700 people that attended Laura’s wake and funeral. I have always had difficulty remembering people’s names. The Holy Spirit gave the names of every person who came to give their condolences. One way for God to manifest His presence in our lives is to show us He can sustain us in our weakest moments. This was another principle He first taught me back in the 70’s: God’s presence is not just for a moment, it is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. 

I finished my Cursillo Weekend seven months later. That rekindled in me the fire to teach others about God’s Principles of Finance. I was so fired up about the experience with tithing and all the principles of God’s financial plan.

Teach God’s Principles of Finance

A year later I met three men from Cursillo involved in what they called the Sacrificial Giving Program.  This program consisted of sending teams into the Catholic churches and speaking about Sacrificial Giving (a euphemism for tithing). As the discussion progressed, it was decided that I would join the team and give talks locally to churches about Christian financial planning. Well, that was not God’s plan. After about six months, I ended up traveling to churches around the United States giving talks on Sacrifical Giving

God opened the door through this program to over sixty Catholic Churches around the United States that could fill a book about experiencing God’s presence in my life. 

I am not a Theologian. I am not a Teacher. As St. Theresa of Calcutta once said, “I am simply a pencil in the hand of God.” One of the Gospel verses that has been a “life verse” for me is John 8:28: “Jesus therefore said, ‘When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.'” To me this meant I was to talk about what God had taught me, about my experiences, not from my intellect or even from my reason. The Gospel is the Good News. It is above my thoughts and my way of doing things. 

This of course led to push back from the people, and from priests. I complained to the Lord and He told me, “It is like World War II. If there ain’t no flack around your airplane, you ain’t no where near the target.” I like His sense of humor. 

Early on as I had begun to integrate my experience with God’s Principles of Finance into my financial practice. I remember one client who was a small businessman trying to sell his business. He was perplexed and anxious. I said, “John, have you prayed about this and asked God to send a buyer?” He said no, so we prayed and asked God to send a buyer. Three weeks later, John sold his business. 

We had lunch one day after and he was all excited about his story. Then he “sucker punched” me. “I have a question for you,” he said. “You told me about this idea of asking God for help. Why haven’t you done this for yourself? You told me you were in debt and struggling.” I did not have an answer for him. So we prayed. This time, John prayed for me. That was about five months before I sold the large foundation case. 

In Luke 6:38 Jesus tells us, “”Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” I had no intention of receiving anything when I suggested prayer to John about asking God to help his business deal, but God did. 

One of the principles I taught during my sixteen years of giving the seminar talks was that the gift should be “sacrificial.” At first, I thought that meant my time, my talent, and my treasure (money), and this is true as a “beginner.”  Then I began to study the Parables that Jesus taught. It may surprise you, as it did me, that of the twenty-six Parables Jesus taught, eighteen of those Parables are about money and possessions. I was applying those as “natural” attributes. I physically volunteered. I went to prayer meetings, Bible study and those sorts of things. But study of God’s Word brings transfiguration. I began to see God’s ways were better than mine. His thoughts are always about others, not Himself. I began to see that while I enjoyed giving the talks and getting the applause, the greater gift was seeing the Holy Spirit working in peoples’ lives. 

One pastor forwarded to me a letter from one of his parishioners. “I was really convicted by Mr. Walker’s talk. Yes, we need to be grateful for what God has done.  I have failed in that category. I intend to take make amends and to take a step in faith. Last year my income was $70,000. Here is my pledge card for $7,000.”  I quickly found that while money can buy me things that gratify, seeing God change a person’s heart can bring me things that satisfy. I knew that person was now on a path that would bring them faith, hope, and joy. 

Yes, I sacrificed time away from my family, and the aggravations of travel, but at the same time, God gave me peace. I began to experience His love in greater and greater ways, and a joy that was better than any worldly experience. It was so much fun that it I did not see it as a sacrifice. Others did, I did not.  

Another principle of sacrificial giving was given to me after my daughter’s death when we found a journal she had kept her freshman year in college. One of the entries was this one:

“Dear Lord, I’ve been so discouraged. I just am not as happy as I was anymore. It is very hard for me to stay motivated in school because I’m so discouraged. I seem to go from one end of the extreme to the other. I need help finding a balance between doing too much and not doing enough. I wish someone would lay out the ground rules and say, “Pray this much, study this much, play this much.” 

I am struggling with trying to find where I belong. I don’t know if it is here at St. Olaf, Lord. (Laura was a freshman at St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN.) This is a wonderful school, but it costs so much that I am not able to do other service things for you that I would like. I am not asking for more money; I’m asking for direction. (Emphasis added). I want to help people who are less fortunate than myself. So, why do I have to be rich to do it. Lord, please help me find some way to please You. You alone are the Light that keeps me going when nothing else will. 

And in the spirit of thanksgiving, I need to say thank You for all the blessings in m life. Thank You for all the prayers you have answered. Thank You for the beautiful skies that You keep creating for us to enjoy. Thank You so much for all the people You have brought into my life. Thank You for always leading me and for picking me up when I fall. You have provided so much for me. Please help me to appreciate the gifts in my life and Lord, help me make every day a day of thanksgiving to You.”

The principle of struggle is a part of sacrificial giving. Laura had absorbed and learned the three principles necessary for a happy life: is a struggle; 2. bring those struggles to the Lord, and 3. give thanks to God for what He has done for you and trust He will see you through this struggle. Never give up. I use the analogy of driving a car. Look through the windshield to see where you are going, but occasionally look through the rear-view mirror to see how God has been with you and has gotten you this far along in the journey.  

My ways? I grieved the loss of my daughter. I did not pay all the tuition for my children because if they did not have “skin-in-the-game” they wouldn’t be as diligent in studies and other responsibilities. That is human nature. My return on investment (ROI)?  There is a monument to Laura’s name and to all the students and faculty that have died.  Her return on investment? St. Olaf College has set up a foundation (The Laura Walker Memorial Scholarship) to give scholarships to students who are engaged in similar studies as Laura was. At this time, that scholarship is about $1,000 per year. 

The next principle that I learned from the Lord is one that is similar to Laura’s. I started out tithing ten percent of my income, five percent of that to my Parish, and five percent to the “world’s poor.” The Catholic Church is generous. Yes, it was a struggle. Yes, that money could have been used to pay bills. But then, the Holy Spirit led me to Malachi 3:8: “Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” Oh, Oh! Not cool!

That is basically what God was saying to me when He told me to start tithing. I felt really guilty. But guilt is not from God. The Holy Spirit also showed the pathway out of debt. Two verses later, God told Malachi what the solution was: “’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Malachi 3:10-11

Five percent of my tithe went to my parish. As I invested in my parish, the Holy Spirit gave me some wonderful insights. I was not just giving money to the church. Every time a baby is baptized, my money helps support that.  Every time a child receives First Holy Communion, or a member of RCIA receives the Lord for the first time, my money. Every time a confession is heard, my money supports that. Every time someone receives the Sacrament of Healing, my money supports that. Every time a couple are married in our parish, my money supports that. Every time a priest or deacon is ordained, my money supports that. 

Every time I attend Mass, the ritual is the same. In preparation for the Liturgy, the priest takes the collections and part of the dialog says: “Let us give thanks to the Lord, Our God.” The people reply, “It is right andjust.” It is right! I use the description “my,” but in reality, it is Our. God created me with the time, the talent, and the treasure. It is right to attribute my gifts and talents to the Grace of my Creator. 

This is only the tip of the iceberg. A hundred books could not hold the miracles God has provided for me. At the beginning, I mentioned the voice of God saying to me that He would use me to motivate His people. The keyword here is not “me” it is He! Often, I have heard people say, “There but for the Grace of God go I.” I believe that statement. For my being, I would add to it, “There because of the Grace of God am I.” Before, I was a sinner. Now, I am a sinner saved by Grace. 

I still don’t know why God chose to use me, but I do know that several years ago, God taught me this TRUTH: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

The second part of Church teaching on tithing was where I really prospered. The Church teaches to give to the poor as God leads you. The other five percent went to the poor. I would set aside money in my checking account then I would say, “OK God, you have $$$$ in the checking account that belongs to You. Where do you want me to give it?” And God would answer my prayers. I learned that God really does answer prayer. I had established a line of communication with God. It built my hope. It built my confidence in God to answer not just my prayers of petition, but also my prayers of thanksgiving. 

Remember the encounter with Martha and Mary at the tomb of Lazarus? Remember the Prayer Jesus said just before He raised Lazarus from the dead?  “Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank you that you have heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me.”  John 11:41-42 King James Version

As I mentioned earlier, if Jesus talked about money in eighteen of the twenty-six parables he taught, it behooves me to listen. When I started to obey the righteous use of money, Jesus showed me how He could motivate people through what He taught me. I now understand the passage in Hebrews: “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” Hebrews 5:8 

In the interest of spatial limitations, I will stop now. Scripture and the Catholic Church have written thousands of books on these topics. For me, it comes down to three basic ideas:

  1. Faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6
  2. Obedience: “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.”   Hebrews 5:8 
  3. Power: “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”        John 8:32

A person is not defined by title, wealth, or status. A person is defined by whether they believe and obey the word of God as He speaks to them. That means they follow Christ above all. The power is not in material things, but as Fr. Bob taught me, “Poverty means changing my mind to one of management, not ownership.” 

In the Gospel, Jesus healed the blind youth. When the church authorities of his time questioned him about how he got his sight, here is his reply: “…So a second time they (the authorities)  called the man who had been blind, and said to him, ‘Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, ‘Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. John 9:24-25

My response is similar. Whether what I have shared is financially sound, or theologically sound, I do not know. All I know is that God told me to start tithing, I obeyed, and now I am financially free of worry about going broke, (been there done that) emotionally free in that I know that if God wants me to do something, He will provide the necessary funds, and spiritually free in that I now live in the world, but not of the world. I live with St. Paul who wrote to the Philippians: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” Philippians 4:12

I gave God the ten percent He told me to give Him and He has given me beyond measure, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Give thanks to God!  It is RIGHT and JUST. Praise the Lord. 

Stu Walker was in the financial services business for over fifty years in private practice. In one family private foundation, Mr. Walker helped establish an endowment program in excess of $4,000,000 for a wealthy family.  He also was a national speaker, having worked with the Sacrificial Giving Program where he has spoken in over sixty Catholic Churches across the country.