STEWARDSHIP | Financial peace starts with putting God first

For many people, God and money run "neck and neck" as the top priority. Ashamedly, for part of my adult life, money was a bigger priority for me than God. "No one can serve two masters. He will hate the one and love the other... You cannot serve God and mammon (wealth)" (Matthew 6:24).

In working with many St. Louis parishes over the past several years, a few things have become clear:

• People absolutely crave God, but are unsure or tentative on how to start the relationship.

• People look for guidance in handling their money, both charitable giving and daily and long-term management.

• A person's attitude toward money has a direct influence on their relationship with God.

The hard truth about Catholic generosity is this — many Catholics are generous, however, many aren't generous in proportion to the gifts they have been given. The average Catholic gives only 1 percent of his or her annual gross income to Church and charity. (This puts us at the bottom of the list of denominations.)

For people who are grateful for all that God has given them, generosity is the natural byproduct. Grateful people are generous with all their gifts, not just the one or two they pick and choose, but with everything, especially money. They trust more in God's providence than their own self-reliance. "He must increase; I must decrease." (John 3:30)

If we want to help people grow in faith and strengthen their relationship with God, we need to help them be better stewards of all their money — how they give to Church and charity, and how they spend and use their money in their daily decisions. We should use our money in a way that brings us closer to God, not in a way that makes money a "god" over God.

In putting God first in everything, money falls dramatically down the list of priorities. Through prayer, as you begin to align your thoughts and actions with God's plan, the result is joy and peace, including financial peace. Once you gain a degree of financial peace, it opens you up to live your life more fully and abundantly as God intended, which ultimately leads to a richer, stronger relationship with God. "For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." (Matthew 6:21)

This is the beauty of living a stewardship lifestyle — you cannot out-give God, once you open your heart to receive His love and mercy you become a funnel for giving. God will fill you up and it will flow through you to others, which in turn will lead others to do the same. People want joy and peace and it all starts by putting God first in all things, especially our money.

"Giving" is actually a gift from God because it helps us from putting other "gods" before God and helps us from becoming a slave to possessions and wealth. When this happens, we recognize the need to give. Why? Because we are made in God's image and likeness.

Baranowski is the director of stewardship education in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He and his wife are parishioners at Mary, Mother of the Church in south St. Louis County. He can be reached at (314) 792-7215 or davidbaranowski@archstl.org. 

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