Wealth and the Kingdom: discipling a poverty mindset

Key points

  • Poverty thinking says there is never enough. It attacks us at the deepest level of our identity, value and purpose
  • We are disciples before being consumers; our old nature’s desire to consume is consumed in his Presence and purpose

“The devil always sends errors into the world in pairs– pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. Do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between the errors. We have no other concern than that with either of them.”
C S Lewis – Mere Christianity
But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Deuteronomy 8 v 18

Wealth, riches and the Kingdom

In the next two blog posts I am going to address what may be considered to be a pair of wealth opposites – poverty or scarcity mindset, and Mammon. It is often said that Jesus in his earthly ministry addressed the topic of money more than any other. I don’t consider money to be inherently good or evil; it is how we view money, and how we use it to act out what resides in our hearts that turns money into a force in our world that has great power for good or evil. As my friend Stephen De Silva says, “money exaggerates what is in the heart”. I believe that a significant question for us to consider is,  ‘how are Kingdom entrepreneurs distinctive in their approach to money, power and influence?’ I don’t believe that God is opposed to money and wealth. You could say that God is infinitely wealthy, since the earth is the Lord’s and all that it contains (Psalm 24 v 1). He is the owner; we are the stewards of his wealth. The Bible is clear that wealth comes from him and are a result of God’s grace and favour towards his people (Deut 8 v 18). It is not money that is the root of all evil but the love of it (1 Tim 6 v 10). It is money in the hands of a ‘sick heart’ that leads to evil.

I believe that it is his intent that the wealth of the nations should come to his people (see for example Isaiah 60 v 5-7) i.e. the wealth of unrighteous and righteous people, communities and nations coming to his people for us to administer. A great example of this is seen in Joseph’s administration of Egypt under the Pharaoh. We have seen this in small measure but not to the extent that I believe Scripture makes clear. I believe that a primary reason for this is because his Kingdom people have not mastered either poverty mentality or Mammon, with the result that we either run away from it, because we do not trust ourselves with it (poverty mentality), or because God cannot entrust it to us because of the way that we misuse it (Mammon). Perhaps you, like me, have seen wealth inappropriately used by individuals, corporations, and even the church, and have been disenchanted by the spectacle? I suggest to you that wealth is not meant to be placed into the hands of a few to build up their privileged status, but to benefit a community and the wider society at large – as it was meant to bless Israel, which it did under certain leaders and Kings who brought revival to the nation (for a full and fascinating exploration of the biblical and historic relationship between spiritual and economic transformation see Harrison-Mills1). 

We are disciples of Jesus before being consumers. Thus, our old nature’s desire to consume is consumed in his Presence

One of the actions that Holy Spirit is doing in his people in these days is to redress the place of wealth in his Kingdom by impacting our hearts and minds and enabling us to take on the transforming of our minds and refusing to be conformed to the world’s mindset. There feels like a Holy Spirit impetus in this as we grasp what it means for his Kingdom (and therefore his will) to come to earth as in heaven. Not that this is easy. We are continually bombarded by the world’s mindset. I expect you, like me, face it every day in our workplace, with some colleagues and friends, and perhaps in our family. It is pretty unrelenting, and we have to be purposeful in holding on to Godly mindsets. We are disciples before being consumers. Our old nature’s desire for being soothed in our orphan mentality by consuming (buying unnecessarily to comfort us) is itself consumed in his Presence and purpose, and we consume not to feed a diseased heart, but by spending and blessing others as we follow Jesus. So, let’s explore a poverty mindset (this blog post) and Mammon (the next blog post), learn how they master us, and how we dethrone them. After all, Kingdom entrepreneurs are well suited to being entrusted to handle well the wealth of the nations and for distributing it with wisdom and equity.

Orphan mindets

Lucifer was the original orphan spirit. His rebellion meant that God separated Lucifer from himself and he was banished from heaven to earth. When we fell in the Garden of Eden from the place of honour that we were created to hold, and we became isolated from our heavenly Father, we became strongly influenced by a fatherless, or orphan spirit. This way of thinking creates a mindset that is prone to two strong roots that can take hold in our lives – poverty mindset and Mammon. Both limit or repress us. Neither is life affirming. Both attack our experience of the abundant life that Jesus came to give us through His death, resurrection and ascension to Father. Neither belong to the Kingdom mindset, what the Apostle Paul called the mind of Christ. As Welby so eloquently puts it, “the economic output of an individual is not the source of their value. Their value comes from God himself.”2

Both the poverty mindset and Mammon are lies. They emanate from Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8 v 44). He has no creative abilities, but he is skilled at getting us to believe lies that are a twisted version of the truth. They are the antithesis of God’s truth.

Do we run away from wealth because we fear having to manage it well, not trusting ourselves?

I do not consider that the poverty mindset and Mammon are strictly opposites, but are best considered as guards that protect the orphan spirit, our old unregenerate ways of thinking, and comfort our fears. It takes courage to defeat these guards, and it takes time and determination (and sometimes gritted teeth) to throw off these mindsets and establish Godly ones in their place. When we demolish them, we do not find ourselves subservient to another tyrant, but to God, who is rich in mercy, unconditionally loving, and always acts faithfully and without teasing. We need to navigate the narrow path between them, not often travelled by sojourners. I am convinced that a poverty mindset and Mammon are both based on a spirit of fear; fear of having resource and having to be accountable for it (poverty mindset), or greed based on fear and insecurity (Mammon). Fear has its root in an orphan spirit. This results in a poverty mindset being ‘I am the beggar’, whereas “Mammon’s mindset is based on the principle of ‘beggar your neighbour’”3(Welby 2016). Neither are the virtues of the Kingdom.

Poverty thinking

A poverty mindset is not dependent upon our financial status

It is really helpful to understand that a poverty mindset is possessive because it is based in and held by fear. So even though we may believe that poverty in a general sense is an injustice, and we campaign against it, we can ourselves be entrapped by a poverty mindset. Such a mindset is not dependent upon our financial status; it can affect anyone – rich or poor. God created us to be His image bearers! The great danger of being exposed to the orphan spirit is that we distort this image bearing and succumb to worshipping false images – tools that God meant for our good we make tools that the devil uses to master us. Thus, what God meant to bless us become tools that cause us to be cursed. The possessive nature of the poverty spirit or mindset despises success and attacks dreams and redeemed imaginations of success. Joseph went through tremendous suffering but held on to his dream. We can blame Joseph’s struggle on the dream, but rather the poverty spirit in other people led to Joseph’s suffering. 

Do we hide our dreams for fear that people or circumstances will turn against us?

The dream was his motivation throughout his life. In the face of opposition from those who, in their poverty mindset attack our dreams, we are tempted to hide our dreams for fear that people or circumstances will turn against us. People touched by a poverty mindset oppose success believing it be in some way ungodly. They find it difficult to celebrate the flourishing of others because of  jealousy. They want to hold people back from achieving their God given purpose. It was Joseph’s dream that gave him courage to achieve what God had called him to do! 

Poverty thinking is not an economic problem; it is a heart issue. The basic message of poverty thinking is this: there is never enough. When people live long enough under the influence of this message, it takes on a personal tone: there is never enough for me because I’m not worthy.  Lack in any area of our lives, whether our basic needs (like food, clothing, and shelter) or our psychological needs (like opportunities, friendship, affection and intimacy), shapes our soul and spirit4. It becomes personal. Because a poverty mindset is rooted in beliefs about ourselves and the world, it has a very powerful hold. It attacks us at the deepest level of our identity, value and purpose. The verse, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is”(Proverbs 23 v 7a), speaks to this power. The mindset that guides our thinking is reinforcing our beliefs (actually lies about our God given identity) and perpetuates our reality. Our habits of mind define our habits of life, or our internal reality becomes our external reality. And as creatures of habit, one of the most difficult things for us to do is to question the reality in which these habits work.

Breaking the poverty mindset

We will never overcome the influence of poverty thinking until we learn to become stewards of what we listen to. This is why Jesus instructed us to be vigilant about our “hearing”:  As Jesus instructed us:

“Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides.” 
Mark 4 v 24 

We need to ‘re-tune’ our hearts to what God says is the truth (the New Testament word truth meaning reality), so that our internal reality is re-adjusted. His reality having authority over our mindset gives permission for our hearts to be healed and brought into line with God’s plan and purpose for us – that we are created to be fruitful and to multiply. For:

“Whoever has no rule over his own spirit is like a city broken down, without walls”.
Proverbs 25 v 28

If we cannot control our own spirit, then we are like a city without walls – the enemy can come and go at will.  On the contrary the Word of God says that we are the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28 v 13). 

Radical generosity breaks a poverty mindset

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, specifically mentions the generosity of those in the Macedonian churches:

“In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: they gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us”.

(2 Corinthians 8 v 2 – 5)

Paul uses their example of radical generosity, despite their economic circumstances, to encourage the church in Corinth to ‘excel in the grace of giving’… ‘that there might be equality’ (v14). He asks them to remember that ‘whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously’ (2 Corinthians 9 v 6) for, ‘he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness’ (v10). Here we see God’s people unhindered by poverty thinking despite the economic status. In a similar way, Jesus commented on radical generosity:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence.
Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.’ “.

Mark 12 v 41 – 44

She gave out of a generous heart, out of her poverty. I don’t encourage anyone to give their money or themselves to anything or anyone to be in financial debt or illness. We give in faith to bless others knowing that ‘God will supply and increase our store and enlarge our harvest of righteousness’.

Bill Johnson states that a radical generosity breaks the poverty mentality.  It is giving to such an extent that it is entirely contrary to what is expected in the prevailing culture in which we live.  In this way we break the power of our entrenched way of thinking, and of the culture and its influence over us. It is exerting the Kingdom culture despite the hold that is exerted by the popular culture! This doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a determined fight to break clear of it. It is a process of displacement.

We are created to flourish, not merely survive

It took me some time to break this way of thinking. A number of influential people helped me; my wife Helen, my friend Stephen De Silva, and others, and of course Holy Spirit. I remember a time when it suddenly came to me what was the root of this thinking. I was born in post-world War 2 Britain in Birmingham, what was then a city based on manufacturing and industry – which it still is but increasingly also commerce. My parents grew up as children to experience the effects of the Great Depression, and as young adults the Second World War and the huge economic impact that this had on the UK. It led to severe rationing of what today we consider to be everyday necessities, many foods such as butter and meat, and clothing and fuel. Health suffered. The Beveridge report published in 1942 identified five giants impacting the population – want, lack of education, squalor, lack of work and disease.5 (Most of these are basic human needs as classified by Haslow4). Holy Spirit said to me that my parents, through no fault of their own, but because they were shaped in their mindset by their experiences, brought me up to survive above all else. Flourishing and achieving was not the primary message, not that it wasn’t talked about. I learned that my primary role was to survive, and that this fed my feeling of isolation from my heavenly Father (I came to Christ when I was 18, just before I left my parent’s home). It took me many years to break free from the mastery of this mentality over me. Mostly this was simply through God’s grace and favour – totally undeserved! First being led to start a business in a niche area of consultancy; second being blessed in my business, and then by learning God’s intention for us in Christ and who I am as a son of my heavenly Father. I have to remind myself occasionally of who am I in Christ and not to revert back to an old mindset. But I am not mastered by it! I am the head and not the tail. My prayer is that you would know that too.

  1. Harrison-Mills, D.J. 2011. Hearing about Jesus, but thinking about Joel: exploring the biblical and economic relationship between spiritual and economic transformation. PhD thesis. University of Birmingham. http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/3864/1/HarrisonMills12PhD.pdf
  2. Welby, J. Dethroning Mammon – making money serve grace. Bloomsbury Continuum, 2016. ISBN 978-4729-2977-8.
  3. Welby, J Dethroning Mammon, 2016
  4. A helpful introduction to our human needs was first expounded by Abraham Maslow in 1943. It has since been modified but remains an important element of the understanding of human psychological behaviour (see for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs)
  5. For a short description of the economic effect of World War 2 on Britain see: https://www.bbc.com/bitesize/guides/z6ctyrd/revision/1

After note:

I am grateful to Stephen De Silva (https://stephenkdesilva.com) who helped me to understand how to live as a prosperous soul (3 John 1 v 2). Inevitably, the heart of my message is influenced by his teaching, and it’s important that I honour him by acknowledging this.