By Brian Ehlers
God’s loving patience was evident as He drew me from my economic construct into His. I grew up in a family of seven, with four older brothers. My dad was a depression era kid who knew how to pinch a penny, and my mom wasn’t opposed to spending pennies being pinched.
My dad would at times work two or three jobs, and after I started school, my mom always worked outside the home as well. We always had what we needed, but the financial worry in my household was evident. Research shows that financial issues are near the top of the list of marriage struggles, and that played out in my household. In that environment I pledged to myself from a young age that I was going to go to college, get a degree, and “make a lot of money!” “I” was going to break free of the poverty mentality. “I” was going to be self-reliant. “I” was going to have more than enough.
When I was about 19, I was selling books door to door in the summer to earn money for college. I experienced one week when I hadn’t sold many books, and I depended on those book deposits to have enough money for food. That Sunday afternoon, lying in the grass behind a motel, I had a personal encounter with God. I said, “God, I don’t even know if you exist, but if you do, come into my life.”
At that moment I felt a tingling sensation that started at the top of my head and filled me to the bottom of my feet and stopped. This Lutheran-raised boy didn’t have any room in his theology for that. I got up and explained it away, saying, “It was the way the sun was shining on me.” As far as I was concerned, nothing was going to get in the way of my goal of college and “lots of money.”
I graduated with a degree in finance and began my secular career. The Lord continued to patiently coax me into a relationship with Him. As much as I tried, I could not deny the multiple divine interventions in my life, especially the one-on-one God encounter. The first Sunday of January 1990, at the age of 26, I made Jesus not only my Savior, but also my Lord. The “I” and “mine” had to turn into “He” and “His.” Again, God patiently worked by His gentle Spirit. I remember working my way up to giving $25 a week to my church and really patting myself on the back. Then I learned about the tithe (giving ten percent of one’s income to the Lord’s work), so I figured that out. By that time, I was giving nine percent. What’s one more percent? I thought. Now I was really breaking my arm with self-congratulations. I remember paying off a car at that time and then having this little talk with my clever self, “Well, I better go buy another car and acquire a car payment or God might require more of ‘my’ money.” So that is what I did. Thank God for His patience.
Not long after the purchase of the new car, my pastor invited a traveling minister to come and speak to our church about “financial freedom.” The idea of getting out of debt really resonated with my spirit. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8, NKJV). I took God’s bait – hook, line, and sinker. I was inspired, all in. At that time, I had credit card debt, student loans, a car loan, and a mortgage. It wasn’t a huge amount of dollars by today’s standards, but to me it was a mountain. Nonetheless, I found that when you start doing things God’s way, He gets involved. As I began to be obedient to Him, He blessed along the way. Here are a few examples of His blessing:
- God had been calling me to vocational ministry when the company I was working for was acquired. The sharing bonus and year of severance pay provided what I needed to do distance learning in theology and transition to ministry.
- While my future wife, Darcy, and I were making plans to get married, I voiced my desire for a part-time job that would meet our expenses. Soon after, I was asked to work part-time at Open Bible East at a rate that was just what we needed.
- For a time, I ministered as a full-time pastor at a salary that was only a fraction of what I made in the secular world. (This was possible because of our financial freedom.) Then I received a call from the company that had acquired my previous employer, informing me that they had been looking for me. They said, “Did you know that you have some stock? The company is getting acquired and the stock has to be liquidated.” My stunned response: “Uh, no.”
- When Darcy and I adopted twin girls, we were fully prepared to pay all the involved costs. The only year that congress provided fully refundable credit of adoption expenses happened to be the year that we adopted. Even our travel expenses to Florida, where the girls were born, and back to Ohio, where we lived, were covered.
I was a finance graduate who had to learn about God’s economy. Wow, the freedom that comes with relying on God and not self is indescribable – as is the joy that fills the heart of the faithful steward of God’s assets and the financial peace that comes as debt gets paid off. By God’s grace I was able to climb out of debt in seven years. Even to this day, Darcy and I are thankful to have only a mortgage. I thank God that He patiently replaced a “make a lot of money!” heart of stone with a pliable heart that could know the joy of generosity.
As I have remained on this journey, I found Dave Ramsey’s “Seven Baby Steps” to be a major help (https://www.ramseysolutions.com/dave-ramsey-7-baby-steps):
- Save $1,000 for your starter emergency fund.
- Pay off all debt (except the house) using the debt snowball.
- Save three to six months of expenses in a fully funded emergency fund.
- Invest 15 percent of your household income in retirement.
- Save for your children’s college fund.
- Pay off your home early.
- Build wealth and give.
Another helpful resource is the free online training at https://naefinancialhealth.org/.
About the Author
Brian Ehlers and his wife, Darcy, have been married for 22 years. They have 11-year-old twin daughters, Hannah and Abigail. Brian worked in the mutual fund industry until God called him to vocational ministry serving as an executive assistant at Open Bible East, then as a lead pastor of a local church, then as an assistant and church planting director in the East Region, and now as secretary/treasurer of Open Bible Churches.