a christian friend recently shared some of his reflections on what he should do with a sizable inheritance. he listed ways that he could potentially use the money, and wrote about how God has been leading him to prioritize the needs of those who don't yet know Jesus and those whose poverty is desperate. he asked for our opinions as well. this was mine.
i read your reflections with interest. thanks for sharing.
i am glad that you have done some in-depth thinking on the issue of money. i think that christians in the affluent west do far too little of that, especially given that Jesus talked so much about wealth.
it's hard to argue with the imperative to use the money to reach those who don't yet know Jesus and to be the tangible blessing of God to the poor. these are the direct commands of the Lord, and God will bless obedience.
i do think that the calculus on financial decisions can be complex, and i don't think that a direct gift of money is the only way to be faithful to God. the difficulty is that there are always immediate needs (a starving child, a medical emergency for someone without health insurance, people groups that don't yet know Jesus), and if the only legitimate use of the money were to give the money to them or to their causes, you'd never be able to do anything longer term -- the important-but-not-urgent things.
your college education was not urgent, compared to the needs of poor and dying people in the world, but getting one has given you the ability to serve needs in the community that you couldn't otherwise serve, and has also multiplied your ability to gain and even create wealth. i can imagine that as a godly choice, even if it didn't serve the immediate need. similarly, the christians who own businesses often have large amounts of capital at their disposal that could be given away or put into expansion of the business. the former is an immediate blessing, but the latter can also be a blessing to hundreds or even thousands of workers, providing jobs, health care, and the personal capital of work experience that gives them greater opportunities in the future. what is more godly -- to feed the hungry and provide temporary shelter in an inner city, or to start a profitable business that employs dozens of young people, gives them the dignity of work, and creates a pathway out of poverty? aren't both critical?
also, many items aren't simply 'for our comfort' or 'for someone else's need.' take the case of giving money to a camp. yes, it could be that their primary concern is to bless future generations of christians -- not a bad thing, but perhaps not as immediately urgent as people who are going to hell now. but what if the camp is also used to bring in public school kids for nature camps and becomes the on ramp to their getting connected to summer or family camps and coming to Christ?
likewise, your gym membership is not simply a matter of convenience (or at least, it need not be). it's also a way of stewarding your health, being faithful to your family, and even potentially a chance to gain relationships with non-christians and reach out to them on their turf (vs. trying to get them to come to your turf, i.e. church or a bible study).
finally, if you pay off your mortgage now, that money isn't 'gone.' it's just stored away for future use. you can always get it back out (e.g. by selling the house) and use it for some purpose ordained by God. i still remember that, years ago, bill bright of campus crusade took his sizeable retirement savings/package (something like $1.7 million) and used it as a down payment on a crusade-sponsored graduate school. i don't know how well the grad school worked out, but i was struck by how even retirement savings belong to God and can be called up at any time.
over the years, i have been on the receiving end of your generosity, and have been very grateful for God's working through you and your family. so i hope you won't look back at your past as being completely self-centered and indulgent. i don't think that's true at all.
i do know that there are always new frontiers of faithfulness, and it sounds to me like God has really grabbed your heart with the compelling needs of the world's poor and hungry. if so, i think it's wise to go with that with gusto. God's blessing on you and your family as you respond in these new ways!