The Deductive or "Wishful Thinking" Approach to Spending
This method of spending operates from a philosophy of what we should be able to spend. The basis for comparison for what we should be able to buy may be based upon what others in similar economic positions are able to do, upon what our family-of-origin was able to buy, or upon what we think we deserve to be able to purchase. Often we simply feel like spending--impulse buying. The common thread in this approach is that spending is not based upon what is actually available, but upon what should be available, or upon what we wish were available. Unfortunately because of easy credit, much which we can't afford is purchasable. Satan may trick us into believing lies, being the father of lies (John 8:44).
From a biblical standpoint, justification can be found for almost any approach. If we are giving substantially to the work of the Lord, Philippians 4:19 says, "My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." (NIV). Or, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). These are true statements.
However, in our society, we have come to expect far more than the biblical minimums for contentment: "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." (1 Tim 6:6-8). Even the godly apostle Paul did not have those minimums all the time (2 Corinthians 11:27), although he didn't die from hunger or exposure. God's minimums and those of American society are at opposite extremes. Jesus offers us the abundant life, but not necessarily one abundant in things and pleasures (John 10:10; James 4:3). Life does not equate with the sum of our possessions (Luke 12:15). For a Christian, Christ is our life (Colossians 3:1-4).
The Inductive or "Reality-based" Approach to Spending
Here we begin with what is (reality), rather than with what we think should be. God's ways are far above our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9); all things are from Him (Romans 11:33-36). Ignoring the reality will result in greater and more prolonged problems. God is good (Mark 10:18). If so, then He is not punishing us with inadequate supplies. He may be trying to prune us away from something. He may be guiding us. He may be teaching us about our work habits. He may be chastening us into living in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), and being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:22-23). He may be making an example of us to unbelievers (as Larry Burkett suggested). Lack of discipline in finances is a spiritual problem first, reflecting a lack of self-control (Galatians 5:23), and perhaps laziness, greed, a love of pleasure, or selfishness. We need the Spirit to burn out what is unworthy of Christ, and then yield control of our finances to the direction of God, as we pray for guidance (Romans 8:13; James 1:5; Proverbs 3:5-6). We need to confess our failure to live filled with the Spirit, failing to live up to the stature of Christ. He will forgive (1 John 1:9).
The inductive approach begins with our good God's providential supply at any point of time. It considers that supply to be normally adequate. If the supply is truly inadequate, we are invited to pray for what is adequate (James 4:4). What God can do in response to prayer to supplement our supply can be amazing. A paycheck is only one way by which God provides. He even grants the desires of our heart, if He is our chief delight (Psalm 37:4).
If we seek first God's kingdom, he has promised to supply our food and clothing (Matthew 6:25-34). He will meet our basic needs. If we honor God with the first of all our increase, then He will normally prosper us materially, if our motives are correct (Proverbs 3:9-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8; Malachi 3:10). However, we can't manipulate God to give more because of our giving, since He already owed our gift before it was given (Romans 11:35-36).
If we are not God's children by faith in Christ, we are an enemy of God (Colossians 1:21). He has obligated Himself to answer the prayers only of his children (although He may answer the prayers of unbelievers), except the prayer to receive Christ (John 1:12). These promises can enable us to escape fear and worry (2 Peter 1:4), because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
We walk by faith, not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Creativity abounds in God's providence--He even uses ravens (1 Kings 17:4-6). He uses unlikely means, as well as the likely, but none to the point that we can safely trust the instrument of His provision, rather than the God behind the instrument. If we haven't burned the credit bridges behind us, trusting the unseen God may appear irresponsible--even terrifying. But do we trust the Master Cardä above the Master? Do we really believe God's promises? Psalm 50:14-15, for example, is a promise that can deliver us in the day of trouble.
Living With Less
How can we live on so much less than to which we may be accustomed, because of credit? Quite simply, ask Christ to enable you. Paul wrote, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:12b-13). Contentment lies far more within the realm of our relationship with Christ than within that of supply.
Tracking expenditures, totaling them and comparing them with actual income is sometimes tedious. But this disciplines us to live within the reality of God's actual provision. Living outside our means is a statement of discontentment with God's treatment of us. Continuing to live that way will usually lead to broken relationships, anxiety, and financial bondage (Proverbs 22:7).
God is alive, His promises safe, His presence among His children secure and His provision sufficient. We walk in the reality of God's love, so we can afford to hope. His mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness great (Lamentations 3:21-24). God Himself is our sufficiency.