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Conversations with Christian millionaires

By Peter K. Johnson

God allows some Christians to possess riches. Not to pile up things and expensive toys for selfish enjoyment, but to advance His kingdom.

Three businessmen reveal what it’s really like possessing millions of dollars. They prefer to remain anonymous and are identified here as "Mike," "Don" and "Ron." From different areas of the country, they have built fortunes in real estate, banking, construction, ranching, computer software, sports and auto body shops. One saw a modest investment zoom to a $65-million business. Serving the Lord is foremost for each of them.

Riches didn’t just fall from heaven on a silver platter. They work hard, take calculated risks and invest wisely.

"The Lord gifted me with a gut feeling for business opportunities," says Mike, a real estate investor. Dirt-poor as a child, he was blessed with a prayer-warrior mother who taught him to pray for wisdom. "We rode to church in a car with two broken windows covered with an army blanket," he recalls.

All three men follow biblical principles and pray for guidance in their business decisions.

Don heeds James 1:5: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him" (NIV). He also taps into the Holy Spirit’s convicting power. "Many times I passed up profits that would not be ethical," he says. "It’s not about money; it’s about serving the Lord."

Ron landed in an unfamiliar industry and prospered. "I had nothing to do with it," he says. "God gave me strength and wisdom to handle growing responsibilities. Every decision I make has the Lord’s input."

Don admits his need of divine guidance all the time. When tough situations pop up, he sits at his desk, crying out for wisdom. "On my own I can’t make it," he says.

Money doesn’t spell happiness. "It can cover up unhappiness," Don says.

"There’s never enough money for people driven by that," Mike believes. First Timothy 6:10 warns: "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." Wealthy Christians must also guard against the crafty nuances of greed, like buying a bigger car or a trophy home for image sake, or forgetting that God owns everything. Pride creeps in too. But the Bible warns in Romans 12:16: "Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited."

Mike takes short-term mission trips to third-world countries as a way of keeping priorities straight. "It reminds me where I came from," he says. He also encourages others to start their own businesses. "I like to help people," he says.

Having a lot of money makes life easier in terms of softening the hassles of rent, car and mortgage payments, college tuition, adequate retirement savings, medical bills and major appliance breakdowns. Yet in other ways it’s a burden. Meeting payrolls, satisfying customers, and accountability to bankers and investors are everyday stress-builders. Economic downturns, stock market losses, layoffs, competitive threats, rampant technology changes, inflation, floods and tornadoes, the challenges of e-commerce and seesawing interest rates will humble the most able entrepreneurs. Every successful business will face tough times. Uncertainty rules in the marketplace. Today’s hot product may bomb tomorrow. It’s not all fun and games.

Stewardship of God’s blessings is another major challenge for wealthy Christians. Knowing when and how much to give requires wisdom and prayer. If you have $2 million to give, is it wiser to give it all away at once, or donate $200,000 annually and invest the principle for the long term, ultimately giving more? Do you lavish the local church with offerings or give to other ministries that may be needier? And how about handling the steady stream of pleas from worthy causes?

Don feels a deep responsibility for his wealth, recognizing the many legitimate needs. "Am I being a good steward?" he questions. "Everything I have is borrowed. God owns it all. The only thing that is mine is my soul."

Ron enjoys giving to ministries and needy people. "God speaks to me in a minute," he says. It could be $1,000 or $10,000 — and Ron responds. His wife also confirms how much to give. He and his wife share their possessions and keep an open house. "It’s a building," he says. "It’s stuff. If you care so much about it that you can’t share it, don’t buy it."

Living in the spotlight is another challenge for prosperous Christians. "People watch you," Don says. "If you do anything hypocritical, they’ll pounce all over you." Scripture mandates honesty and integrity. Nothing ruins a Christian businessman’s testimony faster than a shady deal. Proverbs 10:9 gives advice: "The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out."

Ron quit a lucrative business because of cutthroat practices. "I decided not to play those games," he says.

These men walk a fine line, balancing business, family and church responsibilities. "It’s a challenge for any successful business person," Don says. "You get caught up in ambition. I need to be on my knees every day."

Working long hours takes a toll on families. Mike has gone so far as to lease a plane to return home for his daughter’s ballgame.

Ministry is still the No. 1 priority for these men, who yearn to influence others for Christ in the marketplace. Opportunities abound to reach the unchurched.

Don keeps a Bible on his office desk and begins meetings with prayer. He invites a Bible school choir to sing at his company Christmas party every year. Running his own businesses gives him freedom to witness to employees, customers and vendors. "All of life is ministry," he says. "Living for God is in every aspect of our lives." He believes that too many Christians segregate their church lives from the workplace. He claims that the highlight of his career is seeing other businessmen accept Jesus as Savior. "It’s better than making a million dollars."

Owning a successful business and being in an influential position are challenges for Christians. It doesn’t mean they are more spiritual or have more faith than other Christians do, or that God is showing them favoritism. Remember the Lord didn’t have a place to call His own. He became poor for us. "Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head," He said (Matthew 8:20).

Possessing wealth is a blessing that demands responsibility. It comes with the territory.

We are all admonished not to store up treasures on earth. We can’t serve both God and money. Our only lasting treasure is eternal life with Jesus in heaven. The Lord tells us: "Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:20,21).

Peter K. Johnson lives in Milltown, N.J. He attends the Assembly of God in Metuchen (Donald McFarren, pastor).


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