On the surface, receiving wealth suddenly can appear to be a tremendous blessing. However, it brings with it a host of decisions and issues that can cause a great deal of strife in one’s life. Having a plan to deal with this in a way that honors the Lord is beneficial.
This post examines what the Bible has to say about sudden wealth, areas of concern and how to create a plan to handle it well. I hope this helps sudden wealth be a blessing.
What is Sudden Wealth?
Sudden wealth is a term used to describe when a person receives a large amount of money suddenly. This can either be expected – such as selling a business, receiving a lawsuit award/settlement or receiving stock option awards at work. Or it can be unexpected – such as receiving an inheritance, a bonus at work or a large gift from a friend or family member.
Regardless of how much you receive or whether it is expected, receiving a large amount of money suddenly can be problematic.
Why Does Sudden Wealth Create Problems?
There are many reasons sudden wealth can create problems, here are a few:
- Can Disappear Quickly – to many people sudden wealth seems like found money, making it easy to treat it differently from the money you have worked to build over time. The Bible warns of this very clearly: Proverbs 20:21 “An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end.”Proverbs 13:11 “Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.”It is easy to lose perspective when you receive a large amount of money. Rather than treat it prudently – as you would your normal assets that you toiled many years to build – it can be tempting to spend it. When we treat sudden wealth differently, it is ripe for mismanagement.
- Foolish Decisions – there have been studies done about lottery winners, showing roughly 70% of them are broke within 7 years of winning the lottery. Even worse, some have died horrible deaths, or lost their friends and family due to their sudden wealth. You regularly hear of similar stories in the lives of professional athletes and entertainers. However, foolish decisions aren’t just limited to famous people receiving huge sums of money. It can even happen to “normal” people receiving a small amount of wealth suddenly. You could use it to buy a bigger house that has higher maintenance costs or an expensive car that costs more to insure and repair. It seems affordable at the time, but it quickly becomes unaffordable. These types of foolish decisions happen all the time to “normal” people, we just don’t hear about them.
- Money Becomes Our God – wealth (suddenly received or slowly accumulated) can take our focus off of God and onto money/possessions. In Matthew 19:16-27 Jesus is asked by a rich young ruler how he can obtain eternal life. Jesus, knowing the man’s heart, said that he should sell all his possessions, give to the poor and follow Jesus. The young man went away sorrowful, as his faith was in his money and not in God. Receiving sudden wealth can cause a subtle shift in our thinking that can grow over time if not dealt with. For the first time you may feel secure, or able to handle life’s challenges with your newfound wealth. Sadly, you have replaced God with money as the source of your hope and security.
Steps to Handle Sudden Wealth in a God Honoring Way
Those who have successfully navigated their new wealth well had a plan and stuck with it.
Ideally, it would be best to consider the points below before you receive a large amount of money, but that is not always possible. Even if you never think this will happen to you, it can help you be prepared with a plan just in case.
1. Seek Godly Counsel
Proverbs 15:22 says “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”
Proverbs 11:14 says “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
You may be very knowledgeable financially, but this is new territory for most people. Having wise counsel will help you avoid the life altering pitfalls that sudden wealth brings. Finding an Accountant and Financial Advisor (you can read more about how to find one here) who can provide wise counsel, can be invaluable as you process how to handle this. Ideally, it is beneficial to work with fellow believers who can challenge your thinking from a Biblical worldview.
2. How Much Will You Give Away?
If you are seeking to be a good steward of what God has provided (you can learn more about Biblical stewardship here), this question defines the direction you will go in. If God owns it all, He owns the money you just received. How will you use it for His glory?
There will be a temptation to use it on ourselves. However, the antidote to greed is giving. Here are a few thoughts to weigh:
- When people think about giving, they normally think that 10% is how much they should give. However, the 10% really should be the starting point of our giving (you can read more about giving here). Receiving sudden wealth is different than your regular income, because it is an extra blessing. Giving more from these extra funds does not normally take away from your ability to support your family. When we are blessed, one of the natural outgrowths of a mature believer’s heart is to bless others. I would encourage you to give more out of the newfound wealth, as God has richly blessed you.
- If you are giving a large amount of money away, it can be hard to research the charities in advance. It is important to take the time to do so, and here is a post to help with that.
- Whatever amount you decide to give, I would encourage you to get it out of your bank account as soon as possible to reduce the temptation of using the funds for your own purposes. You may want to consider using a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) to accomplish this. A DAF provides you time to select which charities to give to (you can learn more about DAF’s here), and can keep your giving private.
3. How Much Will You Keep?
This question goes hand in hand with the previous point. The temptation will be to increase your lifestyle due to your newfound wealth. As I have mentioned in other posts, it is best to set a standard of living for yourself early in your career (making periodic adjustments for cost of living increases and/or a growing family), and stick with it as your income or assets increase.
The money God provides is not for your own luxury and comfort. It belongs to Him, and we need to manage it in a way to bring glory to Him. Spending it all on ourselves or greatly raising our standard of living, doesn’t seem to fit with our stewardship responsibility.
However, God provided all things for our benefit, so using a portion for our own needs is not a bad thing. You will need to find the right balance for your situation.
The first temptation when wealth is received suddenly is to spend some of it on a big purchase. I would encourage you to wait before making any major decisions. Receiving wealth (either expected or unexpected) generates new emotions and concerns that are helpful to understand. Making a decision in haste can cause unexpected ramifications later on.
Leave the money in the bank, let it earn interest, and spend time praying and thinking this through. Yes, there is the potential for lost growth for that time period. But taking time to sort everything out and determine if this purchase is really necessary can save you a lot of grief later on.
5. Become/Remain Faithful
Luke 16:10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
If you have had difficulty handling your finances, it doesn’t matter whether you receive $10,000 or $10 million, it can still create problems. Take time to get your finances in order before dealing with your new wealth. Put the money in a safe place, and find wise counsel who can help you and hold you accountable as you respond in a God honoring way.
If you have been faithful with your finances, don’t allow sudden wealth to undermine your faithfulness. It can be very tempting to unknowingly succumb to the deceitfulness of wealth. Find Godly, trusted, wise counsel to hold you accountable so you can remain faithful.
There are many things in life you cannot control, and receiving sudden wealth can be one of them. The part you can control is how you handle it.
I would strongly encourage you to think through how you would handle it and get a plan. You may need help, and there is nothing wrong with that. But, if you need help, don’t delay. It is very important to handle it in a way that honors God, so that it doesn’t become a snare for you and your family.
Points To Consider
- Are the money or possessions that you have more important than God?
- Be careful who you choose to share information about your newfound wealth with as it can change your existing relationships
- Sudden wealth changes people, normally not for good
- Giving the bulk (or all of it) away may be the best option to preserve relationships and continue to rely on the Lord