In his essay The Principle of the Four Quarters, pastor Dallas Stallings recounts his first lesson in money stewardship as a child when his father gave him four quarters as a weekly allowance. He was required to give one quarter to the church, to deposit another quarter in a bank account, and was free to use the remaining two quarters for anything else he might desire. Over the course of his life, the principle of the four quarters remained with him as a way of evaluating his sense of wealth and personal financial health.
After a lifetime of managing money and evaluating spending habits using the principle of the four quarters, Stallings wrote, “I have come to the conclusion that wealth is not so much how much money one has but the attitude with which one uses his money and his other assets . . . . Our use of our money and other assets has become [for me and my wife] a lifestyle that gives meaning and purpose to who we are. It is both a spiritual and a financial wealth that is not measured in dollars but in attitude.”
Another way of conceiving Stallings’ lesson is to reflect on how our money fits into three categories from most narrow to most broad: (1) tithing and charitable giving, (2) savings, (3) everything else. When we conceive tithing and saving as one of many individual line items in a budget, we run the risk of overlooking their weighted significance. As our income and assets grow beyond a meager allowance, it is tempting to measure wealth as a combination of dollar figures and accumulated stuff. When we fall into this trap, our sense of spiritual wealth suffers most of all.
If tithing and savings are simply one of many individual line items that do not stand out in your personal budgeting, consider taking a few weeks or months to assess your personal wealth using the principle of the four quarters as a general guide. And if you want to dig a little deeper, use a similar process to assess your stewardship of time by considering how much time you spend (1) worshipping/serving, (2) resting/playing, and (3) working. Then consider how you might use the principle of four quarters to put new attitudes into action, as you discover new ways to measure and expand your spiritual and financial wealth.