Debt is like a monster that consumes your resources, wasting your money, time and energy. It gobbles up money for interest payments that you could be spending on useful goods and services. It compels you to devote precious hours of your life and much hard effort to earning more money (to pay your creditors more interest), when you could be using your time and energy in far better ways.

It's possible to escape debt's dangerous clutches. Christ came to set you free from all that ensnares you, and His guidance and power can help you become and remain debt-free.

Here are some ways you can eliminate your debt and use the resources you save to serve God more:

  • Commit to pursuing a debt-free lifestyle, and get the agreement of everyone in your household. Pray together for the grace you'll need throughout the process of making the necessary changes.

  • Have faith that God can deliver you from your debt -- no matter how extensive it is, and no matter how overwhelmed you are by it. Focus on God's power rather than your current bills.

  • Stop buying things on impulse. Discipline yourself to avoid items you don't absolutely need, and which you weren't planning on purchasing when you entered the store.

  • Write down a budget that records all your earnings and expenses. Visualize your budget when you're considering spending money, so you can remember whether or not you can truly afford what you're thinking of buying. Frequently think about how you can allocate more money in your budget to paying off your existing bills, and how you can avoid creating new ones.

  • Close your credit card accounts and cut up the cards. From now on, use only checks or cash to purchase things.

  • Don't dine out except on special occasions. Restaurants - even fast food ones - charge much more than what you would pay at a grocery store for ingredients to make the same meal. Don't throw out leftovers when the food is still good; eating them rather than wasting them will save you lots of money over time.

  • Choose inexpensive recreational activities, such as hiking in a park or renting a video. Be creative. There are lots of cheap leisure options.

  • Pay your bills off one at a time, starting with the smallest bills. When you eliminate one bill, take the money that your reduced debt has freed up and use it to tackle a larger bill.

  • Continue to give generously to support God's work on earth. God has made it possible for you to obtain all the money you have, and He wants you to honor Him with it in every season of your life.

  • After you've paid off your bills, start saving a significant portion of your income -- such as 10 percent -- regularly. You'll have plenty of money to save after you eliminate your debt. But while you're still paying off your bills, use as much of your money as possible for that purpose, because the interest rates lenders charge are higher than what you can gain from putting that same money into savings.

  • Celebrate each victory you achieve in the process of paying off your bills. Praise God for His help, and tell others what you've accomplished. Understand that it might take awhile -- typically five to seven years -- to become completely debt-free (including eliminating your mortgage!), but keep reminding yourself of the many valuable freedoms that make it worthwhile.

  • Once you become debt-free, pray for God's direction as you consider all the options for using your new-found resources of money, time and energy. You'll have much greater power than before to invest in the things that truly reflect your values and God's leading.

Adapted from How to Get Out of Debt ... and Into Praise, copyright 2001 by Rev. James T. Meeks. Published by Moody Press, Chicago, Ill., www.moody.edu, 1-800-678-6928.

James T. Meeks is the pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, which currently has about 12,000 members and operates many ministries to help its local community.

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