(From Restoring Christian Wealth-Proverbs on Wealth and Wisdom)
OK, so thus far, we have shown why people are poor, but does the Bible really tell us what to do to become prosperous? Well, first, it does help if you were smart enough to choose rich parents; being born into a wealthy family will do wonders for your own economic opportunities. Of course, you could also stay awake at night and fantasize about winning the lottery, or that you’d brought Microsoft at $.99 a share. Yes, I am pulling your leg here a bit, but surprisingly enough, many Christians appear to believe that wealth is either an accident of birth, or a fortuitous arrangement of circumstances; both of which are outside of their control. Now the more spiritual ones might even go so far as to offer a theological explanation; i.e., the providence of God is such that He just chooses to bless some people, more than others.
And there IS a degree of truth in that. Some people are born into families that are more affluent. Some people do get an incredible job with a great company just starting out. And yes, there are even people who win the lottery (more about that later). But is that how wealth is really created? Think with me again for a moment; how did some people’s parents get rich in the first place? What made Microsoft (or any other Fortune 500 company) so successful?
The Bible has an answer. Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings. He will not stand before obscure men. It is interesting to note that in a study of millionaires in America, more than 80% had NO inherited wealth! As I have talked with wealthy men, examined their lives and asked them why they thought they were successful, repeatedly, the idea came up of being really good at something. They had a skill, related that skill to a need, and then produced goods or services that met the need more cheaply, more efficiently, or better constructed than the competition. In short, they found what they were good at, developed their natural gifts, and then put them to work in the place where they could see the greatest return for their efforts.
As we mentioned before, one of the recurring problems with men who lack prosperity, is that they do not see the connection between their work, and their economic situation. But Solomon says that a skilled worker will stand before kings. A man who is good at what he does, and self-governed so that he makes the best use of his time and energy, will prosper. A man who is gifted, but wastes that gift, will suffer.
We need to understand that work is good, because God worked. In six days, He worked to create heaven and earth. Since revealing the character of God is the whole purpose of creation, therefore Man, as God’s image bearer in creation, ought to reflect this in his own life. As we mentioned before, Adam in the Garden had work to do even before sin entered the world (tending the Garden, naming the animals, and his descendants would have extended the Garden as they subdued the entire earth). Thus, the key to generating wealth and prosperity is through skilled, diligent labor.
Now I can almost hear people screaming “but I DO work!” Yes, you do, and your work is undoubtedly often tiring, sometimes frustrating and probably does not pay you very much. Remember the curse God put on Adam; “by the sweat of your face you shall you eat bread?” Well friend, welcome to the real world. So often, work is not rewarding just because of the lingering effects of sin in the world.
But as we have been seeing throughout this book, redemption affects not just the individual soul, but all creation as well. Therefore, we ought to see some of the effects of the Curse mitigated. And you know; that has happened! A hundred years ago, your great-grandfather probably worked six days a week either as a farmer or factory worker, making barely enough to stay alive. Food was expensive and the diet limited. Living conditions were harsh, with few comforts; you’d freeze in winter, suffocate in summer and diseases would have run rampant through your family. It is likely that your Great-grandparents were worn out by 45, and dead by 60. It is also likely that many of their children never made it to adulthood but died of pneumonia, tuberculosis, polio, typhoid, rheumatic fever, small pox or some other disease. Yes, they certainly understood the effects of the Curse in those days.
But you, why look at you! When you hit forty, you are just starting to live! Your work, though sometimes frustrating, probably has little to do with lifting and carrying heavy objects or digging in the dirt. Let’s face it; the only time you sweat is when you go to the gym to work off some of that rich food you cannot resist. Your home has luxuries your grandparents could not even have dreamed of. Now, what made the difference between your Great-grandfather’s day and yours? Ought we to bow down to the twin gods of Science and Technology and thank them for all these blessings? Can evil men, in rebellion to God actually make life better?
Of course, not: we are living today on the Christian capital laid down by our ancestors. Starting from a consistent Biblical worldview, they worked, sweated and sacrificed to build economic institutions that have benefited every class of Americans. Remember, your ancestors came here to a wilderness and created all the wealth of this nation by the sweat of their brow as God blessed their labor.
Sure, America was a land of opportunity rich in natural resources, but wealth laying in the ground means NOTHING unless there are skilled workers to wrest it from the earth and fashion it into goods and services. Think of a little land-locked nation such as Switzerland; the Swiss have few natural resources, no inherent wealth. Did you know that during the Middle Ages the only thing the Swiss were famous for exporting was their young men as mercenaries?
But something happened in Switzerland around the 16th century; the nation adopted the Reformed Faith. Righteousness filled the land, and they discovered what the Bible had to say about work and wealth. So, literally starting with nothing, they began building one of the most economically prosperous nations in history. Honestly now, when I say “Switzerland” what do you immediately think of? Watches and clocks right (I have a Swiss watch on my wrist right now; best watch I have ever owned and one that I will probably pass on to one of my sons)? Have you ever wondered why the Swiss got the reputation for being such incredible watchmakers? It has to do with their lack of natural resources. They couldn’t become a big time industrial power because they lacked the coal and iron ore needed. So, they melded their Protestant work ethic, with what few resources were available and found a way to turn liabilities into assets.
Clocks do not require massive amount of raw materials, but they do require skilled labor. But skilled labor requires a certain worldview and a diligent work ethic. The Reformed Faith provided both and the Swiss became experts in clock making. Eventually, the Swiss used the income generated by making fine machinery and invested it in other areas such as banking. The Swiss understood the above Proverb and as a result, are still the most affluent society in Europe. And by the way, the only mercenaries they ever have to send out today are ceremonial guards to the Vatican.
Now contrast mineral poor Switzerland with a country like Zambia, which has considerable deposits of copper. Zambia, just coming out of almost thirty years of Marxist rule, is economically destitute. Though the “Jewel of Colonial Africa” when English colonialism left in the sixties, now the entire infrastructure is decaying and almost inoperative. I rode ONCE in the only working elevator in Lusaka, the capital (the experience was certainly not to be repeated). The roads are full of potholes; the cars often have no brakes.
The Marxists did not know how to maintain an industrialized society. During a visit there, I saw a group of MI-24 Hind attack helicopters lined up at the national airport. Later during my stay, I had the opportunity to talk with one of the leaders in charge of their Air Force. When I asked him how he liked the MI-24’s he responded, “Oh, they are great when they work. But all of ours are grounded because of lack of spare parts.” Zambian technicians under the Marxists had never penetrated the deep mysteries of preventative maintenance. Therefore, they did not replace gaskets, change the fluids or do any of the hundred and one other things a skilled technician needs to do to keep a complex piece of machinery running properly. As a result, the parts wore out sooner then expected and the Marxist had been so successful in de-capitalizing the nation, eventually they had nothing left with which to buy new ones.
So, Zambia exports millions of tons of copper and starves. Switzerland imports a pound of steel and amazes the world. Now why does Zambia, with all its natural resources, end up in dire poverty while Switzerland with none of the advantages, prospers?
It is certainly not a racial thing; it is a religious thing. Only now is the gospel really penetrating Zambia. After the miserable failure of Marxist Humanism, the people turned in mass to Christ. Zambia is the first modern country to formally declare itself to be a Christian nation, and their future is quite bright. The only problem is that the brand of Christianity most common is that same Pietism we discussed right back at the beginning. Sadly, many Zambians are convinced the rapture is going to come soon, and therefore they have no incentive to develop the skills they need to make a modern nation work. Even sadder, many of them have adopted the Western heresy of “Name It and Claim It” which promises them wealth without work (which bears a frightening resemblance to the certain kinds of witchcraft and demonism common to pagan societies in Africa). Thus, the great reformation of Zambia could be short circuited by deviant theology if they do not make the connection between skilled, diligent labor, and God’s earthly blessings.
Thus, it is very disturbing to see the great number of “get rich quick schemes” run through Christian churches in this country. We should know better, wealth is BUILT through labor, not through schemes. Yet, even so, every few years, a pyramid scheme, or multi-level marketing scam, will take hold of a congregation. And for the first few people in, a quick killing can be made but they are ultimately doomed to failure because they are attempts at creating wealth, apart from diligent, skilled labor. Multi-level marketing is simply a means of re-distributing the wealth, with the guys at the top of the pyramid taking the “lion’s share.”
Think with me for a moment; what is work? Work is a man using the gifts, talents and abilities God has given him to make or fashion something for himself or someone else. A farmer works by tilling the soil, planting seed, fertilizing the fields and harvesting the crops. His work takes empty ground and makes it flourish with life-giving food; food that not only feeds his family, but if God blesses with sufficient rain and sun, enough to feed other families as well. Less than 10% of Americans work on farms, but we literally produce enough food to feed a large part of the world.
A friend defines business in a similar way. He calls business a “black box” where you put in raw materials and skilled labor at one end, and reap profits at the other. In this view, the actual mechanism is not so important as understanding that real, lasting profit is a combination of diligent, skilled labor and raw materials. And as we saw with the Swiss, of the two, skilled labor is the key. All the resources in the world will just sit there in one massive lump, unless a man with skill turns them into products.
All real work produces something useful, either to one’s self or to others. In modern industrial societies, it can be hard sometimes to see the connection between what we do, and it’s contribution to others, but if the work is legitimate, it is there somewhere. Once you have a product, someone has to sell it; salesmen then are critical to the success of any business. If you have workers, someone has to watch over them, make sure they are paid on time, and properly; hence the importance of good human resource personnel. Some men today (and women of course) spend a lot of time moving pieces of paper (or electronic data) from one pile to the other. And yet, often, even this serves a vital function in tracking resources, balancing accounts, etc.
Granted, modern bureaucratic structures create “make-work” which serves no useful function; the more red tape, the less productive the work and therefore the less prosperous the company and the society. Like ticks on a dog, a company (or a society) can endure a certain amount of parasites; but if the parasites start taking over the dog, it is going to die! This helps to understand why Americans are losing economic power every generation; the growth of big government sucks up prosperity to feed itself while providing little, if anything in return.
But real work is the way that man fulfills the dominion mandate (Gen 1:28) of subduing the world to the glory of God. However, the dream of sinful men from the beginning is dominion on their own terms, rather than God’s. And hence, it is a wicked abomination to seek wealth and prosperity apart from work. The thief is a man who wants wealth without work. The man who cheats his neighbors by using false weights wants wealth without work. The man who buys a lottery ticket wants wealth without work. And the man who seduces his family, friends and fellow church member into a MLM wants wealth without work. God will not honor the desire for wealth without work, and even the short-term benefits such attempts receive, will become dust in their mouths, eventually.
Many men have dreams of wealth, but they do not know how to get from where they are, to where they need to be. The difference between a goal and a dream is whether you have a plan and then you work conscientiously at that plan to bring about your goal.
But this requires actually DOING something, rather than just TALKING about doing something. Solomon puts it this way, “in all labor there is profit; but mere talk leads only to poverty” (14:23). Many men want wealth, will read books about wealth, will dream and fantasize about wealth, but never achieve it because they will not do what is necessary to change their economic situation. A friend who retired after forty years as a successful salesman once told me that the hardest problem his trainees ever had to overcome was actually getting out of their cars to knock on doors. They had a route, they had a proven product, they had been trained how to demonstrate that product in an effective manner; but they were afraid of just walking up to strange doors. So, they sat in their cars and felt bad. They made excuses about why they would not do what they had to do. And they failed.
Proverbs 14:4 actually comes into play here; “Where no oxen are the manger is clean, but much increase comes from oxen.” Now at first, a reference to oxen and mangers may seem a bit irrelevant here, (have you ever actually ever SEEN an oxen or manger except on television?) but the principle here is that every job has dirty work involved. If you want a clean, neat barn where everything is pretty and nice, then by all means, keep those dirty oxen out! But having an ox means, you can do 10 times the work than you could do by yourself. The ox increases your capacity for work, but it comes at a cost; a messy barn. Some tasks are always less desirable than others and the temptation is to do the “fun” jobs rather than the “grunge” jobs. But sometimes those “messy” jobs are central to success. Fail to do these and your business will fail.
I well remember “Frank” who wanted to have his own business. He was skilled in his chosen career, was actually quite a good worker and there was no reason why he could not be successful. He was working at the time for a consulting company that was “renting” him out to other businesses for an incredible amount of money; of which he got half. So, not unreasonably, he decided he wanted to go out on his own and literally double his income.
However, “Frank” did not want to do the hard, “messy” work of actually finding clients. He had no marketing plan. Oh, he would spend literally days designing his own custom logo, letter-head and such (after all, it is fun playing around with all those neat computer programs that make even the most artistically challenged look as if we have talent), but “Frank” refused to make one single phone call to various companies that could use his services. He never sent out one brochure to anyone that would actually hire him. He never once walked into a company and asked to talk to their personnel people. And he failed to build his own business. It was a lot “neater” and easier to stay at home, play with the kids, read up in the professional journals and dream about what he was going to do once all the “big bucks” started rolling in, then to actually do what was necessary to actually make his business succeed. He eventually went back to work for another company that paid him a good salary, and provided a reasonable sense of security but does not require him to do any of the “messy” work. But he is making half what he could be making if he had been willing to “mess up the manger” a bit.
Another quality of a wealthy man is someone who really wants it. Proverbs 16:26 says, “A workers appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on.” One of the reasons why men do not succeed is that really, truly and honestly, they do not want it bad enough. In the days of living in an agrarian culture, if you did not work in your fields, literally, you would not eat. Therefore, men had every incentive to work long and hard, get their crops in on time, and be diligent in the harvest because it literally was the difference between life and death.
Today of course, few people in American fear starvation and in that sense, we have lost the direct motivation for hard, diligent labor. But remember Rocky III when he had to face “Mr. T?” The “T” character had the “eye of the tiger;” while Rocky was just playing at getting ready for the big fight. And as a result, Rocky lost the first fight. It was only when Rocky got “hungry” that he was willing to do what was necessary, to train hard and long, and then he was able to win.
Now why make a silly reference to a twenty-year-old, pop-culture movie? Well, regardless of the artistic merits of the Rocky series, they do illustrate a basic Biblical principle; Christians have lost their “hunger” for dominion. We have forgotten our roots, and what our ancestors accomplished because of their commitment to Christ. Today we are soft, flabby and too easily satisfied with all the wrong things. Life is too easy for us and we have forgotten the price our ancestors paid to give us all the blessings we enjoy today. Instead of building on the foundation they left us, we are content to cruise along with the minimum amount of effort. And as a result, we risk losing those blessings, and passing on an inheritance of poverty and impotence to our children. This is one of the reasons why inherited wealth is often no the blessing that it should be; children grow up assuming the blessings of wealth without understanding its costs. What cost you little, you value little.
Though few Americans go physically hungry today, yet, at the same time, we who claim the name of Christ ought to have internalized some things that can make a profound difference in our work ethic. We discipline our children when they are young to do what is right, in the expectation that when they are grown up, they will continue to do what is right, even when Mummy and Daddy are no longer standing over them. It is the same here; even though we no longer fear starvation, we ought to be motivated for the task ahead because our understanding of God should be richer and deeper.
Let us be honest again and frank; if our goal is just to acquire wealth, so we can live in a nicer house, enjoy better vacations and have more toys to play with, we are only to be pitied. We are no better than a consuming animal, and all the warnings of the dangers of wealth in Scripture are directly aimed at US! But if instead, our goal is the glory of God, and the advancement of His Kingdom, if our desire is to be faithful stewards and to subdue the earth so that on the great and glorious Day of Judgment God will say to us “well done my good and faithful servant” then we can expect God’s blessing.
But you have to want it. You have to have a vision of what God can do through you and your family. You have to understand that God has intended to do His great work in the world through people just like you! He could have sent angels to subdue the earth, but he entrusted that work to you. And you have to be willing to commit yourself 100% to the work of God in this world, fully expecting that the treasures you are really building are eternal, and not just for a few years of personal comfort. Don’t you want to be a part of God’s great and glorious plans for the earth? Don’t you want your life to have real meaning and purpose? Wouldn’t you like your life to have made a difference in the world; that because you lived and worked, and developed your calling, that God used YOU to extend His Kingdom? Isn’t that really what life is all about?
I have tried to avoid controversial discussions about eschatology for fear of taking us off track and losing people whose views differ from my own. But regardless of what you believe about the “end times” please remember that there is NO necessary Biblical requirement that WE are living in the “last days.” If you listen carefully to all the popular “prophecy” speakers, they will subtly clarify their “predictions” by saying they “believe” we are the last generation. But the fact is, no one KNOWS when the Lord is going to return. It could be thousands of years from now. And the sad fact is that many Christians use the belief that this is the last generation as an excuse to be self-centered and irresponsible; for if Jesus is coming soon, there is no need to work hard at exercising dominion, or preparing for future generations. No, we can “eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we get raptured!”
But if your ancestors had believed that (and thank God they didn’t), you would not be living in the freest, most prosperous nation in history. THEY planned, and sacrificed and WORKED to give YOU, an opportunity to build a “city on a hill” that would be a light to the nations. One of the primary motivations for founding America was to be the center of worldwide evangelism. When Christians forgot their roots, and stopped planning for future generations, they delivered this nation over to the God-haters on a silver platter.
Whether Jesus returns tonight, or ten thousand years from now, our responsibility does not change one little bit; we must press His Kingly claims in every area of life. Why would you want to be satisfied with just “getting by” when potentially, you could affect hundreds of generations yet unborn? You live, not just for yourself, but for your children, and your children’s children, and your children’s, children’s, children. Through YOU, a godly inheritance could be laid down that might literally, in time change the world! Now isn’t THAT a motivation that can grab a man’s soul and give him incentive to work, and sacrifice and make the best of whatever God has given him? Does it not thrill you to know that Almighty God is working through you to bring His sovereign will about on the earth? Are you not exited to know that God has a wonderful plan for YOUR life? If not, my friend, your problem is not financial, but spiritual, and perhaps you need to get some time alone with God, haul out your soul and do some hard thinking and praying about what your life is really all about.
OK, now you are motivated. You know that hard, diligent, conscientious work is the key to long-term prosperity. But is that all? Proverbs 24:27 is insightful here; “Prepare your work outside, and make it ready for yourself in the field. Afterwards, then build your house.” As we have mentioned, ancient Israel was an agrarian nation, with their wealth coming directly from the land. Solomon thus says here that a man must begin with his fields, before he builds his house. The fields are the source of his wealth; his house is a product of his wealth. In other words, focus on the source rather than on the result.
This may seem self-evident but the reality is that many Christians want the benefits of wealth, without doing the necessary work to create it. Sadly, in my experience, most Christians live way beyond their means because they cannot control their appetites (we looked at this in detail earlier). They cannot set good priorities and therefore get the most out of limited time and energy. Now there are a number of legitimate applications to this, some of which we have already covered in previous chapters; but let us review them anyway.
First, education is an expensive investment. Since our future vocation is often directly tied to our formal education, it therefore only makes sense for men to carefully consider what their vocation is, BEFORE they invest in buying an education. Christians must re-discover the ancient doctrine of “calling”; where every man seeks to find the vocation that God has especially equipped them for. Then they need to study and prepare themselves to become proficient in that calling and put everything else on hold.
A second specific application would be for a man to delay marriage until he is already working successfully (and debt free) in his calling. Remember, plant your fields first, and then build your house. In this sense, “house” could legitimately refer to one’s “household” or family. Everyone has sympathy for young kids just starting out in life and godly families will of course help where they can. But marriage and family ought to be BUILT on a sound economic foundation. My father-in-law understood this; before he would get married, he wanted to own his own farm. He waited eight years before marrying his wife, just so HIS family could have economic advantages that his own father could not give him. Remember Jacob, who worked for seven years for Rebecca (then got swindled into working another seven years) but the Bible says, “but they seemed to him a few days because of his love for her.” If a young man really wants to show his love for a woman, let him demonstrate it by working diligently and conscientiously before he marries her. And fathers ought to protect their daughters from irresponsible young men in debt.
But my father-in-law was a responsible young man; farming was his business so his time and effort (and the limited capital he had) went to improving the farm. He drained fields to make them more productive, so he could raise more of the feed needed for his cattle, and not have to buy it from the store. He invested in improving the quality of his herd of milk cows and thus increased his milk yield without having to increase the number of cattle. He cut his costs by wisely recycling manure to use on his fields instead of buying expensive fertilizers.
In the meantime, their four hundred year old farmhouse was livable, but not what anyone would call a “show-place.” They didn’t have the money to “keep up with the Jones” because they were investing in their business. He paid off that “pesky” mortgage in record time, and then re-invested his profits in buying more land, better machinery, and increasing both, the size and the quality of his dairy herd. Here was a man coming out of the Great Depression, with an eighth grade education, starting literally with nothing (he spent his teenage years working to help pay off his father’s debts), but over his life he built a successful and prosperous business because he was willing to sacrifice in the short-term for the benefits of the long-term. When he retired and sold the family farm, he not only provided himself and his wife with a beautiful country home, and a comfortable retirement where they can visit their grandchildren in America whenever they like; but also left a considerable inheritance for his children. Now that man understood this Proverb, and applied it successfully in his life. Would that more American Christians would do like-wise.
A third application of this verse would require a man to prioritize his spending. There are rich people in the world who have so much money they don’t know what to do with it; but for the rest of us, capital is limited. If you expend that limited capital in one area, you will not have it to invest in another. Most young people today see wealth as a means to buying things; so therefore, if they get any money they immediately want to spend it. Even if they do not have the money, they still spend it through credit card debt, bank loans, etc.
When people come in for marriage counseling, often, the most common cause of division within a home is arguing about finances. I know of a couple who eventually divorced because of differing financial philosophies. His was “save now, play later,” hers was “play now, save later.” They constantly bickered and fought over her spending habits. Eventually, she left him. However, years later, HE is a millionaire and now enjoys the fruits of his labor. She on the other hand, is literally destitute, working desperately to keep herself fed and clothed.
This proverb requires a different orientation, let a man invest in producing income FIRST, and THEN he can enjoy the benefits later on. Perhaps this would mean as noted above investing in education so a man can get a better job. But then let him pay off his school bills before he incurs any other debts. Or by living frugally for a few years, a man might then be able to save enough to invest in a good business opportunity when it comes along. Wealthy people understand something that most others do not; you make a lot more money owning the company than working for it. More Christians could be working for themselves, and reaping the economic benefits, IF they were self-governed and self-disciplined enough, and if they restricted their spending, saving and wisely investing what they had. But often, when they work for themselves, not only do they have the problems we mentioned earlier, they also waste investment capital on the accouterments of success; i.e., fancy but unnecessary equipment, expensive offices, company lunches, etc., rather than investing in that which will actually make their business grow.
The problem of course is that modern Christians, just like their modern, pagan counterparts have bought into a short-term mentality. Most businesses today do not think more than five years ahead into the future. American industry took some serious hits in the seventies and eighties because we could not compete with harder working, and longer thinking Asian economies. We learned some painful lessons (though how well we learned them is still open to question) before our economy turned around. The average American still though is too present oriented, lacking the self-discipline necessary to sacrifice TODAY for greater blessings tomorrow.
Let us look at a more prosaic and practical example; most young couples today cannot afford to own a home when they first get married because they start out in debt. It then takes years for them to accumulate enough capital to buy their first house; providing their income does rise sufficiently. When they do have enough to put a down payment on a house, they often buy the most expensive one they can afford. They then lock themselves into a thirty-year mortgage that will require them to pay sometimes as much as five times or more the purchase price of the home. Trust me, I did the math on our first home; purchase price – $57,000. Actual money paid back to the bank after thirty years – $310,000. That was almost twenty years ago now; and that house is now worth about $85,000. If we had been paying on that thirty-year mortgage, we would have paid the bank $171, 600 in interest! Could you find a better use for $171,600 than simply giving it to a bank?
Now, what if this young couple did things a little differently? What if, like my father-in-law mentioned above, a young man refused to get married until he was debt free and could afford to buy a home? Granted, it will not be much of a house, but if a man lived with his parents and saved every scrap of his paycheck, (as did his future bride) they could afford a buy a small “fixer-upper” when they got married with a minimal mortgage they could pay off within no more than five years. Then, if they invested some “sweat equity” into the home, they could sell it in a few years and make a considerable profit; five years is all that it would take. Then, with the profits from that house, they could then buy ANOTHER house, larger, better located, with more comforts. Perhaps they might even take out a small mortgage (for tax reasons) that they can then again, pay off in less than seven years. Most people do not appreciate how just a few dollars extra a month paid on a mortgage will reduce their long-term interest payments. Do this several times and eventually, by the time a couple was in their forties, they could afford literally, their dream house.
Does this sound unrealistic? Well, my wife and I did something very similar to this (after learning from a few mistakes). We bought small homes with tiny mortgages that we paid off as quickly as possible (not one took more than six years). We invested some “sweat equity” to improve the looks, and the values of the houses. Then, we sold those homes and moved up into bigger and more expensive ones, which we again paid off as soon as possible.
Now, we live in a five thousand square foot house on five acres of park-like land. I drink my morning coffee while watching the deer gambol across my back yard. Yes, I do have a small mortgage (for a pastor, this saves me thousands each year on income taxes, more than what I pay in interest charges). And remember, I started in life with literally nothing. So how did I manage to get through all my education, raise a family AND pay cash for houses?
Uncle Sam paid for my education; the Government offered me $435.00 a month for forty-eight months of school if I would volunteer to be used for target practice by pragmatic Marxists in Southeast Asia. I took the bet and won (the war ended while I was still in boot camp). I saved half my salary every month by living in the barracks and eating chow-hall food. I didn’t buy cameras, cars, and stereos, or go on expensive vacations as many of my peers did. So, when it came time for college (and I did end up going to an expensive, private, Christian school), I was able to pay all my expenses in cash. During those years, both my wife and I worked and lived in peoples’ basement apartments so we could save on rent. We decorated our “homes” with classic “brick and board;” you know, shelves and book cases made of boards laid on top of bricks? As a result, I got all the way through post-graduate school without any school debt.
Meantime, by living frugally and wisely, my wife and I socked away as much of our combined paychecks every month that we could. We seldom if ever ate out (our big treat was a stack of coupons that gave us two Big Macs for the price of one.) When I graduated from college, we bought our first home and still had $10,000 in the bank. Over time, because we had no debt (no car payments, no credit cards, etc.) we could pay the mortgages off quickly and so built up incredible equity, which we leveraged into even better homes. If I did it, you can too. Or at least your kids can, if you teach them to invest in their business first, and their comforts later. Granted, over the years, we did receive several amounts of cash from inheritances. But each time, that money was able to be put into investments, rather than paying off debts.
Finally, in regards to how to successfully build wealth, Proverbs 27:23 says, “Know well the condition of your flocks; and pay attention to your to your herds, for riches are not forever, nor does a crown endure to all generations.” Successful men know that “the devil is in the details.” Wealth can slip through your fingers, if you do not pay careful attention to what brought about that wealth in the first place. A man can be successful in his business if he understands what his customers want, and offers them good service at acceptable prices. But forget those things, treat your customers with contempt, let your organization grow fat and you can lose everything.
Remember when IBM was synonymous with computers (you’ve got to be over forty to remember that!)? When the personal computer revolution occurred, IBM the natural leader consistently missed the market. In fact, due to their lack of attention to detail, IBM created Microsoft. Bill Gates sold an operating system to IBM he didn’t even have, and then got them to give him the rights to sell the software to anyone else who wanted it. Competitors quickly built clones of the IBM machines, but needed Microsoft’s operating system. Selling that operating system was the cash cow that made Bill Gates the richest man in the world.
IBM was never able to respond to the market quickly enough, with a product good enough to dominate the personal computer market. And so, “hungrier” competitors who made a better product, at a better price, replaced the “natural” computer manufacturer. IBM forgot that it was the details that had made them THE computer company, and they ended up letting someone else cash in on the new market of personal computers.
And yet, this same problem afflicts every businessman, and every family. Men who want to live sane, responsible, and prosperous lives often fail to see that an inattention to details continues to hinder their efforts. I know of a man who was given a great way of making money by selling calves. He could buy them in one locale, and then resell them several communities away for a nice profit. Other men had not taken advantage of this potential “cash cow” (sorry, couldn’t resist) because so many of the calves died along the way it wasn’t profitable. The farmer realized after seeking counsel that the calves died during transport for several very specific reasons. He was advised that if he dealt with the problems, he could build a successful cash business.
However, my friend the farmer is not so good with details. He did not pay careful attention. Even though as a farmer he KNEW what was causing the calves to die, when it came time to buy and transport the cattle, he neglected to do what had to be done. As a result, his calves died, and he was out his investment. He COULD have made a fortune, if he had just paid attention to what he was doing, and did it carefully, properly and in order.
Some men let their dreams outrun their brains, and do not carefully consider all the factors that must go into major life decisions. They will change locations, companies, even careers on a whim or a promise that they will improve their situation. But they do not consider the actual details of what it will take to actually make their dreams a reality. Like the poor sucker playing their lottery, they have an implicit faith that somehow, somewhere, God is just going to throw the “perfect” job at them.
I have a colleague who is a successful entrepreneur. He has a passion for Christ and is committed to advancing His Kingdom. One of his personal ministries is helping destitute Christians get out of the poverty hole. He even created a practical home business strategy for struggling families that requires no capital investment but which if followed, has the potential of dramatically changing their lives (and it is NOT a multi-level marketing scheme but a REAL retail business). But sadly, people who desperately need the income often will not follow the very simple procedures he lays out for them. They only listen with half an ear, and though they do make SOME money, never what they could of made if they paid attention to the details. (In fact, their refusal to take good counsel here is perhaps indicative of the real cause of their financial distress; remember fools do not want to learn, just to speak their own minds.)
My friend then, just to show people how much money could be made by following his plan, took his own advice and set up a family business using the very techniques he was trying to teach others (his main work is as a management consultant). Within just twelve weeks, he was doing tens of thousands of dollars worth of business every month! But there are steps that have to be followed; people have to change the way they do certain things; they have to spend a little time doing some research; they have to pay attention to the details. And though my friend graciously offered his own time free (companies pay him hundreds of dollars an hour for his advice); seldom did anyone actually ask him for help. Nope, no thank you, I can do it on my own. Sorry, too busy watching the football game to pay attention to these annoying details. So, their businesses limped along and their families are still living on the edge.
Now granted, my friend is a gifted man; not everyone can do what he does. Not everyone can play in the NBA either. But everyone can become a better basketball player if they practice, and if they are dedicated to the details (stance, balance, follow-through, etc.). Of course, there is time involved in improving your free throws that for most of us is just not worth the investment. But as we have seen, improving your family’s financial situation has blessings that extend to every area of life. So why then, are so many Christians so unwilling to pay attention to the details that could make all the difference in whether they struggle on the edge, or achieve economic prosperity? The simple fact is that you CAN make a difference in your life, IF you are willing to pay attention and make the changes necessary.
Paying attention to details is often the difference between affluence and poverty. For example, when doing financial counseling, one of the first things I require is that a family keep an accurate record of where every penny is spent during the month. Almost always, they quickly discover that a significant proportion of their income is eaten up by frivolous spending; $20 at MacDonald’s, $40 a month for cable TV, $30 a month for soda pop, $25 a month for espressos, etc.
So here is a family already living next door to bankruptcy, and without increasing their income by one cent, I can save them over a hundred dollars a month they are wasting on frivolous activities. Most times, people just don’t realize how much that cup of coffee they buy every morning at the gas station is costing them. With just a little attention to detail, a family can start using that wasted income, to pay off debts, put a little aside for emergencies and start a nest egg that could see them through tough times in the future.
But how do most people respond? They are incensed that I would dare to question their spending practices! They are upset and outraged that they should deny themselves, what others enjoy. They take for granted that they have a right to all the little luxuries in life and often, are not willing to make the changes necessary that could dramatically change their situation.
However, every so often you find people that will listen to counsel. They will pay attention to detail. They will humble themselves before God and make the necessary changes. They will do a sober and self-conscious evaluation of their gifts and calling. They will get themselves on a strict budget. They will tear up their credit cards. They will trim unnecessary spending and live frugally and wisely. They will search for a better job. They will sell the expensive homes that they cannot afford and move into more modest accommodations. They will improve or even develop new skill sets that can increase their earning potential. And most of all, they will humble themselves before God, and start getting their personal lives, and their families in order.
And what happens to such men? God blesses them. He redeems them from the pit they cast themselves into. He restores their marriages, and blesses their children. He prospers their labor and improves not only their financial situation, but EVERY other area of their life as well. They develop ministries within the church, and their reputation amongst the brethren grows every year. And over time, our gracious God entrusts more and more wealth and prosperity into their hands.
Now, do such men become multi-millionaires? No, not really very often; but I have seen God repeatedly take men from financial destitution where bankruptcy was literally around the corner, to prosperity, who owned their own homes, were living debt-free, who were able to contribute generously to Kingdom work, as well as leave a substantial inheritance for their children.
Yes, it took time, sometimes 10 or 20 years; but during that time, men who were depressed, despondent, and almost suicidal found peace, and contentment and joy. The “secret” was simply humbling themselves before God, acknowledging their errors, repenting of those errors and giving conscientious attention to living life God’s way. They learned the value of hard, diligent labor. They wisely invested their time and efforts in the most productive manner they could. They started paying attention to details. And ultimately, every man who was serious about God’s principles found economic prosperity.
And those who did not listen, who would not change, who insisted on doing things their way, reaped what they sowed. They struggled their entire lives, often putting their wives through a living hell along the way. Interestingly enough, sometimes their children did indeed find some measure of economic success, but fell into all those traps the Scriptures warn us about concerning wealth. It seems that by rejecting the foolish financial practices of the parents, the children also rejected their Christianity as well.
But it does not have to be this way. God can, and will bless and prosper you, IF you do what He commands. Usually, all it takes is for us to bend our stupid, stiff necks, admit we were wrong, and ask God for grace and forgiveness. Then, by His grace, start working on applying His principles. It really is just that simple.
Conclusion: If there is a secret to gaining godly wealth, it is by learning how to work diligently AND wisely. Focus on the long-term, live frugally, invest in your future, pay attention to the details. Develop a plan for economic growth and STICK TO IT!
Proverbs for Further Consideration
13:11 “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles, but the one who gathers by labor increases it.”
13:21 “Adversity pursues sinners, but the righteous will be rewarded with prosperity.”
13:22 “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.”
12:11 “He who tills his land will have bread, but he who pursues vain things lacks sense…”
12:24 “The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor…”
13:4 “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the soul of the diligent is made fat.”