Friday, August 28, 2009

Sow and Reap, Sow and Reap

Be sure you know the condition of your flocks and give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.
Proverbs 27:23-27

“Riches do not endure forever.” Now there’s a sentiment we can relate to as we have recently watched our IRAs, 401Ks and other investments dwindle to almost half of what they were just two years ago. For those of us who have another decade or two or three until retirement, we’re smiling like the Cheshire Cat, because as long as we’re in the continual process of adding to our investments, we know – or at least we think we know – that these market lows will soon enough turn themselves around and we’ll be sitting pretty again. But what about those who were slated to retire this year and were counting on that 401K to fund a new RVing habit? What about those who are already retired and see that what they thought was going to last them through some 30 golden years, will be lucky to fund 20 bronze years?

These are unique problems to a modern market economy. Old Jewish men of the 6th century didn’t have this sort of problem, did they? And yet this scripture – it’s like it was written for today!

There’s a concept buried in this verse that challenges the way of American thinking. I’ll give you three guesses as to what it is: (OK, I’m tired of waiting, I’ll guess for you)

1. Give careful attention to your flocks and herds – no, not that. We budget, we reconcile our books monthly, we review our quarterly investment reports, make changes as needed. We’ve got that principle down, though we may not always practice it.

2. Diversify! We need goats, lambs, hay and grasses and each of those should be used in as many ways as possible: goats for milk and meat, lambs for wool and meet, and when we cash in on them, we should invest in real estate (“…the price of a field.”). Wrong again. We already know all about diversifying our portfolio, though we may not always practice it.

3. Hmm, let’s see – have servant girls? Lame!

Give up? The buried concept that challenges our American way is this: retirement is not advisable. It might be the American dream now, but it’s not one of the practices on which this nation was founded – or any other nation for that matter (although it might be a foundation of the State of Florida, thinking Ponce de Leon here… and old geezers in black socks and tennies). Smarter people than I could tell you when exactly the concept of retiring from work came in vogue, but I do know that it’s a relatively new idea. For most of humankind, elderly people just kept on doing whatever they could do until they kicked off. And that’s the way it still works in most of the world. Of course, they are not able to continue the level of productivity of their midlife years, and they may not even be engaged in activities that have a direct monetary payout, but they contribute by watching grand or great grandchildren, taking the flocks out to pasture, stirring the soup – whatever – they work! Only in Western Civilization do you find the elderly person whose purpose in life is to play golf, shop and see the world.

Now, if you want to know the truth, given my druthers, I would far prefer to play golf, shop and see the world from age 65 on, rather than continue to labor. And for many people, working past a certain age at the profession they have held throughout life is simply not an option. If they don’t chose to retire, they are forced to retire. Our society makes it fairly problematic not to retire – a strange and quick turn of events from the days of yore.

Let’s step outside our societal norm for a second and consider this: Is it God’s will that we retire? This is a huge question with lots to consider, prime among them: what is it we’ll be doing with all our spare time? Do you think it’s God’s will for us to RV around the country or watch three hours more of TV each day? Some folks retire from their day job to pursue a ministry – like going into missions. For that person, God probably sped retirement.

The not-so-obvious sage advice in these verses is to keep the income coming in – don’t be so na├»ve to think that what you have will provide for the number of years you have planned for it to last. This rarely seems to work out. Think of the elderly people you know – they seem to fall in two camps: either their money didn’t last them long enough and they are living in poverty or they die with a ton of money in the bank. Both are big rip-offs and there is much scripture to support that neither is God’s will for our finances (we’ll be looking at these in future posts). Perhaps God’s will is “sow and reap, sow and reap.” Of course, we’re always doing that anyway. But my question to you is this: If you sow 18 holes, followed by a massage and a few hours of prime-time TV, what do you reap?

Contemplate this: Maybe the only sure plan for not outliving my harvest is to keep sowing for as long as I’m physically able.

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