Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Monday, January 13, 2014


Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. -- Proverbs 13:11*

Back in the olden days, I worked for a credit card company pulling data out of massive files for accounting, marketing, risk management or collections.  Most of the time users were interested in aggregate information.  But collectors, of course, were targeting individuals.  I will never forget pulling a list of problem cards and seeing "lottery winner" in the job description of one.

What causes lottery winners and those who suddenly "come into" money to be so susceptible to mismanagement and bankruptcy?  Not having money is very different from having some money.  Anyone who has learned to save has learned to budget.  The budget may not be a formal spreadsheet or log.  I never had one, but I knew I couldn't buy everything at once.  I also never had a credit card until I was well up in my thirties and needed it for travel.

The very fact that a person will blow money on a lottery ticket indicates a certain lack of understanding of basic arithmetic.  I know people who are good at math and have a lot of money who play Powerball and gamble in casinos, but they have a different motivation.  The average consumer, if you will, of Lotto tickets is hoping to hit it big.  In Essays on Political Economy, Bastiat explains:

It was remarked, that during the most distressing period, the popular expenses of mere fancy had not diminished. The small theatres, the fighting lists, the public-houses, and tobacco depots, were as much frequented as in prosperous times. In the inquiry, the operatives themselves explained this phenomenon thus:--"What is the use of pinching? Who knows what will happen to us? Who knows that interest will not be abolished? Who knows but that the State will become a universal and gratuitous lender, and that it will wish to annihilate all the fruits which we might expect from our savings?"

In other words, they plan on living from paycheck to paycheck, as we say these days.  They have a certain set of skills related to managing money that way.  They aren't good skills, but they are skills.  If such a person is made suddenly wealthy, probably 7 or 8 times out of 10, they will squander their riches because they do not understand capital, investment and earnings. 

This is true of realms other than material wealth.  True education of any sort is built layer upon layer.  Quick fixes and crash courses are ineffective for those with a poor foundation.  We often see college students failing because they were not given a solid foundation in the basics  -- like reading, and they never even learned to learn.

With regard to spiritual truth, the situation is much the same.  We have to, as Jude advised, "build [ourselves] up in [our] most holy faith" by persevering in prayer and other Christian disciplines.  It doesn't have to be a chore, but most of us are not going to have a Damascus Road experience.  Plus, Saul of Tarsus was not turned into Paul the Apostle overnight.  Moses had to spend forty years tending sheep before he could shepherd Israel.  David was pursued by Saul and driven into exile before he returned to rule.  Jesus Himself was 30 years old before He began His ministry and spent forty days fasting in the wilderness to start.

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 then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?  And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own? (Luke 16:10-12)

Whatever God entrusts to us, little or much, it is training and testing.  If we take care of it and use it wisely, though it is small and insignificant, we are laying the foundation for a greater blessing to come.

* I see that I touched on this verse and subject in a similar way just a few months back.  I guess it bugs me.

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