In the late nineteenth century, an American traveler paid a visit to the influential Polish rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known popularly as the Chofetz Chaim. The American was astonished to see that this revered and renowned rabbi’s living space basically consisted of a simple room filled with books, a table and a bench. The curious American asked:
“Rabbi, where is your furniture?”
“Where is yours?” replied the rabbi.
“Mine?” replied the puzzled American. “But I’m a visitor here. I’m only passing through.”
“So am I,” said the rabbi.
Although the opportunities and methods have changed over the centuries, since ancient times the pursuit of wealth has been the driving force behind most of the important daily decisions within individual families as well as societies at large. It’s no wonder then, that in the New Testament, verses regarding money and financial issues outnumber verses pertaining to faith and salvation by a factor of ten.
The way we feel about our current station in life is largely determined by how we view the world. Where we fall on the economic scale is largely determined by how we use our income. When it comes to personal finances, being rich, poor or somewhere in between is not just dependent upon how much income we receive, but is greatly influenced by the way we use the money and resources that are at our disposal. In short, this whole business of personal finance basically boils down to an issue of stewardship.
And what exactly is a steward? A steward is someone who occupies a place of trust, honor, management and accountability over an owner’s possessions, and is therefore required to exercise responsible care over the resources they are entrusted with.
Thus, if we live our lives under the premise that God owns everything, then it logically follows that we are obligated to manage what is entrusted to us according to His principles. And when we do so, motivation, joy and peace of mind can then be found in the knowledge that the material things that go through our hands can be used effectively and in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.
All of us will one day be accountable for our stewardship and for the type of witness it provides, and by the proper stewardship of our money we are making available the financial resources to co-opt the things of the world for the furtherance of God’s kingdom.
In terms of eternity, money is meaningless, but in the here and now, money is a tool to be used. So proper stewardship and planning should not just center on saving for retirement; it also should allow for the cheerful and beneficial utilization of money in the present.
And while the basics of financial planning – stuff like budgeting, minding expenses and debt, saving and insurance – are not rocket science or a secret, they are a time-tested foundation for building financial peace of mind. But guess what? The majority of households in America don’t implement these personal finance basics; they don’t plan, and they don’t set goals for their financial future.
Oh sure, lots of folks have some nebulous goal of retiring comfortably someday by keeping their noses to the grindstone and working long, hard hours chasing after the next pay raise, or the next higher-paying job. And that’s cool because hard work is honorable, and it’s a given that we all must work hard; the Lord himself is a worker, and we’re told that “we have to tend a fig tree in order to eat its fruit”.
But many folks settle into a life of labor where they find themselves often daydreaming about some future time when they won’t have to do that work anymore. And therein lies the problem; it seems an awful lot like all that butt-busting effort is put forth for the sole purpose of earning a paycheck in the present (point A) that will somehow enable them to pursue their heart’s desire sometime in the future (point B). But, unfortunately no map was ever created to plot out how to get from point A to point B.
I don’t know about you, but to me that doesn’t seem like a very focused or fulfilling way to spend a person’s working years. On the other hand, clarity and motivation can be found in figuring out what your dreams are, getting a handle on your goals, and having a financial plan that points the way. It can mean the difference between slogging through work, day in and day out, in the hopes of “one day” retiring wealthy, and having financial peace, living a life of significance right now and embracing the journey of the daily work life.
Occupation vs Calling
When we work our jobs what we are basically doing is giving up big chunks of our personal time in order to do certain things in exchange for money. But what would happen in the unfortunate circumstance that we just up-and-die, right in the prime of our working years? Well, in most cases, within a short period of time our position would be filled or our work would be absorbed by our employer. We are replaceable.
But let’s say we also have a family that we really love and enjoy. In our family we are not so easily replaceable. But of course, we don’t get paid to be a spouse and a parent; we get paid to do our job at our employer. It is our replaceable position in our occupation that allows us to better pursue our irreplaceable position of significance as a spouse and parent. See, for most of us, there is a difference between our work (occupation) and our calling (in this case, a spouse and parent) and whether or not we realize it, we are constantly allocating ourselves between the two.
As we go through life continually making this trade off of money for time our perception of this trade off changes. The longer we think our time horizon is, the more precedence the gathering up of money takes. But as we get older, time slowly gains in importance until eventually the trade off ends. Completely.
This is what we Americans like to call “retirement.” It is from this point on that both money and time will slip through our fingers, in lockstep, and at an ever-accelerating pace. At this juncture it becomes a lot harder to begin to forge significance because significance is financed by some combination of money and time, and in the latter years of life, we are quickly running out of both.
That’s why it’s so important to understand and remember that to get to a point in life where money is not much of a worry will require some advance planning. And I’d say to plan not only for finances, but also for personal growth. The two should go hand in hand.
And sometimes personal growth requires the expenditure of money, which of course may affect our financial plan. But see, that’s the beauty of creating and putting a plan into action in the first place: It will allow us to simultaneously secure our future and have a positive effect on the present. We should never ignore the journey by only focusing on the destination!
Boiling It Down
So that’s kind of the essence of the whole thing; no matter what our personal views are about money, and how much wealth we’ve got or think we need to acquire, we’ve really got to come up with some kind of a personal financial plan.
And if you ask me, the main goal of our plan should be to get to a place of financial peace of mind. See, it doesn’t really matter how much money we have – if we spend most of our waking hours thinking about money, then we can’t be truly rich. And that’s because it’s not the person with the most wealth that is truly rich, but rather the person that has the least worries about money.
Are you looking forward to ‘traditional’ retirement? Are you well along in your plan? Do you have different goals for the different phases of your life?