Friday, May 19, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 22, Being Wise With Money

The main theme of Solomon's advice today has to do with being wise with our money. There once was a time when he was concerned only with living it up, "A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything." (Ecclesiastes 10:19) When he was younger it was easier to ignore the gnawing emptiness in his soul by throwing money at his problems. If he was feeling down he'd host a huge party. If his thoughts troubled him he'd just get drunk. If he got bored he'd just begin a new building project. Solomon was the wealthiest king Israel ever had but spending money like it was water never satisfied him. He tried but it didn't work. He thought money was the answer to everything but it wasn't. Nevertheless, it's irresponsible not to be wise with money, and that's what he wants to talk about today.

"Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird in the sky may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say." (Ecclesiastes 10:20) He advises, "Don't speak ill of those in authority over you. You never know who might be listening. Why bring trouble on yourself? The leaders of the nation are in a position to help you, but they are also in a position to hurt you." Have you ever heard the expression, 'A little bird told me'? This verse could be the origin of it, although the ancient Greeks had a similar saying.

The king now gives advice on investments. "Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land." (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2) He says there is value in both long-term and short-term investments. In addition, he warns that we should be wary about putting all our eggs in one basket. If we put all our money into only one thing and it goes under, then we're in trouble. But if we spread the risk, if one thing doesn't work out then perhaps some of the others will.

"If clouds are full of water, they pour rain on the earth. Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there it will lie. Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap." (Ecclesiastes 11:3-4) The events of this world are uncertain. If we live in fear we will never accomplish anything with either our money or our talents. He uses the example of a farmer who is so critical of the weather, waiting for a perfect day, that he never sows the seed. Because he never sows the seed, he has no harvest. As humans we so often look for perfect timing. We want everything around us to come together in such a way that we will know it's the perfect time to marry, or to start a family, or to go back to college, or to make any other big decision. The fact is life doesn't often work that way.

Verses 3 and 4 made me think back to the early years of my marriage when it seemed like all sorts of unexpected circumstances were coming into our lives. We'd say, "When life gets back to normal we will do this or that." Some years later we looked at each other one day and admitted, "Life is never going to be normal, whatever normal is." We decided that if a thing looked wise to us, and we wanted to go ahead with it, we might as well. Why keep waiting for the perfect day to come so we can start enjoying life? We will be celebrating our twenty-third wedding anniversary in August and I can tell you life has never been for us what we might call "normal", but we have learned in many cases not to let that stop us. This is why Solomon says, "Go ahead and sow your seed at the proper time of year. Make some wise investments if you have the extra money. Marry the person you love if the Lord says that person is right for you. Have that baby you keep longing for. If you've got the time and income for it, go back and get your degree if you want to, or take classes that sharpen your talents. Don't keep waiting for the perfect day to start living! There is no such thing as a perfect day in a fallen world. Enjoy the blessings of the Lord today."

"As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in the mother's womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things." (Ecclesiastes 11:5) We can't predict the future, but that's no excuse for living in fear. I often catch myself worrying about things over which I have absolutely no control. Sometimes I'm able to shrug it off by saying to myself, "Is there anything you can do about it? No? Then why even think about it?" It pays to live wisely and not take foolish and dangerous chances, but it also pays not to allow ourselves to become paralyzed by fear. Remember when we talked the other day about how, in Christ, we can have a full and abundant and meaningful life? That's the kind of living He intends for us! He tells us not to ruin today by worrying about tomorrow. (Matthew 6:25-34) We are to trust Him with today and with tomorrow also. Our Lord got us through yesterday, didn't He? We can count on Him to get us through today and through all our tomorrows.

"Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well." (Ecclesiastes 11:6) Solomon is a man who made some mistakes in his life, but no one can accuse him of being lazy. He got up in the morning and went about his business. Even after dark he kept on working. He always had several projects going on at the same time and he enjoyed many hobbies and interests. No wonder his mind stayed so sharp all his life! He used some of that wisdom to grow his bank accounts and his investment portfolio. He educated himself in the fields that interested him and, if a venture looked likely to be profitable, he put some money into it. But since he couldn't predict the future anymore than we can, he spread the risk around because sometimes an investment paid off and sometimes it didn't. He wasn't blindly gambling with his money and throwing it around; he carefully considered which markets looked the most likely to make money. He put thought into how much to invest.

Solomon counsels us to work hard and to invest wisely like he did. We aren't to be idle out of either fear or laziness. We aren't to throw our money away on get-rich-quick schemes. We aren't to gamble our funds away in the hope that we might strike it rich or win the lottery. There is no substitute for good honest work and for living an honorable and godly life.

What perfect timing are you waiting for to do something great with your life? Maybe it's time to prayerfully consider whether you've allowed fear to paralyze you. I know what that's like because it happens to me too. There's something I dearly want to do but I keep talking myself out of it by saying, "It's not the right time! This or that is coming up. How can I do all these things at once?" But if a particular thing is God's will for our lives, He calls us to take a leap of faith when He gives us the go ahead. An imperfect world is pretty much incapable of producing perfect timing. There will always be reasons we can come up with to keep us from obeying God's will for our lives. Our own minds often talk us out of things because we're fearful of stepping out of our comfort zones. Also, Satan tempts us with doubts because the last thing he wants is for us to live joyful and victorious lives in Christ. Are we going to let those things stop us from fulfilling our destinies in the Lord? His calling on our lives is almost always going to make us feel uncomfortable at first. It will require faith and courage. It will ask us to follow Him wherever He leads. But what an exciting life that is! What a fulfilling life! What a life of meaning!

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