Due to my role as the Eklund Chair of Stewardship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, students regularly ask me about financial stewardship. Some of the basic advice I always give relates to budgeting, paying off debt, and saving. I am happy to report that many students take my advice and begin the journey of taking control of their finances. This is not just an economic issue, but I believe it is a spiritual one as well.
Unfortunately, the culture often teaches the opposite of what I try to pass along to my students, particularly at a time when many people believe the economy is surging ahead with no end in sight.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the rate of savings among Americans has dropped to a 12-year low. The article states, “Soaring stock prices and improving job prospects have set Americans off on a spending splurge that is cutting into how much they sock away for retirement and rainy days.” As net worth has risen over the last decade, people are spending more of their lifetime savings. This could mean drawing money out of retirement accounts or tapping into their home equity to make purchases.
The net result is that savings has decreased. The WSJ article continues, “The saving rate was 2.4% of disposable household income in December , the Commerce Department said Monday. That was the lowest rate since September 2005, not long after then-Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan began warning about froth in housing markets. The saving rate had risen to 6.6% when the recession ended in June 2009.”
In my Family and Church Financial Stewardship class last week, we focused on a number of passages from Proverbs that speak about how a wise person should view money. Proverbs 6:6-11 gives us a lesson from the world of insects related to the topic of saving for the future. These verses read:
Go to the ant, O sluggard,
Observe her ways and be wise,
Which, having no chief,
Officer or ruler,
Prepares her food in the summer
And gathers her provision in the harvest.
How long will you lie down, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
“A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest”—
Your poverty will come in like a vagabond
And your need like an armed man.
The ant recognizes the need to save for the future when the present is bountiful. We are in a historic time of increase in the stock market, and for many the economic boom holds great promise for the future. However, we have seen booms before and they are typically followed by busts. The question for us is whether we are storing up like the ant or sleeping away these bountiful days like the sluggard. Notice that the sluggard does not see his poverty coming. It hits him like an armed man seeking to steal all he has.
At the same time, we must be careful not to put our trust in the financial resources we may amass during our lives. Jesus tells a parable about a rich fool who trusted his riches rather than the Lord (Luke 12:16-21). Jesus says:
The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, “What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?” Then he said, “This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
There is a balance to be struck between preparation and abundance. The sluggard of Proverbs 6 did not prepare for the future, but the rich fool of Luke 12 trusted in the abundance of his riches. We must pursue wisdom in discovering where the balance is between these two examples. Both refusing to save for the future storing up treasures on earth are foolish. I pray we pursue contentment between these two extremes.
Harriet Torry, “With Stocks Surging, Americans Are Saving at 12-Year Low,” The Wall Street Journal, January 29, 2018.