Money Matters

It has been heartening to see how well The Enterprise Center has done through this extended time of fiscal pain. I give all the credit to Della Clark and her staff for being aggressive in their revenue generation and prudent in their cost containment.

I'd like to say that some of the foundation for this success was built during the last major recession, which hit us (I was on staff at the time) around 2003. Heretofore, we were growing and times were good. But, in retrospect, it was the lean times and not the fat times that molded us for future success, for it was the scarcity of resources that forced us to figure out how to operate efficiently and effectively.

I've heard this said of for-profits as well, that when times are tough, you figure out what you're really about and force yourself to a better place as an operation. The converse is often true: when times are good, firms have to be careful not to grow complacent and lazy, lest those habits come back to bite them when there is a pullback.

I think this truth can be applied to our personal finances as well, for those of us who are followers of Jesus. It may or may not come as a surprise to you how often money is talked about in the Bible, but that frequency, in light of our present materially-driven generation, means that how we are with money is a pretty good barometer of how we are with our souls and with our Maker.

As a child of penny-pinching immigrants, and a student at the Wharton School of Business, I always tried to take money seriously, in terms of avoiding materialism and giving sacrificially. Not that I don't struggle in these areas, but at least I am struggling against the struggle instead of giving in.

But even for me, who considers himself doing pretty good in this area, I must be careful. For as I grow older, and advance in my career, my financial position becomes stronger, and it takes discipline and remembrance to practice financial restraint in my purchases and financial generosity in my giving.

One of the reasons so many billionaires are eccentric is because they literally can do anything they want. As I once explained to one of my students, having a billion dollars in wealth means that just on the interest alone, you could kick off tens of millions of dollars alone in perpetuity. You almost literally can't spend your way down from a billion dollars of wealth. So you can do anything you want. Do you want to hire somebody to give you a piggy-back ride to work? You can. Do you want to pay Rod Stewart a million dollars to sing at your birthday party? You can.

I'm not a billionaire, obviously. But there are a lot more things I can do with my money than before. If I want to buy that shirt in the store window, I can. If I want to take my family on a nice vacation, I can. If I want to buy my kids toys and books and classes and clothing, I can.

Possessions are not inherently evil. But the happiness they give us can be seductive. At a time of great need, and in a world with so many perilously poor, we die a little when we are selfish with our spending, choosing instead to satisfy ourselves with fun experiences and new gadgets.

It may seem snooty to rant about how hard it is to have means. But if we are materially rich (and most of us in this country are, relative to the rest of the world), it does behoove us to consider what our position is with respect to money. As my non-profit strengthened during a time of fiscal distress, and as firms must be wary of not getting fat and happy when all is well, so must we as believers guard our hearts against materialism and against closing off to the need around us.

It matters for our souls, for eternity, and for many around us who could benefit from our generosity, whether we settle for passing pleasures and personal leisures, or whether we heed the many calls in the Bible and deploy our resources outward to help others in need. Whether times are good or not, may we choose wisely.

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