Friday, July 26, 2013

*Are Our Daily Habits Productive?

The economic woes the world has experienced over the past half-decade or so have exacerbated the perceived—and often real—gulf between the haves and the have-nots. The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement focused on the super-rich, the top one percent of Americans by income, complaining that these ultra-wealthy people should "pay their fair share" of taxes to support the poor. This disaffection with the rich was no doubt encouraged by the rhetoric of the current President and his supporters, who promised fundamental change in America and a progressive (read "socialist" or even "Marxist") redistribution of wealth under the guise of fairness.

The OWS movement, never truly coherent or successful in its aims, has fizzled, but its underlying spirit of dissatisfaction with the wealthy lingers. Just yesterday, while waiting for my truck to be serviced, I heard the cashier complain to another customer that the salary and benefits package promised to a local top bank executive was ridiculous. "No one," she said, "needs that much money, and there is no way we [bank customers] can make up for it." In other words, the executive was so overpaid that the bank would fail trying to pay it!

The OWS crowd assumes two foundational beliefs about the rich that are not necessarily true. First, they believe that the wealthy are born with silver spoons in their mouths, and having inherited their money from their parents—who are fixtures in a permanent upper class—thus did nothing to earn their mansions, luxury yachts and automobiles, and hefty portfolios. While this is true for a small percentage of the super-rich, the people who inhabit the top tier of the wealthy come and go with regularity as fortunes are made and lost in the volatility of the markets and the business world. The names on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans are different or in different places every year. America is still the land of opportunity—both to rise and to fall.

Second, OWS supporters believe that, if they did not inherit their money, the wealthy acquired their riches through underhanded means. By hook or by crook, by defrauding the poor or knifing their coworkers or competitors in the back, the wealthiest among us clawed their way up the ladder of success, leaving the ruined lives of others behind them. While a tiny minority of wealthy people may have taken this sordid route, the vast majority of top income-earners simply rolled up their sleeves and outworked everyone else. The Pareto Principle, also known as the "80-20 Rule" or the "Law of the Vital Few," essentially posits that 80% of the effects derive from 20% of the causes. In this case, it means that 20% of the people do 80% of the work—and the wealthy among us usually fall into that productive top quintile.

Earlier this week, a friend recommended an article to me on the website of financial guru Dave Ramsey, whose main goal is to help people get out of debt and establish a solid financial footing. The article, "20 Things The Rich Do Every Day," was a blog entry by a man named Tom Corley, author of Rich Habits, "the groundbreaking financial self-help book that shares the secrets of financial success by exposing the daily habits of wealthy individuals," according to his website, In short, Corley has found that wealthy people generally share certain habits that enhance productivity and thus prosperity.

Doing one or more of the habits on the list will not by any means guarantee a six-figure salary, but they are generally commonsense practices that can help a person do more and better with their time, energy, and skills. Here is a sample of the list:
1. 70% of wealthy eat less than 300 junk food calories per day. 97% of poor people eat more than 300 junk food calories per day. . . .
3. 76% of wealthy exercise aerobically 4 days a week. 23% of poor do this.
4. 63% of wealthy listen to audio books during commute to work vs. 5% for poor people. . . .
10. 88% of wealthy read 30 minutes or more each day for education or career reasons vs. 2% for poor. . . .
13. 67% of wealthy watch 1 hour or less of TV every day vs. 23% for poor. . . .
19. 86% of wealthy believe in life-long educational self-improvement vs. 5% for poor.
The underlying premise behind Corley's list is that some people, by virtue of their daily habits, set themselves up for success and the money that invariably follows, while others doom themselves to being poor and staying poor by their unproductive everyday lifestyles. As the sample from the list shows, a good diet and frequent exercise can lead to productivity because the body will likely be healthy, allowing it to work better, longer, and harder. Cultivating the mind through education, creative listening, and reading keeps a person informed, engaged, and expanding his skillset. Finally, productive people do not waste much time on vapid entertainment.

In summary, a reason why the wealthy are wealthy is because they work at doing advantageous things while avoiding detriments and distractions. They do what is helpful and shun what is useless. As the old song goes, they accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. These are things anyone can do—and from a spiritual point of view, should do.

The book of Proverbs is teeming with advice on being productive and prosperous, such as these few: "Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise" (Proverbs 6:6). "Getting treasures by a lying tongue is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death" (Proverbs 21:6). "Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings" (Proverbs 22:29). "By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches" (Proverbs 24:4). "Prepare your outside work, . . . and afterward build your house" (Proverbs 24:27).

In the Parable of the Talents, Jesus heaps praise on those who wisely and energetically profit from His gifts and condemns the one who squanders them (Matthew 25:14-30). Many of His teachings use illustrations lifted from situations involving money, wealth, debt, wages, work, and stewardship. He even speaks of making "friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon (Luke 16:9), just before warning, "If you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?" (verse 11).

So, do our daily routines set us up for success—financially, relationally, spiritually—or do they doom us to failure? Are they productive or unproductive? It is well worth our time to evaluate our lives for ways to improve them by adopting more profitable habits.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

RBV: Proverbs 12:7

The wicked are overthrown and are no more, 
but the house of the righteous will stand. 
—Proverbs 12:7

This proverb stands at the end of a short section, beginning in verse 5, illustrating the progression of the sinful person in contrast to those who fear God. The opening verse describes both of these types of people making plans: The upright have good goals and mark out an ethical route to reach them, whereas the wicked devise devious ways to get what they want. The middle proverb, verse 6, describes the thinking and speech of each type: Evil people use and abuse others—often the good people, who seem to be easy pickingsto get their way, while the righteous trust in their integrity, which they have learned from following God's ways, to get them out of troubles.

Solomon concludes his short character sketch with a confident announcement of the fates of these two types of people. In fact, the sense of the verse is that these ends are sure and inescapable. While we realize that God could intervene and turn the evil person to him, and that the good person could be derailed and fall from his godly integrity, Solomon is speaking in terms of the general human condition. The percentages are high that matters will run their course along the lines he draws in this proverb.

He sees the end of the sinful person as "overthrown and no more," a rendering that most of the major translations follow exactly or nearly so. The illustration behind their being overthrown is of a "turning of the hand," that is, an indefinite catastrophe will take them away in a moment. They will be here today and gone tomorrow, swept away in a vicious flash-flood of ruin, whether physical, financial, or otherwise. In other words, the wicked are setting themselves up for spectacular failure.

That they are "no more" implies that they will vanish from the scene. They may seem so formidable and permanent, but the catastrophe reveals just how powerless they really are, and they disappear as if they were never there. Underlying this assertion is a sense of the long-term, that the family line wicked person will not last, that no dynasty will be built. Their evil will consume them in short while, as sinfulness is really a kind of slow-suicide.

The more positive side of the proverb is that those who stand fast in God's way will have long life and perpetuity in their family. Again, this is not always the case—certainly, some righteous people never marry, and other righteous people, though married, never have children. However, the general truth is that right living produces conditions that encourage health, long life, and good habits and traits that are passed down from one generation to another.

The thought in this verse is expressed in several places in Scripture, perhaps best in the second commandment:
For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6)
The effects of a person's sins reach down the next few generations and cause untold harm, yet the righteousness of a godly person can produce blessings in the lives of his descendants hundreds or thousands of years in the future (consider the example of Abraham and his faithfulness). If we want good things for ourselves and our children, the clear choice is to "fear God and keep His commandments" (Ecclesiastes 12:13).