Psalm 49

Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the utterance from my heart will give understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle:

Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me- those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him- the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough- that he should live on forever and not see decay.

For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings.

Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.

Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself blessed- and men praise you when you prosper- he will join the generation of his fathers, who will never see the light of life. A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.

We’re taught to envy the rich. In our society today wealth is taken as a sign of intelligence or good fortune. In the past it’s been seen as evidence of righteousness. There’s no question that wealth can make one’s life a lot easier. I think it was the legendary entertainer Sophie Tucker who once said, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better.”

Henry David Thoreau wrote, “There are two paths to financial independence. Increase your means or decrease your wants.” The best strategy is a combination of the two, but most seem to focus only on the first one.

My last stint in the business world brought me a fairly large guaranteed salary. For nearly four years it showed up automatically in my account every two weeks. It was the first time in my life I had ever experienced such a thing, having always been self employed until then. I took the job to help fund the start up of this website ministry, but it soon took the best of my time and energy.

After I returned to full time ministry, I realized the extent to which I had come to depend on that job for my security. And though it was nice to have, I now consider it to have been a distraction rather than a means to achieving my goals. It’s been said that the last great obstacle to success in any venture is a loss of purpose, and the false sense of security prompted by a guaranteed income caused me to put my real goal on the back burner. Loss of purpose, loss of urgency.

Back in ministry I now depend on the Lord, and am struggling to make up for lost time. When I read passages like the Psalm above I’m thankful that my wife implemented Thoreau’s advice when we began talking about leaving the business world for good. Over a relatively short period of time, she single handedly decreased our wants to a point where our living expenses are now only about 1/3 of what they used to be.

It’s not that the Lord couldn’t have provided for us at the former level. But we discovered we didn’t need that much to live happily, and not having to expend so much time and energy to fund our lifestyle gives us more to devote to ministry. And we’ve found after a few years of “the simple life” that it’s been the most blessed of them all.

Eternity is a long time, and we’re all going to live through all of it. Compared to eternity the 70 or so years we spend here is little more than the blink of an eye. Psalm 49 was written to remind us that man’s rules of the game for this life are way different than God’s rules for the next one. And the more we focus on “winning” here the more we risk setting ourselves up to lose there. No amount of money is sufficient to purchase your salvation, and with out that, even though you’ve named lands after yourself, you’ll dwell in the grave forever. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36)

It turns out that God’s most important rule of the game works well for both this life and the next one. It’s tucked away in a seldom featured passage of 2nd Corinthians.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Whether you’re rich or poor, everything you have or see around you will disappear. It’s all temporary and could be gone with the next beat of your heart. You’ll enter the next world, the permanent one, with none of it. I’ve never seen a U-Haul following a hearse into the cemetery.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21)

The way you store up treasures in Heaven is to use a portion of the abundance He’s given you here to further the work of His Kingdom here. After you’ve done your share to help support the congregation you attend, take a look at the para-church ministries around you. They’re often the place where the rubber really meets the road, and a small investment there can pay big dividends. It’s true, you can’t take it with you, but this way you can send it up ahead.

Treasure on Earth stays on Earth and is gone with your last heartbeat. Treasure in Heaven awaits in Heaven and remains for eternity.