Accountability (last blog) and now discipline? Come on, Dr. Wall, lighten up, already.
The last few blogs we’ve been looking at millionaires and building wealth and what works. I’ve enjoyed reading Dr. Stanley (I’ve been looking at his books The Millionaire Next DoorandThe Millionaire Mindand for this blog, I’m introducing his latest book, Stop Acting Rich. See also his blog) and sharing his insights on this blog, because he’s looking at the positive. Turns out the characteristics that make for wealth building are the same characteristics that work for successful marriages.
Weren’t you amazed at the quote from out last blog that he found 92% of millionaires were married and only 2% were divorced and only 2% were single and the rest were widowed! I mean, that’s just nuts! Cooler than all get out, but just nuts!
Now lets be clear about this: Not everyone who’s married becomes a millionaire. Only about 3.5% of American households will become millionaires (for a summary of Dr. Stanley’s findings see here.) But you don’t have to have a large salary to get there. The basic principle of Dr. Stanley’s work is this:
If you want to become wealthy someday, spend less than you make.
That’s it.Simple.Or to say it another way: Delay pleasure.Or to say it another way: Grow up.Or to say it another way:Be mature.
Marriage is a great place to learn these things.Most of us aren’t there yet when we get married.Putting all our money together for the first time after you marry takes a certain amount of faith and servitude, features that kick growing up into gear.There’s nothing like a few hormones and a child kicking in your stomach to wake you out of youthful fantasies.Seeing little Jr. or Sally for the first time often has the same effect on dad.A kid screaming in the middle of the night with a big project the next day for you will give you a dose of patience.Either that or it will drive you crazy.I guess a lot of us go crazy.
Three and a half percent is not a very high figure. You remember he divided the affluent into two categories: Those with high salaries and not much to show for it (IAs or Income Statement Affluent) and those with modest or higher salaries who became wealthy (Balanced Sheet Affluent). The BAs had something to show for it: Millions of dollars. The IAs had only things to show for it: Lots and lots of stuff. It turns out that not all millionaires have high salaries. In his study sample, at the time when his BAs became millionaires, they were 45 years of age and earned $89K. The way they became millionaires on a salary that low, is that they had to live frugally, living well below their means. Take this typical quote from Dr. Stanley’s blog:
(This couple) achieved millionaire status at age 45 with a combined income (between he and his wife) of $103K per year. Ten years later they were worth 2.3 million.
In 1999, I crossed the million dollar net worth threshhold with an income of “only” $78,000. My wife made about $25K that year…. During all our employed years, we have always contributed the maximum to our 401K plans, IRA’s, and any Roth plans (in the years we were eligible), always saving 20-30% per year. All our wealth was acquired by saving, dollar-cost averaging, and slow and steady investing mainly in mutual funds.
I am not a millionaire. At the age of 38 I am about 1/2 way there on a household income that has never exceeded $85000. I’ve done this via the usual: saving at least 15% each year, modest home (still in my first house), used cars and furniture, shopping wisely, etc. I still drive my first car, a 1976 Monte Carlo and just bought a “new” truck for working around the house. The “new” truck is a 1993 Ford.
These people ended up with fat kitchens. To get there they had to live frugally, reign in their wills, or as Benjamin Franklin wrote above, “lean will.” Don’t tell your will that you can do whatever you want and it’ll be Okay. It won’t be Okay. You have to tell your will to just chill. Stuff won’t make you happy anyway. Consider this next quote by Dr. Stanley:
Happiness in life has little to do with what you wear, drive, eat or drink. The people with the greatest satisfaction are those who live below their means.
Dr. Stanley writes that in order to reach this kind of financial success people need a good offense AND a good defense. A good offense is our earning power. Many of us have spent years in college preparing for our careers and do a fairly good job with our salaries. The problem, then, in accumulating wealth, is NOT OUR INCOME. For most of us the problem lies is lacking a good defense: Using the income we have wisely.
Most of us are only good on the offensive side: We’re really good at earning money. But we didn’t learn how to USE the money we earned. Where do you learn that? For most of us it’s the school of hard knocks.
If you are like most couples (the 96.5 percenters?), you argue about money and got sick of arguing about it, so you quit talking about it. You end up with two people, supposedly married, who are living as if they are single, each doing their own thing. In extreme examples (too many of us, I’m afraid) you even keep your money separate, totally different accounts and have NO idea what your spouse is doing with his or her money. Then, your spouse buys something you think is over the top. You don’t say anything, but you are madder than a pistol. I’ll show you, you think, and go out and buy something else that is over the top. If you can spend money so can I.
Great. Revenge spending. That’ll work.
In marriage, if we’re going to use our income wisely, we’re going to have to talk about it. We’re going to have to work together. We’re going to have to delay pleasure. We’re going to have to be disciplined. We’re going to share the same goals. We’re going to have to keep impulses at bay. We’re going to need to be self-disciplined and not be selfish.
Turns out these are all characteristics that make for a good marriage, too.
Turns out that discipline in one area affects discipline in another. Dr. Stanley found that millionaires were rarely overweight and that they exercised regularly! Crap! Discipline begats discipline.
But what about most of us? The other 96.5%? We love our beer and pop. And sitting around. And munching. And gorging. And gaining weight. And getting soft and pudgy. And drinking more beer. And living together without getting married. And having sex whenever we want it on the internet, sans spouse. And buying all the latest toys. Spending all our money. Spending money we haven’t even earned yet, squandering our future. I just wanna be happy, we tell ourselves. And we fill our houses with stuff. And do what we want when we want it. Over and over and over and over.
And then, one day, we wake up broke. Too many of us wake up divorced, too. And very, very sad. And lonely.
Hey, people! It’s time to get some discipline in your life.
Start somewhere. Harness some self-control, already.
Quit eating all that crap. Quit spending every spare cent to buy all that crap. Work together with your spouse to develop discipline in your lives. Accountability. Teamwork. You can do it.
Dr. Stanley writes, if you are married, there are three options:
-Both spouses are spendy.
-One spouse is spendy. And one is frugal.
Both spouses are frugal.
It’s only the third group that end up wealthy in the end.
So, if you are going to make it financially someday, you will both have to work together.
Enough of this living singlely ‘til divorce us do part.
Ask each other. Consult with each other.
That would be good! It’s time to have a little chat. It’s time to put our wasteful living in the past. It’s time to put our selfishness on permanent leave. By-by.
To quote Dr. Stanley, again:
It usually takes a certain degree of discipline, proactive planning, prioritizing, and investing to become a true millionaire.
So we consult with each other. We encourage each other. We motivate each other. We strengthen each other. When one is down the other picks the one down up. We’re in this together.
For the rest of our lives.
 Stanley, Thomas J. and Danko, William D. (1996) The Millionaire Next Door. New York: Pocket Books. p. 37-39.
 Stanley and Danko. (1996).
 Stanley, Thomas J. (2009). Stop Acting Rich. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 9.
Consistently, over time. This is a good thing to keep in mind. Life is made up of little 15-second snippets of time, little decisions, and sooner or later you can see the overall direction of your life. If you are a wee bit cynical, you might think that I’m touting these wealthy folk just a tad too much or that I’m preoccupied with money or something. My goal is not to make you rich. Frankly, I’d rather see you in heaven than in a new BMW. No, my goal has always, simply been:
If you are going to be married, you may as well enjoy the journey.
There just happens to be tons of people who don’t enjoy their marriages.
A lot of them get divorced.
Which, is the quickest and fastest and most common cause of poverty in America.
Meth will cause it, too, no doubt, but a sure fire way to be broke is to get a divorce. It’ll take you years, sometimes decades, to recover. Maybe we should even admit, that divorce will effect the monetary status of our children. On his blog, Dr. Stanley wrote, that in his research, 89% of first generation millionaires (they earned it; it wasn’t handed down to them) were raised by parents who never divorced! And you keep telling yourself that if you divorce your kids will be fine. Yeah, right.
So after these people divorce, they panic and marry the first nice person that comes along who’s got a job, because in our society today most single parent families can’t survive on one salary and there’s these kids to feed and…
At least they can pay their bills now. For a couple of years. And then the new person with the job turns out to be a worse jerk than spouse number 1 and soon spouse number 2 becomes former spouse number 2 and so on and so on. Do that a couple of times and your life will be over and you’ll die broke.
The bottom line is that married people do better than single people, divorced people and cohabiting people on every conceivable way that you can measure well being including money.
One of the easiest things to measure is money. You can add it up. It would be difficult to determine if someone was happy about his money or his marriage or anything else for that matter, but you can add up money. It’s quantifiable.
Turns out that married people have more money when they die. Period. Than single people, divorced people or cohabiting people.
Why is that? Because, in those 15 second snippets of time, they make better choices. They have a built in checks and balance system. They have someone to bounce things off of. Hey, whadathink about this? Whatdayathink about that? How come you bought that? We can’t afford that. They have someone there to challenge them when they are totally stupid. There’s a we here, you know. Sometimes that can be totally irritating, but over time it adds up to better choices and better choices add up to a better life and when you die you can add up all your better choices and see. Dang. There it is. In black and white. Right there on the bottom line.
Contrast a single person. If you are single, one of your biggest struggles financially is going to be making right choices about money. Millionaire single people are rare, rare, rare. In Stanley’s study (We’ve been looking at his book, The Millionaire Mind), only 2 percent of the millionaires were single! TWO PERCENT! Here’s the quote. It’ll blow you away:
A large majority (92 percent) of millionaires are married. Only 2 percent have never married, and about 2 percent are divorced or separated. The rest are widowed (p. 23.).
Are you kidding?Now maybe the reason only 2 percent of the millionaires were single is because of sample selection on Stanley’s part.He sent the survey out to people in neighborhoods known to contain millionaires.He was pretty good in his sample selection.In the over 5000 surveys he sent out, and the over 1000 that were returned, over 700 of them were millionaires.All of us should be so lucky to hit 70% in anything.But, you know, maybe, millionaire single people don’t live in millionaire neighborhoods.So, if you were going to sample millionaire single people where would you look?Where do millionaire single people live?Ah, well, ah.
There’s no such thing. Because there’s not enough of them.
So, if you are a single person and would like to have some money someday, it is critical that you have an accountability partner to talk with about your impulses to spend your money here and there so that you make wise decisions over time.Left to yourself, you will more likely piss it all away.This isn’t a judgment on single people.It’s just a reality that all of us, married or not, left to ourselves, will make some unwise decisions, that could, over time, really mess up our lives.
As Solomon said, a wise man seeks advice; a fool rushes headlong to destruction. He ought to know. He was the wisest man who ever lived. In marriage we have a built in, full-time reality check.
Turns out that most wealthy people are married and they seek advice from their very smart spouses.If you are a wise single person, you’ll find a wise accountability partner to help you keep your money decisions in check.
But, sadly, most single people are too worried about having fun and so they don’t have much to show for all their hard work. This kind of behavior produces impatience. Patience would be good for single people, because if you want to get married someday, the best marriages are going to be made up of patient people, but if you are too busy having fun as a single person and doing what you want when you want, when you get married, you will end up being an impatient spouse because you never learned patience when you were single. Kapish? Patience and marital success and financial success are intertwined.
Consider your chances of being a millionaire if you are cohabiting. Forget about having money. Did you see that quote above about 92% of millionaires being married, 2% never married, 2 percent are divorced or separated and the rest are widows? Cohabitation doesn’t even show up! Unless some of the cohabiting people put on the survey that they were single! Cohabiting couples are MISSING from millionaire neighborhoods. Why would that be?
Millionaires are patient.Millionaires put off pleasure now for a future goal.Cohabiting people want what they want when they want it and they want it NOW.You are not worth waiting for.We’re broke so we’ll share the rent.What a crock of crap.You train each other to be roommates and impatient and they end up having no idea how to be married.
The number one definition of love in the world is:
Love is Patient.
Cohabiting couples are impatient.
Patience adds up in a lifetime. You reap what you sow.
Impatience adds up over a lifetime, too. To diddly squat. Zilch. Nada.
The longer you cohabit the more money problems you will have and the more likely it will be that you will break up on the one hand or be miserable on the other. You can’t build a marriage and sharing the rent. Marriage is not sharing the rent. Marriage is for a lifetime. WE pay OUR rent with OUR money that WE earned for OUR lifetime TOGETHER that’s in OUR bank account that WE look at and that WE discuss and WE plan and WE dream about TOGETHER.
If your partner isn’t worth waiting for then he or she is not worth marrying.
And neither are you.
Cohabiting people instinctively know this. And so they doubt each others’ integrity. They are each living with the other for nothing. They aren’t married right? So what are they? They don’t know. They play married, but not really. They each protect their own private butt. And they are suspicious of each others’ motives. And they point fingers. And they are easily hurt and offended. And money issues keep cropping up. I’m paying the mortgage. My name’s not even on the mortgage. You don’t pay any of it. I bought the washer and drier. I had to beg for that. But I’m paying the utilities. That ain’t nothing. But I pay for most of the groceries. I don’t even eat half the crap you buy. But you earn more, so need to pay more than me. I’m already paying the same percentage as you. So. You have more money than me left at the end of the month cuz you earn more and you blow it and meanwhile I have nothing. Don’t tell me what to do with my money. It’s my money and I won’t have anyone telling me what to do with it. I’m broke all the time and you never share any of it with me. You’re so selfish. Don’t start with me…
And so on and so on. And then they get married and live the same way because they are used to this roommate deal and they keep their money separate even though they are married because they don’t trust each other because they lived with each other for nothing and they wake up 40 years later completely broke.
Back to marriage: Certainly, there are broke married people. Maybe you’ve been one of those a long time and, frankly, you are sick of it. And so is your spouse. And so, you are doing something about it. And someday you won’t be one of those broke married people any more. But it takes time. And it takes teamwork. And it takes commitment. And it takes fortitude. And it takes self-control. And it takes wisdom. And it takes accountability. And it takes honesty. And it takes hard work.
Turns out, all of that is worth it.
And over time it all adds up.
On the bottom line.
And no, I’m not suggesting we worship money.God is much bigger than money.It just happens to turn out that if you don’t spend all of your money, you will have some someday.
All a man’s ways seem innocent to him,
but motives are weighed by the LORD.
If you’ve had an affair, you’ve had an affair because you had an affair.Plain and simple.Be careful about all these excuses about how your husband wouldn’t talk to you.Or he never helped. Or all she did was nag.Or she didn’t respect you.Or all the two of you did was fight.Or he never appreciated you.She never complimented you.Or she took you for granted.Or the sex was boring or rare or non-existent or she made it obvious she wasn’t into it.Or.Or.Or.Or.
Do you hear yourself when you tell yourself or your spouse these things? Do you hear how pathetic it sounds? Put yourself on the other side of these excuses and puke. Imagine your spouse had an affair and she told you lies like the first paragraph above. Imagine you are a completely broken spirit because your husband had an affair and you asked why did you have an affair and he told you it was because you put on weight. Please. This is a complete fabrication, but you are a wreck of person since finding out he had an affair and now he tells you this? Guess what? You are going to believe this lie! And now you will feel even worse!
If your spouse had an affair, steer away from the why questions.You don’t want to know why.If you knew why you’d probably die of shock.No one could take it.Only God knows the motives of the heart.If you’re going to go start reading minds you’ll only hurt yourself more.If your spouse had even half a clue as to why she had an affair, she wouldn’t have had one!If she tells you it’s because she didn’t feel close to you anymore and that you are never home and when you are home you spend the night on the couch and she has to do everything including the dinner, the bills, the kids and the mess of a house, don’t believe it for even half a second.
“But Dr. Wall, that’s why I did have an affair. If he was the husband he was supposed to be, I’d never have had an affair.”
Really? Re-read that previous sentence. Now insert your name where it says “husband.” Do you see it? “If I was the wife I was supposed to be, I’d never have an affair.” Period. If your husband wasn’t fulfilling his end of the bargain, if he was letting you do everything, that’s a separate issue. His selfish behavior does not somehow relieve you of your vows and now you can go do whatever you want. It’s an excuse, a justification, you can tell yourself to make it Okay in your heart so you don’t go crazy, but that’s all it is: An excuse and a justification so you don’t go crazy.
Let’s look at the Ten Commandments for a minute. Number 6, 7 and 8 are:
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
Let’s say you murder somebody.I know you wouldn’t, but let’s say you did.Now let’s say when the investigating detective asks you why you murdered your neighbor you gave a bunch of reasons: You hated him.He kept blowing his snow onto your driveway after you’d already shoveled.He never mowed his lawn.He played his stereo too loud.His dog never shut up.He had an affair with your wife.He molested your thirteen-year old daughter.He cheated you out of some money.You were having an affair with his wife and he found out.Whatever.
Do any of these excuses cut it? Do any of these so-called “reasons” give you carte blanche to reinvent the Ten Commandments and insert your own rules for you? Did the Ten Commandments come with escape clauses for you? Did God say, these are the Ten Commandments for everyone, unless you can find a really, really good reason not to keep them. If so, you are off the hook. But keep in mind you need a really, really good excuse.
Or you steal your neighbor’s car and the police officer asks you why you did it and you said you were envious of your neighbor, or you’ve always wanted a car like that, or you were broke, or you needed the money to pay off your gambling debt or you were planning to use the proceeds to support your drug addiction.Whatever.
Here’s the kicker.You had a car.Then you went out and stole your neighbor’s car.Now you’ve got two cars.One car you paid for; one you stole.Why would you need to steel a car when you already have one?Sorry.I just asked why.Don’t answer that question.
I wonder if it’s only a coincidence that adultery is smack dab between murder and stealing in the Ten Commandments? I’m thinking not. I’m thinking an affair is like a murder and robbery: The death of your own innocence and the stealing of someone else’s. Like a murder everyone around you is affected: Your spouse, the affairee’s spouse, your kids, your affairee’s kids, your extended family, your affairee’s extended family, your friends your affairee’s friends, and society at large. Sometimes people lose their jobs because of it. They certainly lose any respect they had. Like a robbery, you are taking something that is not yours, that you have no business having. You didn’t work for it. You didn’t earn it. You didn’t pay for it. You don’t deserve it. You just took it. It wasn’t yours to take, and you took it anyway. Your affairee took it from you, too. Both of you are taking each other. Marriage is about giving your heart away to your beloved. An affair is about stealing. Don’t tell me you loved your affairee. You just took her innocence away. It wasn’t yours to take. You took your wife’s innocence away. Or your husband’s. You took the innocence and protection of your marriage away. The marriage boundary has a huge hole in it. Chaos has entered. Or in the words of Solomon:
Folly brings punishment to fools.
An affair is it’s own punishment. You don’t even have to believe in hell. You ignore the marriage boundary at your peril. The Ten Commandments aren’t there to make your life miserable and take your fun away. The Ten Commandments are given to protect your soul from the worst side of yourself. You keep God’s commands and you have peace. You break them, ignore them, scoff at them? Ha! I think not.
Imagine the pride of heart it takes for you to convince yourself that your affair, emotional or otherwise, is fine.The Ten Commandments don’t apply to you.Your marriage vows are expendable.Being faithful?No biggie.You’ll just forget the wife or husband of your youth.You worship you at the altar.You put you first.Forget dependability, loyalty, perseverance, promises, integrity and truth.Your feeeeeeeeeelings are more important.No one will know.You can give your heart to someone else and it’s FINE.
Tell that to your son who will despise you.Tell that to your daughter, who starts sleeping around and won’t talk to you anymore.Tell that to your wife or husband, who cries into the wee hours of the night when the news that you are not what you have portrayed comes out.The truth is revealed that you lied.You told yourself it was Okay as long as no one found out.
Alright.Let’s say no one else knows except you and your affairee.Well?That’s not really true is it?Your heart knows.God knows.Your affairee knows.That’s three witnesses and we’ve only started.What about your car?Or the cell phone company?Or your computer history?The walls will testify.The mirror shouts back.The strange sidewalks you stroll down in all your arrogance pronounce your doom.There’s that stench in your car.Your clothes reveal.Better take that shower.Your soap suds in protest.Your towel knows.You can’t dry yourself enough. Out damned spot.Your conscience pounds away in your head.You lie to yourself you’ve done no wrong.You lie to yourself you are fine.You lie to yourself that there isn’t a God and there isn’t a wrong or right and you can do these things and there are no consequences.It’s fine.Everything’s fine.And your ceiling creeps down on you and you get claustrophobic and you can’t be around people any more because you panic that they all can read your mind and your mind tells you are a liar and that all of this is wrong and you can’t do it without a cost and there will be a penalty to pay for your lies.And then the panic passes and you go Whew! and walk away and ignore your conscience and you call her or text him again and it feels so good.It can’t be wrong.
Dave Ramsey had a curious thought worth repeating on a recent radio broadcast regarding this “recession.” He says the recession didn’t destroy people’s retirements. He says it revealed how pathetic our retirement savings was. That is, if your retirement is so devastated by this economy that you can’t retire and have to keep working, then this economy has done you a favor and shown you that you need to get your financial act together, that you really didn’t have a plan.
Our whole society was living on fumes, or as our verse for the day above says, chasing “fantasies.” In many ways we still are. I had a lady tell me once that she and her husband took the $4000 they owed on their car and refinanced their house and put the $4000 on their house mortgage. Ah, how is paying off a $4000 car loan over 30 years helpful? Over and over again I hear from clients of two car payments reaching $1000 a month and this on things that go down in value. It’s not unusual for them to also have second mortgages, student loans and credit card bills in addition to first mortgages and car payments. YIKES! Then all that has to happen is to have one spouse get sick for awhile or one spouse lose her job or even his overtime and “BOOM” the whole financial stability of the family goes out the window. If that’s happened to you, count your blessings: the recession has revealed to you that your financial plan was seriously flawed and in need of a major overhaul. In some ways we can all be grateful: the recession is telling us to live within our means, get out of debt, start saving up the yangwho and get rid of crap. Start eating at home and bring your lunch to work and quit stopping at the convenience store and limit your trips to Target.
Here’s a thought that will save you several million dollars over your lifetime: pay cash for your cars. How do you do that? Dave Ramsey’s website has a cute little video about what happens if people pay cash for cars instead of borrowing money. The numbers are sobering and very motivating to give you the kick in the pants you need to start saving that car payment now instead of sending it to the bank. In a nutshell, here’s a totally plagiarized summary of his video:
Let’s say your car is worth $1500 after you finally pay it off. If you keep making the average car payment of $475 to your savings account for 10 months, while you drive your old beater, in 10 months you will have $4750 to add to the value of your $1500 car. Trade in your beater with your $4750 and you can get a $6250 car for cash. You continue to make your $475 car savings every month and in 10 months you again take your saved $4750 and add that to your $6250 car, which after 10 months would still be worth about that, and pay cash for an excellent $11,000 car. That’s only 20 months from TODAY! Now the average car loan is for 6 years (72 months!) at $475 a month. Using our example, you bought your last car for $11,000 after 20 months. Let’s keep saving $475 a month for the next 52 months (that’s 72 months minus 20 months) and save it for yourself instead of giving it to the bank, all the while driving your $11,000 car. If you invest those monthly payments in a mutual fund earning 12% that would be worth over $32,000 by the time your 52 months are up. You’ve been driving your $11,000 car over 5 years and it’s time for an upgrade. Now you go out and pay cash for a car worth $12,000 from the $32,000. You’d still have $20000 in your mutual fund earning 12% a year. From now on, every five years you can buy a 14 to 18 thousand dollar car (with your trade in) for free just by leaving the $20,000 in your mutual fund. The interest on your mutual fund will pay for your cars the rest of your life.
So, you can quit putting $475 in your car fund and every 5 years you can buy about a $15,000 car with NO car payments. Meanwhile, lets keep saving that $475 a month. In 10 years at 12% it’d be worth over $100,000! In 20 years over $470,000! And in 30 years 1.6 million! And in 40 years it’d be worth 5.5 million! YIKES!
Or…you can make your $475 car payments to the bank for a car loan and after 6 years you can take your $1500 car and trade it on another $26,000 car and you can do this again over and over and in the end have a $1500 car to show for it and NOTHING in savings! Your bank will be in a nice new building, though.
In an earlier blog I discussed what happens to people when they don’t guard their heart (Proverbs 4:23 “Guard Your Heart“). The example Solomon uses to explain what he means by guarding your heart was someone having an affair (in Chapter 5). The more I think of this, the more I believe that he was using an affair as an example of not guarding our heart and that, in fact, there are many ways to NOT guard your heart. In the first 9 chapters of Proverbs he’s extolling the advantages of wisdom against the curses of evil, trying to make a case that if you want to ruin your life there are many roads, but if you want to have blessing in your life, there is only one. He’s a concerned father speaking to his son, encouraging his son to take his word for it that the road to destruction is strewn with the bodies of those who sought pleasure and sin and selfishness. If only, you, my son, would live wise from the get go, you wouldn’t’ have to learn any of these things the hard way.
Of course, who of us doesn’t want to test the boundaries? Who of us doesn’t want to say, “It won’t hurt me.” Not many, I’m afraid. Most of us have to test the waters and find out that, oh, yeah, I guess that is hurtful and maybe I shouldn’t do that. But by then we’ve left a few broken hearts in our wake. When we don’t heed the warnings and avoid them, our loved ones end up avoiding us! Oh, the stories I’ve heard of “Fathers Gone Wild” and “Mothers Gone Wild” only, thankfully, there’s no video tapes of these escapades, just children tempted to give up on God and faithfulness and love and forgiveness because they’ve never seen it from mom and dad. You chide your teenagers when they don’t obey you and then you don’t obey God or even your own conscience and you wonder why your children are following your example. Why should they obey you when you can’t even keep your own promise to be faithful to your husband or wife (“having thee only”) or the two of you treat each other like scum. If you don’t demonstrate love and faithfulness to the wife or husband of your youth, why should your child be expected to do it?
Sorry. Sometimes I get a little preachy.
So Solomon is trying to spare us the trouble. While Solomon had asked God to be wise and God was so impressed he told him he would make Solomon the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon let all that wisdom go to his head. He lived a low-life life for many years, using himself as a Guinea pig to see the effects of evil. Let’s see. What wukk happen if I have more wives than there are in two reams of paper? Hmm. Wow?!! That didn’t work. No kidding. I think he came to his senses in his later years, because he wrote Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as an old, frail specimen, saying, in summary, given his druthers, he’d prefer to start obeying God when he was young rather than have all this self-inflicted grief from his wonton disregard for all things holy for most of his life. Amen to that. So in Proverbs 1-9 he’s trying to give us a warning. Hey, I’ve tried the selfish, evil, do your own thing route and, ah, it sucks in spades. In fact, I’ve observed if you give God a go instead of filling your heart with pleasure you’ll end up with a bunch of really cool things in your life (and this list is just in a few verses in chapter 3. We could cite other advantages of obeying God from other Proverbs he wrote).
If you follow God’s wisdom you will experience the following:
Will prolong your life many years
Bring you prosperity
Win favor and a good name in sight of God and man
He will make your paths straight
Bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones
Barns will be filled to overflowing and your vats will brim over with new wine
Blessed is the man who finds wisdom and gains understanding
Riches and honor
Pleasant ways and peace
Will be blessed
Foot will not stumble
Sleep will be sleep without fear
Not fear sudden disaster and ruin of the wicked
Confidence from God
Keep foot from being snared
God blesses the home of the righteous
He gives grace to the humble
Wise inherit honor.
That’s a decent list. This is the laundry list that people bring to therapy of the goals they want in their lives. These items read like the New York Times Best Sellers List: Health, prosperity, no fear, no anxiety, cure depression, sleep soundly, walk tall, and the keys to success. Sadly, most of the books fail to go to the source. Well, you know, if you want to get your act together, and, you know, do better and all, you might want to take up the ideas presented by the dude that made you. He’s got an idea or two up his sleeve.