It is, of course, impossible to lay up treasure in heaven unless you first have some treasure on earth to transfer. That is why we’ve been considering ways to eliminate debt and reduce expenses. We want to free up funds to deposit into our heavenly bank accounts.
Besides reducing expenses, the only other way to secure funds for heaven is by increasing income. If you can remain contented with your current standard of living, increasing your income can enable you to lay up in heaven 100 percent of that increase—as you demonstrate your love for the Lord and build His kingdom on earth. In such a case, earning money becomes pure ministry, just as much as anything else that can be labeled “ministry.”
Let us not forget that there is nothing wrong with earning money, as long as the means of earning it are honorable before God. (You can’t be a “prostitute for Jesus” as one woman actually claims who sells her body and donates much of her earnings to charity.) Earning money is virtuous when one’s motive is to meet the needs of others. And when one gives a percentage of his earnings to lift the poor or extend God’s kingdom, the effort spent to earn that percentage is 100 percent pure ministry.
I think it is tragic that members of Christ’s body are often spoken of as being divided into two categories, those who are “called to the ministry” and those who “do secular work.” Both groups are called by God, and every member of Christ’s body is called to ministry.
Just because God calls only some of His children to vocational ministry does not mean that those whom He doesn’t call to vocational ministry are any less called to do what they do. If you ask, for example, any pastor or evangelist how he knew that God was calling him when he began to pursue vocational ministry, only a tiny minority will tell you about hearing God’s audible voice or seeing a vision. The majority will simply tell you that they “felt led,” realizing that God gave them the desire and gifts to serve Him in some vocational ministry. It comes down to the fact that they were interested and felt qualified, the same criteria that most people use to determine their career.
God gifts people in different ways, and how He gifts them makes them more suited for some careers than others. And who can say that the gifting of the accountant, carpenter, homemaker, nurse or teacher is less of a gifting from God than the gifting of the pastor or evangelist?
Moreover, if it weren’t for all those so-called “secular” giftings (which are actually all sacred), it would be impossible for anyone to pursue a calling to vocational ministry for the simple reason that the large majority of vocational ministers are sustained by those who earn money in “secular” jobs. To put it plainly, if everyone were called to vocational ministry, everyone would be starving.
All of this is to say that all of Christ’s followers should seek His will regarding their specific vocational calling. And regardless of what it is that God calls us to do, we should follow Paul’s admonition:
Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve (Col. 3:23-24).
Those words were not written only to pastors and missionaries. All of us work for Jesus. So we should give Him our very best. When we do, there is a very good chance that we’ll succeed in our vocation. And if we succeed, our incomes are more likely to increase. When that happens, it is the time to buck the world’s wisdom that says, “Expenses always increase to meet the income.” Rather, eternal investments should rise as income increases.
Now let’s focus on how you can increase your income for the right reason.
Here’s a biblical proverb that succinctly reveals the most foundational secret to increasing one’s wealth:
Where no oxen are, the manger [or stall] is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox (Prov. 14:4).
A more literal translation of the original Hebrew would read, “No oxen, clean stall; strong bull, much money.” Let me shorten that even more: “No manure, no moola.”
Who wants to shovel manure to clean out the stall of their ox? Not me! And that is one very good reason not to own an ox. But who wants to plow two acres by hand to prepare his field for planting? Again, not me! So I need to weigh the burden of owning an ox against the blessing of owning one. And that is a picture of the predicament we often face that ultimately determines our relative wealth. Generally speaking, we can only gain if we are willing to first relinquish something else, namely time, energy and resources.
For example, if you want to enjoy homegrown tomatoes from your backyard, it is going to cost you. You’ll have to buy the seeds, plant them, and hammer some tomato stakes into the ground. You’ll have put up a fence to keep the varmints out and tie up the tomato plants as they launch skyward. You could, of course, just go a farmer’s market or produce store and buy some tomatoes, but they’ll expect some of your money, money you had to earn through work.
If you want to earn the salary of a software engineer, you’ll have to invest in the necessary education. That will cost money. If you don’t have the money, you’ll have no choice but to borrow it, spending your hopeful future earnings, which involves risk.
All of this is to say that there is no way to increase your income without investment of time, energy, knowledge and/or resources. Period.
Just about everyone, even the poorest of people, have something they can invest, if nothing more than some time and muscle power. So if you want to increase your income, take an inventory of what you have—no matter how little it is—then invest it so that there is a good chance you’ll gain. When you do realize some gain, invest again. Some people who have done that—starting with very little—have become extraordinarily wealthy through continued reinvestment year after year. But they are people who decided to keep shoveling ox manure in its various forms, whether by taking their first job on the graveyard shift, studying hard for their biology exam, or being willing to manage 100 persnickety employees. Gain always comes from loss, but a loss that is calculated to result in gain.
I happen to be writing this book on an Apple computer. Three young men, the most famous of whom is the late Steve Jobs, started Apple in 1976. They created and sold a few of their hand-built computer kits called the “Apple I.” By borrowing money, using the most current electronic technologies and knowledge, applying hard work and persevering through challenging ups and downs, and by reinvesting gains, Apple has grown to become the world’s largest company measured by market capitalization, employing about 50,000 people worldwide. Hundreds of people have become millionaires because of Apple’s success. At the time of this writing, Apple has $76 billion on hand in cash and marketable securities. They could have plateaued at any time if they had wanted, but they kept shoveling the manure.
Most hard-working people eventually, and rightfully, reach their threshold of tolerance as they weigh the burdens against the blessings that the burdens produce. When the payoff is not worth the manure that must be shoveled, they park, and so they should. How tragic it is when people sacrifice relationships with God and family in order to gain wealth. Balance is the key. Manure-shoveling maniacs usually end up with just a lot of manure.
Again, the key is simply to invest time, resources and money, and then use your gains to invest again so that over time, the gains multiply. Trying to get rich quickly is generally doomed to failure, as it is an attempt to gain a lot by investing only a little. Scripture says, “A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth, and does not know that want will come upon him” (Prov. 28:22). In the Bible, an “evil eye” is a figure of speech for greed. Those who, for example, play the lottery—regardless of how poor they are—are greedy, hoping to get rich from their tiny investment. There is a vast difference in moral character between those kinds of folks and the people who gradually increase their wealth over years of hard work and reinvestment of their gains. And among them, those at the pinnacle of wisdom are those who have learned contentment, live far below their means, and have used their gains to lay up treasure in heaven.
From the perspective of eternity, however, the person who wisely builds wealth through work and reinvestment throughout his life yet who fails to lay up treasure in heaven is ultimately just as foolish as the person who buys lottery tickets every week of his life. Neither has any eternal reward.
But what if you make an investment that produces no gain? Actually, such a thing is not possible. Every investment results in gain, if only a gain in wisdom to not make another similar investment. It has been said, “Good judgment is usually the result of experience, and experience frequently the result of bad judgment.”
Most successful people have had their share of failures along the way, but they didn’t look at their failures as failures, but rather as discoveries of what to avoid in the future. Setbacks can be setups for future gain when wisdom is gained and applied. Thomas Edison declared, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Turning Spare Time Into Money
Perhaps the greatest asset that most everyone has that can be used as an investment towards future gain is spare time. We all have the choice of wasting our spare time in meaningless activity or investing it by doing something profitable—like gaining knowledge and wisdom. Generally speaking, it is what people know that determines their income. Yes, there are ways of earning an income with a lot of muscle and just a little bit of brain, but even the muscles need the brain to tell them what to do! And the highest-paying jobs among those that require physical labor are those that also require specialized skills or knowledge.
As you gain more specialized knowledge, you join a group of people who are in shorter supply, which means higher demand and higher income. That is why brain surgeons earn more than nurses, and why nurses earn more than Wal-mart greeters. That is also one reason why some realtors make a lot more money than other realtors. Much of it comes down to what they know.
It is for this reason that, within the catalog of wise sayings found in the book of Proverbs, you won’t find a single admonition to build bigger muscles. You will, however, find numerous admonitions like the one found in Proverbs 23:23: “Get wisdom and instruction and understanding.” And that can be done as easily as surfing the internet, making a trip to your local library and checking out a book for free or, for a reasonable price, by enrolling in a class at your local community college…or by finding a successful mentor.
One area of knowledge that many people lack is that of how to relate to other people. Regardless of what you do, chances are you are going to work with other people. Your success has a lot to do with how well you can get along with them. If you have trouble in that regard, you are less likely to be promoted, and you may find yourself first on the list when layoffs are announced. If you are self-employed or in sales, people skills are generally essential.
So why not invest in what will help you succeed in your relationships? The classic resource to that end is available for free at your local library, and the title is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. (Note: This is not an endorsement of everything in the book!) A more contemporary author whom I have grown to appreciate is Dani Johnson, who not only teaches about people skills, but also about many other topics related to financial and family success. Dani is a living testimony to her own teaching, going from being homeless to a multi-millionaire who, along with her husband, Hans, are laying up a lot of treasure in heaven. Dani has lots of good information at her website (DaniJohnson.com).
The essential rule for successful relationships was of course coined by Jesus, who said, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (Luke 6:31). If you do that, you are bound to succeed. When you have the interests of others at heart and help them succeed, you will reap what you sow.
What about investing money? Is that a legitimate way to earn income for the purpose of laying up treasure in heaven? Or is that a form of laying up treasure on earth?
The answer depends on several factors. Let’s say you have $100,000 that can be immediately invested in heaven or invested on earth in hopes of generating a return that will be invested in heaven. You’d need to generate about a 7 percent annual return on your investment for ten years before it would double in value and thus enable you to give away $100,000 and still have the original investment, which then could be used to continue to generate income to lay up in heaven.
Of course, if inflation is taken into consideration, you would need to generate considerably more than a 7 percent annual return in order to actually double the purchasing power of your $100,000 in ten years. Still, eventually, a consistently profitable investment has the real potential to enable an investor/giver to lay up more treasure in heaven than he would have had he given away his potential investment at the start. His investment can be a blessing even after he dies. (Although I am not sure the Lord would credit him at that point, since we are promised rewards for “deeds in the body”; see 2 Cor. 5:10.)
Of course, you wouldn’t have to wait ten years to start giving away earnings on an investment. If you realized a 7 percent increase the first year on your $100,000, you could give away $7,000 and still have your original $100,000. In such a case, however, because you would lose the benefit of compounding interest, it would take you a little over 14 years at 7 percent before you could give away $100,000 total, the same amount you could have immediately given away had you not invested your $100,000.
Then there is the very real risk that your investment will not increase in value, but decrease, and you’ll have even less to lay up in heaven. On the other hand, your investment might increase more than 7 percent per year, enabling you to more quickly reach the time when your investment can result in more treasure in heaven than it would have had you not invested it.
All of this is to say, there is no pat answer. The safest action to take is to not invest on earth, but rather lay up your potential investment in heaven immediately where it can’t be lost. If however, you are knowledgeable about investing and have a long-range plan, the safest plan may not be the best plan. So you need to pray to seek the Lord’s wisdom. And it goes without saying that we should never invest in any business or company that makes a profit doing things that God hates. In such a case, we would be partners in their sin. For that reason, beware of mutual funds, as fund managers may invest your God-given money in what God hates.
Lending at Interest
Some Christians are persuaded that investing money in hopes of gain and lending money at interest (including earning interest on bank deposits) are fundamentally wrong because the latter is prohibited in the Old Testament. For example, God declared in the Law of Moses:
If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious (Ex. 22:25-27).
Notice, however, that God was specifically speaking of profiting by loaning to the poor (see also Lev. 22:35-38). In fact, He was speaking of lending to people who are so poor that the only collateral they could offer was their outer coat. It is easy to understand why God would forbid lending at interest to people in such dire circumstances, people who were borrowing for mere survival.
But was God forbidding lending at interest to others, besides the desperately poor?
No. In fact, God also declared in the Mosaic Law: “You may charge interest to a foreigner” (Deut. 23:20). So obviously some lending at interest was acceptable.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with lending money at interest to people who intend to use their loans to make money through business or investment. It is only right that, if the borrower prospers from his loan, he should share some of his profits with the lender who was partly responsible, through his sacrifice, for the borrower’s success.
In our day, when currencies are not backed by anything tangible or valuable such as gold, and when governments keep printing more currency and fueling inflation, the person who loans at no interest becomes a giver as well as a loaner, as he accepts less repayment than what he loaned due to the erosion of the currency’s value. Most people don’t realize that the U.S. dollar (as of 2012) has lost 96 percent of its purchasing power since 1913. What cost $20 in the year I was born (1958) now costs $160. That’s an inflation rate of 700 percent.
We only have one opportunity to lay up treasure in heaven—while we are on the earth. This is the classic “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” and it ought to motive us make all the money we can so that we can lay up as much treasure in heaven as possible.
All earthly financial gain is a result of investment of time, talents and treasures. (No manure, no moola.) The same is true of heavenly gain since it originates as earthy gain. (No manure, no transferable moola.) Shovel hard and shovel smart!