Financial Security, Retirement, and the Bread of Anxious Toil
Men pursue and obtain, it’s what we do.
As such, the average American home has increased by 1000 square feet since 1973. During the same time period, the average household size has decreased by nearly an entire person. The average family owns more than two cars, nearly 35% own more than three.
Here is the American man, giving it our all. If I work hard enough, I just might afford that new F-150 and maybe, just maybe, my wife will let me turn our bonus room into a man cave, that bastion of frivolity, where me and my buddies can ingratiate all manner of juvenile pursuit.
And maybe, if I am smart with my money, maybe catch a break here and there, I can surmount the pinnacle of American masculinity, financial security and (gasp) retire early.
Unto this I ask, to what end?
Make no mistake about it, I am a capitalist through and through. I believe in the value of hard work and the American dream. Yet, many men cower before the god of financial security, bristling at the notion of abandonment, of relinquishing control to an unseen God. The tragedy lies in the precious gift of life wasted serving that which only serves itself.
The Pursuit of Men
God ordained the rat race from the Garden. After the Fall, God condemned man to a lifetime of tilling the cursed ground, ground that previously yielded all that man needed. Now, it yields thorns and thistles and only by the sweat of the brow would it yield anything useful. (Genesis 3:17-19)
Because of the Fall, all things exist as mere shadows of their former glory, forever corrupted and twisted. (Romans 8) Creation groans under the weight of sin. Because of this, men are destined to spend their lives pursing that which will never fulfill.
And pursue it we do. Men define themselves by what they do and what they have, not so much as who they are. Men pursue and obtain, acquiring, storing up treasures on earth that one day will be destroyed by moths and rust. (Matthew 6:19) Common men religiously sacrifice themselves on the altar of career, clawing and scratching toward that ultimate objective, financial security.
The pursuit of financial security consumes men. We require security in the form of guaranteed income, a trust fund, a Roth IRA, a 401K, maybe an annuity, stock options perhaps. Only when we have obtained a certain perceived level of security could we ever take a risk, no matter how calculated and any risks that we do take are all designed to further pad the books, to lessen the possibility of any future risk to our security.
Our portfolio becomes an end unto itself.
Do not hear me say that a man should NOT work. Scripture well affirms the sacred nature of work, the righteousness of earning an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. (Genesis 2, Proverbs 10:2-3) If a man doesn’t work, a man shouldn’t eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10) Further, if a man doesn’t provide for his family, he denies the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)
It becomes an issue of focus. To whom and for whom do you slave? Paul cautions us to do everything, including our work, with enthusiasm (literally from the spirit) as something done for the Lord and not for men. (Colossians 3:23) We work for the Lord, no matter our vocation, and anything that we acquire comes ultimately from His hand to serve His purposes.
Does the Lord give that we may horde? Does He not call the believer to serve as a vessel, a channel of His blessing? If you obtain financial security, do you seek to channel that blessing to others?
Jesus issues God’s call from the Sermon on the Mount, to seek first His kingdom…and all other things will be added to us. (Matthew 6:33)
Retirement – the Brass Ring
The ultimate expression of financial security is that fabled prize, early retirement. What if? What if I start investing now, I could be a millionaire by 50 and retire, maybe travel the world? Let’s put it another way. Men labor and toil for decades, sacrificing families and maybe the call of God to serve, for the sake of the ability to solely serve one’s own self until death.
Again, I ask, who do you serve and would that be a suitable conclusion to your few short years on earth? Envision the end, standing before the Lord on High giving an account, as we all will. You’ve been gifted with financial resources and yet chose to spend as many years of your life as possible focused upon…yourself and what you want to do. Well done, good and faithful servant?
I know a man who by worldly standards would be considered a great success. He retired early from the medical field, financially able to travel some and really do about what he wants, within his limited budget. He has tragically chosen to spend the last five or so years of his life sitting in front of his computer and television, sadly clicking away the remaining years of his life.
Conversely, I never want to be Joe Paterno. JoePa prowled the Penn State sidelines for 45 years until at the age of 85, he was dismissed because of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. He died two months later, of lung cancer. He was defined by what he did, coaching the Nittany Lions, and once that was taken from him, he really had no further reason to live. Interestingly, prior his release, doctors had declared his cancer treatable.
The Bread of Anxious Toil
The Psalmist speaks to the plight of men,
It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; (Psalm 127:2)
The bread of anxious toil are all the things that men pursue, in this case financial security, that lack ultimate worth and durability. Surely some men pursue noble objectives, but unless they terminate with Christ, then those objectives are comparatively and conclusively worthless.
Our paradigm shift comes in that our pursuits must serve His objectives. By all means, work and work hard. The believer should be the best employee. Employers should want to hire legions of Christians as the best workers, but work with an understanding of a greater purpose and a greater call.
Further, do not let the pursuit of financial security paralyze you from seeking first the kingdom of God. He has promised to provide all that you will need to walk the path that He has called you to walk. He has not promised comfort or security. In fact, to the obedient He promises only Himself. Is that enough?
What are you waiting for? Take a step of faith, for Him. In the words of William Carey, expect great things from God; attempt great thing for God.
The Lord will one day take it all away, your money and your time. You’ll die and stand naked and exposed before the Lord to give an account. As such, be not a slave to the rat race. Be not a hostage to financial security. Fear not the unknown. Abandon the vapid pursuits of feckless men.
God is calling us to be strong and courageous…to act like men. (Joshua 1:9, 1 Corinthians 16:13) I pray that the men of this nation would heed this great call.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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