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“I kept writing notes to myself about things I was learning and discussing different perspectives with my family and friends. This was a book to nibble around the edges slowly and think about and reflect on and then nibble on some more.” — Association for Mormon Letters
Can you be rich and righteous? Worthy and wealthy? If not, why do the scriptures teach that God wants us to “have in abundance?” (D&C 49:19). If so, how do we reconcile Christ's teaching that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God?” (Matthew 19:24).
In this timely and insightful new book, author S. Michael Wilcox helps us discover what the Lord wants us to know about wealth, stewardship, and prosperity.
Money issues — how we provide for ourselves and our families — are an inescapable part of life, no matter our current or hoped for “net worth.” Desire for greater financial security can be a great motivator, but money problems are often the root of familial discord.
Because our stewardship over what the Lord gives us is such an important part of our mortal test — and because of the misery caused by unrighteous stewardship — it's not surprising that the Lord has filled the scriptures with counsel on this important topic.
By heeding His guidance and mastering His lessons, we can secure the consequences of being His “true and faithful” servants. As Elder Melvin J. Ballard said in general conference, April 1929, “We are to do a new thing, a thing that never has before been done — We are to take the Church of Christ not only through the age of persecution and mob violence, but through the age of peace and prosperity.”
- Hardcover: 5½" x 8"
- Pages: 197
About the Author
S. Michael Wilcox received his PhD from the University of Colorado and recently retired after thirty-seven years as an institute instructor for the Church Educational System. A popular speaker and award-winning author, his previous publications include House of Glory, Walking on Water, What the Scriptures Teach Us about Raising a Child, What the Scriptures Teach Us about Prosperity, and What the Scriptures Teach Us about Adversity.
Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty:
neither do I exercise myself in great matters,or in things too high for me.
I Will Build Greater
Perhaps a good place to begin is with the parables of Jesus. It is remarkable how many of them deal with financial issues. Before examining some of these, it will be helpful to understand what the parables are and what they are not. I believe George MacDonald, a Scottish author and theologian, stated this best when he wrote that the parables “are addressed to the conscience and not to the intellect, to the will and not to the imagination. . . . They are not meant to explain anything, but to rouse a man to the feeling, ‘I am not what I ought to be, I do not the thing I ought to do!’” MacDonald continued by explaining that those who “use them for the necessity of walking in the one path will constantly receive light from them.”1 They are not doctrinal in nature. They teach simple truths: “I ought to freely forgive” (the prodigal son); “I need to show compassion to those in need regardless of who they are” (the good Samaritan); “I must care for my fellow men” (the sheep and the goats). This will be important to keep in mind as we learn from them. They are given to help us be better people.
Matters concerning money arose even from the ranks of Jesus’ followers. “And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13). We are not sure which “company” we are dealing with here, but it appears the question did not arise from the general multitude that came to hear him preach but from those more intimately acquainted with him. The Savior gave a quick reply that indicated he was not as concerned with money matters and fair divisions of goods as we are, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” (Luke 12:14). In essence, “I do not wish to solve these problems.” I think Jesus said this not because it would have taken too much effort to solve but because he was there to attend to other matters much more important than equal distributions of inherited property.
We get a fuller example of this mind-set in the Doctrine and Covenants. In section 117, the Lord was fairly curt with William Marks and Newel K. Whitney for being too concerned about selling their Kirtland lands and business instead of moving directly to Independence where they were needed. “What is property unto me? saith the Lord. Let the properties of Kirtland be turned out for debts. . . . Let them go, saith the Lord, and whatsoever remaineth, let it remain in your hands” (D&C 117:4–5). The overemphasis on their property was causing them to “covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters” (D&C 117:8). Here, as in Luke, the viewpoint of the Lord is that these are not essential matters. One of the dangers of property
and goods is in their ability to divert us from those things more worthy of our attention. I think it interesting that the verb the Lord used on this occasion (and as we shall see in Luke 12) is “covet.” We generally apply this verb to the property of others, but in this case it is their own with which they are having difficulty. We may be consciously aware of, and resist, the temptation to covet another’s possessions, while being oblivious to the more subtle persuasion of coveting our own. “Thou shalt not covet thine own property,” the Lord instructed Martin Harris, “but impart it freely” (D&C 19:26).
Knowing that these things do tend to matter to us and most often can’t be casually ignored, the Lord softened his critique and comforted William Marks and Newel K. Whitney with this thought: “For have I not the fowls of heaven, and also the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the mountains? Have I not made the earth? Do I not hold the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth? Therefore, will I not make solitary places to bud and to blossom, and to bring forth in abundance?” (D&C 117:6–7). “It is easy for me, if need be, to replace it all, so don’t be so distressed about it,” the Lord seems to be saying. “Get on with
life.” I have needed to turn to this section from time to time; particularly when the economy is not doing well, and I have watched retirement savings or other assets dwindle.
Returning to the inheritance situation in Luke 12, the Savior issued a general statement before illustrating his point with a
parable. “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). It is not that the Lord is so much against abundance; remember he promised it to William Marks and Newel K. Whitney as quoted above. We read in section 49 that he wants us to “have in abundance” (D&C 49:19). There, as in section 117, he also speaks of “the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth” (D&C 49:19). We are just not to get too excited about “abundance” and lose our focus on “weighty matters.” We will also need to understand why the abundance is given and that will be explored as we continue our scriptural journey.
“WHAT SHALL I DO?”
Now the parable: “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:16–19).
An initial reaction to our rich friend rests on how many times he used the words “I” and “my”—count them. A more important consideration, relevant to our challenge, lies in pulling down the old to build “greater.” That sounds a lot like upwardly mobile people building larger and larger houses, often when children have begun to move out and the actual need for more room is diminished. This desire for “greater” is seen in other possessions also, but most conspicuously in houses. Sometimes we justify these larger homes as gathering places for grandchildren. There may be some reason for this, but I fear too often it is only a rationalization. As grandchildren we slept on the floor of my grandparents’ home in sleeping bags with all our cousins—and what a riotous fun time we had.
I do not think Jesus was against laying up goods for the future. As we shall see in a later chapter, the scriptures have much to say about the wisdom of saving. I’m not as convinced about the propriety of “take thine ease.” For instance, retirement is a time to slow down, it is certain, but what do we do with our newly acquired leisure? There must be more to life than eating, drinking, and being merry. The Savior will provide some suggestions to his listeners a few verses later.
The scriptures can sometimes be disarmingly blunt. They always tell us the truth, though—even when at times we might prefer otherwise. The Lord makes a plain, simple assessment of this desire to replace old barns for new greater ones. “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20–21).
There are three reasons the Lord calls our friend a fool, which we might also consider when we are tempted to build greater. First, he will not be around to enjoy it. Long life is not guaranteed, even for the best of us. All his planning can’t ensure he’ll live long enough to enjoy his “ease.” The second reason is in the question the Lord asks the man: Who is going to get everything you’ve built up? This is an important point, and we will discuss legacies for children and grandchildren later. For now the question remains: Who is going to enjoy the fruits of your hard-earned labors? What will they do with it? Are you comfortable in leaving it to them? Are they prepared to receive it? Again, we will explore this issue in a later chapter. The third reason for the rich man’s foolishness is his failure to prepare for an eternal world. All his concerns centered on a temporary one. He had sufficient treasure for his temporal needs. Here he was rich, but towards God he was very much impoverished. His question, “What shall I do?” would have been more wisely directed toward storing a heavenly treasure. This is the subject of another parable found in Luke 16, which we will shortly examine.
THE CREEPING AVERAGE
The very air we breathe today is filled with the aroma of “building greater.” Sometimes it comes guised as the false appeal of progress, both individually and societally. We need to be aware of what might be termed the “creeping average.” I grew up exactly in the middle of the middle class in the 1950s and 60s. We lived in a comfortable neighborhood in southern California. There were areas in the city that were more affluent than ours, just as there were some more disadvantaged, but the community was, on the whole, a repository for the American Dream.
I was raised by a single mother who taught school and sometimes worked a second job. Our house represented the average home for a suburban American family. We had three bedrooms—the master bedroom for my mother, one for my sisters, and one for me. There was one full bathroom, and one of the bedrooms had a half-bath attached to it. There was a living room, a kitchen, and a formal dining area between the two. A hallway connected the bedrooms with each other and the living room. I often visited the homes of my friends and never considered their economic situation as either greatly superior or inferior to mine.
We had a two-car garage next to the house—one half was for storing garden and lawn tools, such as the lawnmower, and the other was for the family car. That is what it was called. We carpooled, walked, or rode bicycles to school or activities.
Our house was furnished in a typical fashion. There was one television we all watched together. We had a stereo for records. When the telephone rang there was only one place to answer it. I had my own radio to listen to the latest pop music. We took turns washing the dishes each night. The washing machine was in the garage, and clothes were dried on the line in the backyard. Going to McDonald’s for a hamburger was a treat, as were doughnuts from the bakery. In other words, life was pretty normal, and financially we had all we considered necessary for a happy life.
Over the years, what is considered average has crept slowly upward. I look at the house I now live in. Like my mother, I am a teacher, and I’m still exactly in the middle of the middle class. Our house has double the room I knew as a boy. Yet it is one of the smaller houses in our neighborhood. It has a two-car garage, five bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, and family room. There are three bathrooms, and a separate laundry room with a washer and dryer. Compared to what I knew growing up, it seems an embarrassment of riches.
I am not suggesting we all move back to the standard of the 1950s. I’m grateful I no longer have to wait for my sisters to finish in the bathroom before I get my turn. My point is that the expectations of a child growing up today are much higher than mine were. The average has moved considerably upward. New technologies, such as microwaves, dishwashers, personal computers, and Blackberries, give us many advantages. It is nice for a child to have his or her own bedroom, but the continual, often incremental, increase in what is considered average never seems to find a stable level. This requires more room, more labor, more resources, and more time to maintain. As a nation, as Church members, as individuals, we may find ourselves in a pull-down-the-old-barns-and-build-greater mode which seems to have no end. The correct answer to the often-asked question, so frequently tied to political elections, “Are you better off today than you were a year ago?” might be, “No, but where I was last year was fine. I’m content with the old barns.” Far too often the creeping average leads to what I call “making bricks without straw.” Therein the quandary is more clearly defined.
MAKING BRICKS WITHOUT STRAW
The initial request Moses made of Pharaoh was, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1). They needed “three days’ journey into the desert,” so they could “sacrifice unto the Lord our God” (Exodus 5:3). It appears the first appeal to Pharaoh was simply time off from making bricks so the house of Israel could attend to the significantly important act of worship. Pharaoh’s response is revealing and its relevance to our modern situation not hard to see:
“Wherefore do ye, Moses and Aaron, let the people from their works? get you unto your burdens” (Exodus 5:4). The people were also instructed to gather their own straw. “And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle. . . . Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words. . . . And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfil your works, your daily tasks. . . . Go therefore now, and work” (Exodus 5:8–9, 13, 18).
Paraphrasing Pharaoh, this is the main theme: “If you have time for worship or rest, obviously you’re not busy enough. The solution to all this foolishness, this attention to spiritual matters, is more work. We’ll soon put an end to the distraction which draws the people away from what is really the business of this world—making bricks. So get on with it, and don’t think of diminishing the tale.”
We all make bricks. This is not inappropriate. Some of us make medical bricks; others legal bricks or business bricks. There are plumbing bricks, and government bricks, and airline bricks, and engineering bricks. I make educational bricks—Church educational bricks, to be precise. But the grand purpose of life is not found in the brick pits, even the most worthwhile ones. There are higher matters to be attended to. The main problem with building bigger barns is it takes more bricks to support them. More and more it takes the combination of two brickmakers to support their greater barns. I remember seeing specials on TV in the 1970s which made some interesting forecasts, as technological innovations were increasing and the computer age was entering the mainstream of the common man. In light of all these laborsaving and more affordable devices, it was estimated that the American workweek would decrease. More could be done in less time and with added efficiency. This would leave time for many other pursuits of life—education, hobbies, family time. A target date for this new utopia of freedom was usually the year 2000. That date has come and gone. Do we have more or less time for the development of other areas of life? Has the pace of brickmaking decreased or increased?
There is another dilemma attached to our frenzied brickmaking. When we do have a little time we are so fatigued we haven’t much energy left over for anything significant that would edify and build our character, our minds, or our spirits. We face mental as well as physical weariness. What discretionary time we find is then devoted to less-taxing activities. We crash in front of the television, the movie or computer screen. We want diversion, some form of effortless distraction to ease our mental, physical, or emotional brickmaking muscles. There may not be sufficient time or energy left for the three days’ (or three hours’) journey into the desert to sacrifice to our God. We may be culturally hungry for more refining activities of life. The Lord told Moses it would take a “strong hand” (Exodus 6:1) to break Pharaoh’s hold on the people. It takes an equally strong hand now, but it must come from us, not the rod of Moses.
“MORE THAN MEAT . . . MORE
Immediately after telling the parable of the rich fool, Luke has the Savior repeating the oft-quoted counsel found in the Sermon on the Mount. Its positioning next to the parable gives an added significance, and counters the idea that the manner of living Jesus suggests was only applicable to the twelve Apostles who needed to be completely focused on the Lord’s ministry. These teachings are for us all, and will bring a higher level of peace and joy as we balance them with more worldly and “practical” approaches to life.
The scriptures almost always provide an alternative to problematic or dangerous behavior or thoughts, and the desire for greater barns can have devastating financial as well as spiritual and familial effects. Here is the Savior’s counsel: “The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?” (Luke 12:23–24). The juxtaposition of the rich fool’s greater barns with ravens who have no use for them is purposeful. Stick to the basics—keep wants simple. How much time, effort, and money do we need to devote to the big three necessities: food, clothing, and shelter? “Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things” (Luke 12:30). It is because we want so much more than just these things or desire greater and greater quantities of them that we are troubled or at best distracted.
“Neither be ye of doubtful mind,” the Savior comforts us. Our simple needs can be satisfied. “For all these things do the nations of the world seek after.” We are to seek something else. “But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:29, 31)—but probably not to the square footage, horsepower, or wattage level that the creeping average or modern advertising would promote.
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). It’s not barns full of fruit (which would allow us to take our temporal ease) that God wants to give. Be satisfied with the fundamentals and devote your time to other, more fulfilling pursuits. The kingdom of God stresses relationships, service, developing our minds, talents, and character. We’re spending too much time and anxiety filling the barns.
“Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not” (Luke 12:33). Reduce your wants, divest yourself of the superfluous, and invest in a treasure you won’t fret over when the market goes south or the “thief approacheth” (Luke 12:33). “Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27). Their beauty is sufficient; they feel no need to spend time shaping bricks so they can be “arrayed like Solomon,” or the latest celebrity fashion queen. In truth, simple beauty has more glory than the overdressed and the gaudy.
You can obtain the basics, the essentials. God knows you need them, so don’t be of a doubtful mind. Simplify—shift your treasure, your fruits, and your goods from earthly barns to heavenly ones and build his kingdom here and now. Then your heart will be centered on the right treasure. It will be where it needs to be. Then you can truly say: “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease . . . and be merry” (Luke 12:19).
An inspiring work like only S. Michael Wilcox can write.
by Remy - reviewed on February 16, 2013
A perfect explanation about the true purpose of money and how the Lord expects us to use it for helping others and building his kingdom here on earth. S. Michael Wilcox explains the topic in a way for everyone to understand and inspires you in only the way he can.
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