Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Proverbs 23, verse 4.
Do you want to be rich? What is rich? Oh no, here comes the risk that this discussion will descend into some kitschy “love is rich” pablum. Love is indeed wealth enough; that’s the lesson of both human history and Scripture. I get it and it’s right. After all, love means never having to say you’re sorry…Ali McGraw…anybody hear Marvin Hamlisch? I’m getting nauseous.
We aren’t talking about that. We’re talking about striving after something that really isn’t worth much. I mean, what do John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J. Paul Getty, all the Rothschilds, the Roosevelts and the Astors have in common? Answer: they’re all dead. They all pursued wealth, getting extremely rich, and they are all dust. What good did it do them? Yes, those robber barons gave away millions but not before ravenously acquiring them. At the end, just like everyone else, they stood before God with only their souls. Their earthly riches were meaningless.
Is ‘rich’ the end or the means? Is it the goal or the journey? Here comes Miley again: it’s the climb. I think ‘rich’ is both the means and the end. We are enriched by our journey, by the people we meet and love and by the things we do and learn along the way. When we finally get where we’re going, ‘rich’ is what we become. It is a state of being, an attribute, not a noun. It’s the climb, not the mountain.
Notice the proverb doesn’t say “don’t try” or “don’t bother.” It says “do not wear yourself out.” When God blessed his servants, he made them wealthy. Abraham, Issac and Jacob became wealthy. King David became wealthy. King Solomon became even wealthier. Their wealth wasn’t a function of their class or status: it was a function of their humility before God and their willingness to work hard at living the kind of lives He wanted them to live. They still ‘tried’ but found their comfort and rest in Him. In trying hard, even they still made big mistakes. I think you could say that physical wealth was even a by-product of spiritual wealth.
Yet in all things, moderation. He knew those men I mentioned better and He knows us better. He knows us the way he created us. God knew we would be driven and knew we would work, strive, aspire, struggle and endeavor. He also knew that we are easily capable of taking those to extremes. When we do so, it becomes too easy to wear ourselves down, getting all wrapped around the axle over the riches instead of being focused on how He guides us along the path. God knows that the key to success lies in moderating how we attain it.
That’s where He comes in. The better way is to avoid gluttony in striving, to avoid making fools of ourselves. Yes, work to be successful and work hard at it, but I need to keep my head about myself while I’m doing it. The better way is to take the advice of the proverb and have the wisdom to show restraint in how we strive to attain wealth and status. Even more, the better way is to use our abilities and talents to the best and most of our ability yet as we learn to use them, to exercise self-control in not making the love of money our god. The best way of all is to do all this while letting Him guide us through this crazy journey called life.
Wealth and riches are gifts from God and can be huge blessings. Just don’t let them go to our heads. I’m like you: I want to be rich. I fantasize about comforts and having the ability to do things I’ve always wanted to do. I’ll continue to work hard to earn more, but here’s to hoping that I do so never losing sight of the fact that God is my wealth. He is the beginning and end of my striving, and I want Him all along the way as well. When I repent, I am forgiven. When I didn’t deserve it, He loved and blessed me anyway. Love means always being willing to say you’re sorry. Ali McGraw had it wrong.