If you don't do the disciplined thing when times are good, how on earth will you do it when times turn bad?
Several of us were doing some late summer relaxing last week, but also thinking about neglected priorities in the organization on whose board we serve. Like in your family, or your business, or your church, or your own favorite charitable organization, we never seem to have enough money to do everything we'd like. The annual budget process always leaves out a dozen things we'd like to do-probably even ought to do-but can't.
But here we sit (it's important to remind ourselves just now) in one of the most sustained healthy economies our country has seen. We're not used to going this long without a recession, or at least a significant slowdown. God has been very good to us as a society, in spite of our sinful and rebellious ways-and for many of us, our families, our businesses, our churches, and even other organizations like our schools are in better financial shape than they've ever known.
If that's true for you, maybe it's time for a gut check. It's not just paranoia that says you should worry when things are going well. There's a real and understandable connection. It works like this: When things are bad, we tend to be more careful and disciplined people. When things are good, we get fat and sloppy and start assuming that the world owes us a living.
God says repeatedly, however, that the future belongs to those who love discipline. That's hard to remember in good times-but good times are exactly when it's most important to remember such a simple truth. So if you're being blessed during this current boom, try this checklist of disciplines:
**green_square** Start tithing. Or if you're already a tither, increase your charitable giving by a percentage point or two. Most American Christians aren't tithers; many don't come close. The average local church in America gets along quite nicely with income of $1,000 per year per member, including benevolences. But figure it out: If such churches' members are tithing, that means those members have average incomes of only $10,000! If you don't start doing it now, when times are good, when will you?
**green_square** Retire some debt. We are at the same time the wealthiest people in history, and the most debt-burdened. The irony of good times is that we tend, sensing our increased economic strength, to take on even more debt. Prudent people won't do that. They'll take advantage of these good times to pay off some of what they owe. What's true for individuals and families is true as well for businesses, organizations, and churches.
**green_square** Help somebody who needs it. Make a car or rent payment for a needy family. Bring somebody who's sick or feeble into your home for a few weeks or a few months. Give a scholarship to a needy student. If you don't do it now, when things are going well for you, do you really think you'll do it later, when times are tough?
**green_square** Make some repairs. Schools and businesses tend to put off such matters, and call it "deferred maintenance." Actually, we all do it. We let our homes and facilities run down because we think we can't afford to keep them up. The problem is that we get so used to putting off such matters that even when times get good, we tend to ignore those bad shingles, that uninsulated room, or those leaky faucets. A new computer or a cruise in the Caribbean is so much more appealing-or even a new wing on the church! But if we don't take care of deferred maintenance when we're flush, how will we do it when times are lean?
**green_square** Save. A generation ago, Americans were putting about 8 percent of our income into savings. Now it's more like 4 percent. Amazingly, we don't save much more when times are good than we do when times are tough. We should. Not to do so virtually guarantees that some day we'll have to ask someone else to take care of us.
**green_square** Cut spending. Seem like an odd thing to do when you're doing well? But such disciplines are easier when you're healthy than when you're sick. Identify one thing in your current budget you could get along without for the next year-and then cut it.
**green_square** Increase productivity. When times are good? Exactly. Learn to increase your income. In an organizational setting, you may even have to spend a bit more to generate more income-which is why you need to do this when you have something to spend. In a family setting, it's good to think about increasing income when your back's not to the wall.
All these suggestions are consistent with the biblical concept that those who follow Christ will tend to go against the flow. They also reflect the biblical idea that every gift God sends our way comes with an encouragement to share it with others. That which is hoarded turns rancid; but that which is freely given away, Jesus says, has an uncanny way of prospering the giver.