Proverbs 27:23 – Know Your Numbers

On the surface, it would appear that such a pastoral proverb about managing flocks would have no relevance to a capitalistic technological economy. However, when considering the applications we find that not only is the proverb relevant, it’s wisdom is often ignored.

“Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds,
for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?”
Proverbs 27:23-24 (ESV)

On the surface, it would appear that such a pastoral proverb would have no relevance to a capitalistic technological economy. However, when considering the applications we find that not only is the proverb relevant, it’s wisdom is often ignored.

Maintaining flocks and herds meant knowing the numbers of each kind of animal, the distribution of ages and gender, and the health of each animal. A diseased animal would need to be quickly quarantined so it would not spread disease to the other animals and provide treatment not only to heal the animal, but also preserve the investment. Wise animal husbandry can identify which animals should be bred to develop stronger and better flocks and herds and how to deal with the weaker members. Consistent attention to the health and the needs of the flock would yield great results and careless inattention would lead to a loss of animals in the short and long term, weaker offspring, and lower profits. The animals would not manage themselves.

Business Application

Marcus Lemonis, billionaire CEO and host of CNBC’s The Profit, has a consistent lesson for small business owners he is trying to assist: know your numbers. His surprise and derision is unleashed on those who cannot give him their specific costs, profit, inventory and receivables turns, expenses, revenue, primary customer revenue, and other key numbers that determine whether their business will be a success or failure. This admonishment is justified because it is a keen awareness of key metrics that can indicate what decisions an owner should make and the general health of the business.

Many businesses fail because owners and managers fail to know the key financial metrics of the company, the true condition of their company’s image in the marketplace, and the health of customer relationships. Companies are blindsided when an important customer abruptly leaves for a competitor noting that they didn’t feel like an important customer anymore. Valuable employees quit because they feel their management does not care about them or recognize their important contribution to the success of the company. Failure to manage the finances and relationships of the business, knowing the status instead of assuming the condition, will disrupt and could ultimately destroy a company.

“For riches do not last forever” Success can breed complacency. Assuming customers still love you because they used to love you is dangerous; you have to constantly compete for their business. Assuming that your products will always be desired and profitable is foolish and a wise company will plan for the replacement of their product lines with products better suited for future needs. Yesterday’s results to not promise profits tomorrow.

Personal Finance

This principle is also important in personal finance. Do you know how much insurance you have and if it will cover the risks to your person and property? Some people have home insurance but find out too late that it didn’t cover flood or fire damage that destroyed their house. Do you have a retirement plan in place or hope that money will materialize somehow in your future? The key is having specific information about your income, expenses, insurance, investments, and anticipated future needs.

Tracking expenses, like tracking calories when dieting, can indicate that you are spending more than you think in a particular area that is contributing to being in debt. When you look at your expenses you might see opportunities for savings that you can invest in the future, areas where you are overspending and could get better discounts, or big bills that you need to plan for long before they are due. Knowing the status of your finances will help you not overdraft your checking account, keep debts low or eliminate them altogether, have investments for the future, and have money to use for helping others and doing good. However, you have to know the numbers in order to make such wise decisions.

Productivity

This proverb can extend even into matters of productivity. Do you know the status of your projects and required tasks? Past success does not guarantee future success. You need to manage your time and energy and use it to work towards your goals which requires a frequent assessment of your opportunities, capabilities, and obligations. If you do not maintain the status of these things your life can become chaotic and unproductive. Organization does not happen by accident, only by design. Maintain the status of your actions and projects or you can lose whatever gains you have made.

Proverbs 21:5 – Planning for Life Success

Proverbs consistently encourages diligence in work but this verse adds an important contrast: planned versus impulsive actions. It is not enough to be busy, a person must be diligently working on the right things to be productive.

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5 (ESV)

Proverbs consistently encourages diligence in work but this verse adds an important contrast: planned versus impulsive actions. It is not enough to be busy, a person must be diligently working on the right things to be productive.

Planning Is More Important Than Plans

Winston Churchill, incorporating the wisdom of military planners such as Moltke the Elder, observed that ““Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” (1) Though game plans may need to be abandoned or significantly adjusted once the game begins (or, Moltke’s assertion that plans do not survive first contact with the enemy), the very process of planning allows a person to make wise decisions to adapt to the changing environment.

Proper planning includes the evaluation and elimination of alternate plans or ideas that might be use in the changing circumstances. Likewise, the evaluation of a course of action might indicate where following the plan would lead to a disastrous outcome though, initially, the plan seems to provide a desirable result. Evaluating such plans in advance allows one to refuse the tempting option in favor of another alternate plan that will provide better results. Additionally, the planning process should generate contingency plans that can be followed when problems strike. NASA, as featured in the movie Apollo 13, documented and trained on unusual scenarios and had documented plans of actions to deal with problem situations.

Using Priorities To Plan Purposeful Action

The danger of keeping to-do lists is that some people list tasks to complete without asking if they should delegate the work to others or even do the work at all. An important part of planning enabling the diligent to be successful is outlining goals and performing actions that lead towards those objectives instead of wasting time on things that might make one look busy but distract from a worthy goal. Plans help us say “no” to actions that are unproductive so we can say “yes” to tasks that bring success. Planning programs such as David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) and Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits for Highly Successful People incorporate goal development and visioning to create plans that allow productive people to determine what tasks to perform, delegate, or eliminate.

Spiritual Application

Though the proverb has initial application in business success, the same thinking can help us grow spiritually. Do you have spiritual goals such as learning sections of the Bible or becoming more useful in God’s service? Do you have a plan for daily meditation, purposeful prayer, and teaching others? Sometimes we do not grow spiritually or produce fruit because we are satisfied where we are or do not think about what specific steps we need to take to grow in knowledge and be more active in the kingdom. The same principles apply (principles in bold, examples in italics):

  • From your Bible study, identify ways in which you need to grow as a Christian. 
    • I need to be engaged with my brethren in their time of need.
  • Specifically define and write down how you would describe having achieved success in the identified area of development.
    • Every week I am sending cards, calling, and providing assistance to brethren in need in addition to daily prayers on their behalf.
  • Write down what would be needed to achieve this goal.
    • I need a contact information directory of the brethren handy, a weekly list of who needs prayers and some type of service, a weekly reminder to initiate actions or plan actions for later in the week, and a reminder to check at the end of the week to see if I have accomplished this goal. It would be good to have a collection of greeting cards and stamps to prevent procrastination.
  • List specific actions required to achieve this goal and schedule the actions as appropriate.
    • Make a list of everyone announced who is sick or in need. Schedule a recurring appointment on Monday morning to pray over those in the list and list by each name a specific action (or actions) to take this week. If unable to write the cards or make calls at this time, add phone reminders (or add to calendar) for what actions to do at what times. Perform the actions as scheduled. Set a recurring reminder on Saturday morning to review progress and see if additional action needs to be taken (i.e., follow up phone calls). Give thanks to God for the ability and opportunity to glorify Him by serving others to honor Him.

Following a plan like the one above for a month or two may actually develop a habit that may not require a specific schedule (though it would be good to keep in order to block times in the week for particular actions, though habitual). If the plan is not working examine to see whether you need to get more specific in your planning (“do good” is a great goal but not a defining action), actually do the actions you have planned (instead of snoozing reminders), or determine if you have chosen a goal you want to achieve versus what you think you should do but really do not want to do.

Haste Leads to Poverty

The second part of this verse is equally important. Impulsive action generally leads to poverty. Much debt is accumulated through impulse buying. Hard feelings result from impulsive words said or actions taken against others when deliberate thought about what to say (or whether to say something) could have alleviated many problems. Business have brought legal problems on themselves for acting hastily without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

Though bold action is often praised in business and the cinema, bold thoughtful action is what brings consistently good results. When we act impulsively, we are reacting to emotion or situations. We are allowing how we feel in the moment (which is ever changing) or the priorities of others to dictate our course of action. If you do not have a plan for your life, there will always be others to press you into service to achieve their goals and you can end up reacting to everything in life and suffering financially and professionally as a result.  It reminds me of the interaction between Alice and The Cheshire Cat in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: Oh, no, no. I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn’t matter, as long as…
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go

(From IMDB)

If you don’t have a plan then any way seems right because you are drifting with the tide or blowing with the wind. When you have a goal (destination), and a plan (map from your origination to your destination), you can cut through the tide, sometimes steering against the wind, to reach your objective. Haste wastes time; planning redeems it.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Ephesians 5:15-17 (ESV)

(1) Strategic Plans are Less Important Than Strategic Planning, Harvard Business Review

 

Proverbs 21:20: The Pain of Quick Wealth

Exhausted by work and bills, we probably have all wished for wealth to drop in our lap to save the day and make life better. The truth is, a windfall would not save us and it might destroy us. Money doesn’t change anything but the scale of the issues that we will face.

“An inheritance gained hastily in the beginning will not be blessed in the end.”

Exhausted by work and bills, we probably have all wished for wealth to drop in our lap to save the day and make life better. The truth is, a windfall would not save us and it might destroy us. Money doesn’t change anything but the scale of the issues that we will face.

The Big Contract

Many athletes are thrilled not only to play sports on the professional stage but also to receive a large contract and, for the elite, endorsement opportunities that bring in more cash. Often these players are plagued by family, friends, and people who suddenly become friends seeking handouts and offering dubious investment opportunities. They may trust the handling of finances to a family member or friend who knows nothing about investing or money management. ESPN produced a 30 for 30 special called Broke that highlighted this unfortunate situation noting, “60 percent of former NBA players are broke within five years of retirement. By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress.” Some athletes have avoided disaster by living below their means, investing only in things they understood, taking a direct control of money management, and, often, telling family and friends that they need to live off of their own incomes and not ask for money.

This is not limited to athletes. College students can be offered large signing bonuses and salaries and quickly live beyond their means and land on financially shaky ground. The best advice I’ve heard is to save and/or invest raises and bonuses and continue to live under your pay.

Lottery

Some people waste money in small payouts by purchasing worthless paper hoping for a big payout. I lived in Florida when the state started its lottery. News reports noted that that you were twice as likely to be struck by lightning than to win the lottery. Yet when the potential payout was big, people were lining up to spend money on worthless paper instead of using that money for more stable investments that could pay in the future. But for those who beat the odds and hit the jackpot, the payout often led to misery and occasionally, death.

The Tampa Bay Online told of Noreene and James Gordon, a north Tampa homemaker and a retired textile worker, claimed the February 2000 Florida Lotto jackpot of $52.4 million. They chose a one-time lump sum payment of $24 million. Things have changed since then. “It’s a nightmare,” she said recently, with friends and strangers knocking and calling for a chunk of her prize. “They don’t want a piece,” she said. “They want it all.” Her husband died in 2006, and she has suffered three strokes since the windfall. “People come out of the walls to take advantage of you every day of your life,” she said before ending the short telephone interview.

Urooj Khan and Abraham Shakespeare were killed by people who wanted to cash in on their winnings. Sudden wealth can bring about many sorrows and a tragic end.

Inheritance

Of course, the subject of the proverb is a sudden inheritance.that instead of being a blessing for children, becomes a curse. Gossip news abounds with the shameful and reckless behavior of children living wasteful lives from the hard work and wise investments of their parents. Some wealthy people, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, have pledged to leave little for their children and donate most of their wealth to charities. Warren Buffett’s son is said to have remarked that his father gave him skills and principles, which he valued and he can use to meet his needs.

Get Rich Quick Schemes

Sadly, some are always chasing a windfall and often waste time and money following schemes that purport to be shortcuts to wealth. They invest in “sure fire” businesses that make no money except for the people who start the pyramid schemes. At other times they jump into investments and business opportunities not being realistic about the downside or performing adequate market analysis or business planning because of their “can’t fail” idea. Sadly, they may lose family and friend’s money in addition to their own. Even the prospects of an “inheritance gained hastily” becomes a curse instead of a blessing

Conclusion

Jesus urges us to lay up treasures in heaven, Matthew 6:19-21. Paul reminds us in 1 Timothy 6:6-10 that we need to be content with having our needs met and that greed has led to the destruction of many souls. Money is not the answer you are looking for, contentment is. If you inherit much wealth, use it to be a blessing to others and glorify God with what you have. Don’t let it lead to a bitter end.

Proverbs 12:24: Build Your Wings

Diligent work will open opportunities for advancement but lack of direction means you will be forced to take jobs that only necessity provides.

Series: Proverbs for Business

“The hand of the diligent will rule,
while the slothful will be put to forced labor.”  Proverbs 12:24 (ESV)

Who controls your career path?

As I’ve written before, I don’t believe the Bible teaches that God has a specific plan mapped out for your life but expects you to make decisions that are moral and good. Since we don’t have to look for omens or vague feelings to guide our career choices, we need to use good judgment and strategic decision making. How much control do you have on your career path?

Internally-driven people realize that they have to look for or create opportunities and make decisions that advance their career growth. Externally-driven people are waiting for the company or their boss to give them a path and promote them  and that the market gives and takes away growth potential. Though you may not be a lazy worker, as in the proverb above, if you are not diligent about taking control of your career direction you will, like the forced laborer, only have what life circumstances force you to accept.

If you do not direct your business path, someone will do it for you. If you leave the direction to others you must remember that they are acting in their own interest and will only help you inasmuch as it helps them. No one will be as passionate or invested in your career success as you so don’t expect even the most benevolent boss to provide the best career guidance.

Your skills are your job security

I interviewed with a successful CEO and asked about job security should I switch to his company. He provided the most sage answer that has proved to be true: your skills are your job security. Learn new software, maintain knowledge of what is going on in the industry and where it is going, develop and enhance communication, productivity, and leadership skills and be a lifelong learner and your skills will remain current and useful no matter what happens with your current job. This requires sacrifice and diligence. This requires unpaid time away from the office reading industry and general business books, blogs, and magazines, attending industry association and general training, and developing business relationships outside of your company and industry. In developing these skills, you will provide more value to your company and be able to direct your career path instead of being forced to do whatever is available.