When we think of the virtue of farmers, we often think of physical strength, or diligent work. Some might think they are very “mechanical”, that is, skillful with machines and their maintenance. These are indeed virtues required for farming, but the essential virtue for a successful farmer is trust. You’ll find that farmers are usually more spiritually minded and comfortable with religion than non-farmers are, and they tend to have a more friendly disposition. That’s because they trust in God. Now, they may not be polished Scholastic philosophers, in fact, they may be Baptists or Methodists, even Amish or Quakers, but you will find that they trust that the Creator, who controls the world, is a benevolent Creator.
This trust is essential to good business in the world. Our Lord said, “Unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” The way God created the world requires that a man trust that He is good and let go of what he has, and the reward is that what he loses he regains a hundredfold.
On the farm that’s pretty simple. At sowing time, most farmers buy their seed and pour it all into seeders or planters…and then pour it all out into the ground. When it is planted, it disappears. At that moment, no farmer has any idea whether he will reap the potential fruit of that seed or whether the X dollars he just paid for seed was lost. No idea. Yet, the farmer manifests a trust in doing so that suggests that it is more likely that that money will do better in the ground than somewhere else. He has a confidence that “God is good.”–in fact, most farmers refer to Him as “the Good Lord”.
When we move to the city, we rarely find this positive outlook on financial risks. Debt is, for most people, the ultimate evil. “We’re trying to get out of debt.” is the status report of almost everyone one speaks to these days. I think that we think of “debt” wrongly, though. When we’re signing the papers that put us into debt, we’re usually thinking long-term, saying, “This may be a burden we taking on, but it will be good for us in the long run.” For example, a young man buys a new car thinking of how it will make his commute to work more reliable, or how it will save him money on fuel and maintenance over a period of 5 years. When a person buys a new computer, reason that the computer will help them to get more work done from home, manage finances better or just improve their communications with friends and relatives. There’s something lost for something to be gained. Debt, really, is no different than farming.
The difference, though, is that the people borrowing money don’t stick to their plan. Rather than living and working with an abiding sense of trust in the plan they originally made, they begin to be anxious, worried that the plan won’t work and they’ll have wasted all of their money–and that with interest. The idea of interest begins to haunt them and the anxiety increases and before they know it, they’re convinced that the “wise” thing to do is unload the items for whatever they need to pay off the balance and “get out of debt”. They worry themselves into a false dilemma: (1) Lose tons of money, or (b) Get out of debt. They choose, obviously, get out of debt, and in the end, that plan makes them poorest of all. They have spent money, paid interest, worked hard and have…nothing.
Why not stick to the original plan? Why not see the investment through?
For example, I use credit to buy livestock. Let’s say I want to start raising beef cattle–small scale, just one male and one female for breeding. Well, quality cattle will cost over $2000 each if they’re old enough to breed, so let’s say I put $4,000 on my VISA card to buy the cattle. Let’s say I make a 3 year plan and say, “I’m buying these cattle with a plan to make a profit in 3 years.” Now, the farm already owns the land, so they’ll be out on pasture with little care. My plan will be to pay off that debt in three years, and in the meantime, I’ll need to make minimum monthly payments on that debt–from some other source of income. So, I put my cattle out to pasture and start the clock. At the end of one year, I should have my first calf, which is worth, yes, $2,000–it’s a male that will be castrated and kept for the butcher. In year two, we have another calf and, let’s say it’s a female, worth $2,000. In year three, we get another butcher bull calf worth $1,000. So, at the end of three years, I spent $4,000 and now have at least $5,000 worth of cattle (the original two are older and worth less after three years). I have one bull ready for the butcher, one bull that will be ready in another year or two, and a female I’m keeping to make more. I’ve been making my minimum payments on that credit card since the purchase, so after three years (let’s say we have 19% interest rate card), we would have this situation:
Total Paid after 36 months: $3,876.43
Remaining Balance: $1,658
So, let’s say that I sell the first bull for $2,000 and pay off the balance. I will have paid $5,535 and I’ll own two cows and bull, worth, let’s say $5,000. So, in year four, I’ll have another calf…and in year five two more calves. I’ll never regret that interest paid five years later. I will have buried a grain of wheat…and will now be reaping the fruit of it.
However, the fearful person, will start worrying: “What if the cow dies?” “What if a calf doesn’t survive?” “What if I lose my income and can’t pay the monthly payments long enough to turn a profit?” “What if _____ ?” Then, in that anxiety, they often do something stupid. At the end of the second year, they decide they need to “get out of debt”. So, they learn that their remaining balance is $2224 and they put two cows and two calves for sale for, let’s say, $3,000–a fire sale to “get out of debt”.
Well, at that time, they would have paid $2,940 and will have a remaining balance of $2,224. So, they will sell their cows for $3,000, pay off their balance of $2,224 and have $776 in their pocket. “Ah, doesn’t it feel so good to be debt-free?!” However, they will have paid $2,940…to get $776, throwing away over $2,000! After year three, patient man will have $5,000 worth of cattle…and they will be reproducing for the rest of his life, with the debt, long, long gone.
The difference all begins with the outlook: the patient man is confident, while the quitter is not. The patient man, hearing the anxious man’s worries thinks, “Well, if I thought like that, I wouldn’t do anything!”–and that’s precisely what the anxious man does…nothing. But what if God is good and everything goes well?! What if rather than sitting around wondering if you’re going to be able to pay your bills you spend that time working to pay your bills? Why not be patient? Why not work to make it work? Why not be like the farmer, who does the same thing…every year?
Well, that depends, no?
The sense of God’s presence is not felt in the city as it is in the country, that’s why. King David was once given the opportunity to choose his punishment after sinning. The Lord said,
“I give thee thy choice of three things, choose one of them which thou wilt, that I may do it to thee: Either seven years of famine shall come to thee in thy land: or thou shalt flee three months before thy adversaries, and they shall pursue thee: or for three days there shall be a pestilence in thy land.”
Three bad options, which is how most of our work in this world will be. Which should he choose? Seven years of famine? Three months in flight from his enemies? A plague let loose upon Israel for three days? What did he choose? David said:
“I am in a great strait: but it is better that I should fall into the hands of the Lord than into the hands of men–for his mercies are many.”
This is the difference between the “debt” of the country and the debt of the city. In the country, we agree to become God’s debtors. In the city, we agree to become debtors to other men. It’s very hard to be confident that being dependent on man’s mercy if things get tough will work out well for us.
Often, however, these fears are unfounded. Anxiety, then, causes a dilemma that only trust in God’s benevolence can overcome. When it becomes impossible to persevere in confidence, it is a sign that either (a) our original plan was foolish, or (b) we do not have confidence in God.
Today, we see many good projects being quit for lack of trust. We see Christians schools closing for lack of trust. We see parents giving up on educational goals for lack of trust. We see Christians afraid of the world for lack of trust. Thankfully, the farmers don’t act like the city folk…or everyone would starve.