More Success Secrets in the Gospels

Adam Smith was a professor of moral philosophy, not business. The connection between economics and moral philosophy goes back much farther. It is in the Bible, including the words of Jesus, who also had some harsh words about the love of money. This is part 2 of a partial exploration of the useful economic ideas found in the gospel accounts, ideas that can be used to build treasure in Heaven, or here on Earth. (Part 1 is here.)

Count the Cost

Luke 14:

28 For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn't sit down first and compute the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?

29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish the tower, all who see it will begin to make fun of him.

30 They will say, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish!'

31 Or what king, going out to confront another king in battle, will not sit down first and determine whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?

32 If he cannot succeed, he will send a representative while the other is still a long way off and ask for terms of peace.

(NET Bible®)

In Part 1, I suggested that you make a complete accounting of your assets. You have far more than what is in your bank account. Here, I warn you not to over count. Beware of Positive Thinking! There are some things you just can't do, and if you try anyway you will waste a great deal of time and money.

I know this from long experience. I was active in the Libertarian Party for quite a few years – a doomed effort if ever there was one. A successful campaign for U.S. President required tens of millions of dollars when I started and today requires hundreds of millions of dollars, yet I and my friends donated time and money to campaigns that could barely raise a million. And we ran on a platform that was far from the mainstream. And we had a membership oath requiring all party members be ideologically pure. And the system is inherently rigged against third parties in general. I made some good friends, had some good experiences, and learned enough that I think I know how to launch a successful third party that increases liberty. But I and my friends elected few people to significant public office. The return on effort was terrible.

This may be fine for a hobby, but for things that matter, count the cost and play at your current level.

I have somewhat learned this lesson. While you can find what I have learned about third party politics elsewhere on this site, you won’t find me working on it. I have counted the cost, and it exceeds my current resources. And so that project has been put aside until my resource constraint changes.

This is not a fun lesson, but it is important. And there is a corollary:

Matthew 13:

44 "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure, hidden in a field, that a person found and hid. Then because of joy he went and sold all that he had and bought that field.

45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.

46 When he found a pearl of great value, he went out and sold everything he had and bought it.

(NET Bible®)

Opportunities abound. Pursue them all, and you will fail at many. This is a hard lesson, especially for those of a creative bent. (That said, I will say that if your success depends on creativity, too much focus is also counterproductive. It is better to dabble a bit and fail cheaply on some side projects than to have the fountain of creativity dry up on the project that counts.)

So, if you have ten units of resources and ten opportunities that require between 6 and 10 units of resources to succeed, which do you choose? The important answer is: choose one. If you must dabble on the side, put your focus on one of the smaller projects, but the focus must stay on one in this scenario.

Yes, you will find celebrity business people who succeed at many projects. Elon Musk and Richard Branson come to mind. But go back in time and study their life stories. Elon Musk scored his first big success with PayPal, a rather focused business. Richard Branson’s began with an even more humble success: a record club. These relatively mundane successes provided the money, experience and connections needed to pursue other projects.


Don’t Worry. Just Do.

Matthew 6:

25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn't there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?

26 Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren't you more valuable than they are?

27 And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life?

28 Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin.

29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these!

30 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won't he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?

31 So then, don't worry saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?'

32 For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

33 But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.

(NET Bible®)

The passage above bothers me greatly. Success in many endeavors requires preparation and planning. The Proverbs endorse thinking ahead. The Law requires looking way ahead if you want to enjoy fruit: you have to plant and wait several years after the first fruits before enjoying any for yourself. To completely live in the day is to starve, or rely on others to do the planning. Either that, or you need enough faith to have your prayers result in miracles on a regular basis. This is difficult.

But note that last sentence in the passage above: “Today has enough trouble of its own.” Here, he is not calling for coasting through life; he is saying focus on the tasks at hand. This can be useful.

Perhaps we should distinguish between worrying and planning. Rational planning entails taking the facts available and determining the best future actions based on said facts. Worrying is continuing to think about future actions without any more data to work with.

Even the most rational plan is imperfect, since we cannot predict the future to high accuracy. Adjustments need to be made as events unroll. Trying to devise the perfect plan is indeed folly. The adjustments need to be made in the future. This will usually be a better future if you expend more of your mental and physical efforts on today’s tasks. True, you will sometimes do suboptimal tasks. But you will be getting more tasks done as compensation.

Finally, by avoiding excess planning, you can be more open to serendipity. Bad surprises await in the future. But so do good surprises. Just be careful not to let the good ones cause you to jump too much from project to project without finishing any. As I wrote in the previous section, you should not pursue every opportunity that passes your way.

We can take this line of reasoning a few different ways.

1. The Weak Form. Stop planning once you run out of info and concentrate on the tasks at hand.

2. The Strong Form. Don’t plan. Focus entirely on the problems of the present. If “fixing current problems” includes permanent fixes and/or fixing the underlying causes of present problems, this approach to life can result in moving forward at times. But the more I think about it, the less I can recommend it. There are many actions which can have an enormous effect on your future which have little or negative near term impact. Buying insurance and saving for retirement are some rather mundane, but important examples.

3. The Moderate Form. Plan and prepare, but prioritize present problems. The future is uncertain, the present is not. Discount accordingly. If you can get caught up in taking care of present problems, then long term projects become easier. David Allen’s Getting Things Done is an extreme form of this philosophy. I do not recommend it. If you require all your todos be done or properly filed before trying to be creative or tackle big tasks, today’s nitnoids magnify in importance. On the other hand, blocking out the present’s problems (including those which could theoretically be ignored), can interfere with creative thinking. For this reason I am experimenting with a less extreme form of this philosophy, cutting back on the writing and software design to take care of my large backlog of more mundane tasks. Whether this provides enough stress reduction and productivity improvement in the future to justify the time remains to be seen.

Which of the above is a good practice is unknown to me. In fact, it could be none of the above, for there is also:

4. The Spiritual Form. The same as the Strong Form except it is conditional upon accumulating treasures in Heaven. In other words, if you aren’t a Christian you do need to do more planning, but if you are, you can focus just on the tasks at hand as you don’t know what your future assignments are going to be from your true boss. Indeed, Matthew 5:1-2 says He was teaching his disciples. This admonition to not worry may well be for those who are to become begging evangelists, and possibly martyrs. The Strong Form is definitely apropos for such.

I cannot give you definitive advice here. As I said at the start of this section, this passage bothers me greatly. I include it because it might be useful/important. I leave it to the reader to meditate and/or experiment to find out.

Final Words

The insights in this and the previous chapter can be useful, but they are not the complete path to riches or other successes. See also the success secrets that Solomon compiled.

And always remember that earthly success is not the most important success. Treasure in Heaven takes precedence. Eternity is a rather long time to be with an empty bank account.