Invest your life
In my earliest days (my mid-twenties), I realized quickly that we didn’t teach very much on how to invest your life, even though it was a primary emphasis of Jesus’ teaching. My conclusion as a younger leader was that people were spending their life much better than investing it. I began to think, how do we teach people to invest their life the same way we help them invest their financial resources, both for now and for retirement?
If we look at the narrative of Jesus’ teaching, there are several key principles:
The first one is that people are given several differing amounts. There’s not fairness in this. Some are given 1, 2, 5, 10—There’s actually a reference to people getting “hundred-fold”, so there’s always differing amounts.
Secondly, it was the role of the individual to invest what they had been given, rather than what they wished they had been given. It’s always intrigued me in teaching on Spiritual Gifts, that it’s so common for people to say, “I’m not sure I have spiritual gifts”, or “I’m not confident in my spiritual gifts.” My most typical response is, “Sure you are, you just wish they were different.” In a matter of a few minutes, I can identify your spiritual gifts, or even natural abilities and talents. It’s the role of the individual to invest what they have been given, not what they wished they had.
The third principle is that of investing or reproducing—it’s always expected in the narratives of Jesus. It’s expected that you will invest it well and it will produce returns.
The final key principle is that there are no excuses. In the Parable of Talents in Matthew 25, Jesus records how people respond to the master. The people who took what they had been given and invested it could somehow summarize what they did in under 14 words; however, the person who didn’t invest well began to give excuses and gave 3.5 times more words to give an excuse for why and how they did not invest what they had. That one has always made me chuckle, even from the earlier days. I thought, “It’s just easier to take what you have and invest it, instead of trying to do a rationalization of why it was so hard, why it did not work, why you didn’t show a return.”
When I first started working with wall street investment people in my mid-thirties, I found these talented people—more men than women at that time. They knew how to invest finances quite well; it’s what they did for a living, and some of them are masterful at that. Yet, in talking to a number of them about their life and those who had already begun to embrace faith, they had no idea how to take what they had been given in life and invest it in the same way in the Kingdom. And so, I began in my earliest days of 25-35 years old, attempting to teach people how to take what they had been given and how to invest it so there produced a return, as Jesus said that it would be multiplied.
In classic, North American Christianity we have emphasized faithfulness a lot. And sometimes faithfulness is just simply not making mistakes, or in worst-case scenario, not screwing up. We’ve also taken in the North American church, that if we have somehow achieved a role where we can serve in a capacity, then that’s faithfulness and we’re investing what we have been given. It always feels a little harsh, but I say to people, “That is not true, because sometimes all you’re doing is taking up a position within the organization. It benefits the organization greatly, but it is very self-serving both for the organization, and for the individual.”
So what is investing your life? Investing your life, according to the Jesus Narratives, it is about life change quite simply. When you are a part of seeing somebody else’s life change, that’s an investment. It’s also investing in things that literally reproduce. Jesus used money often, because you could count the increments—you could double your money, triple your money, take it up several fold. It’s what investment people have done from antiquity. They invested it so that it would reproduce. It fits in well with life change. According to Jesus, you make disciples who make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples, to the ends of the earth It’s a multiplication reproducing model.
It’s things that advance the cause of Christ. If it’s not life change, it’s some form of it. It’s taking people who are overlooked, forgotten, and giving them a hope, strength, stability, a chance for a life that then they can reproduce.
For Jesus, it was seeing people change from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Light or moving from darkness into light very simply. Later it was called the kingdoms, but very simply for Jesus, it was from darkness to light. That’s an investment.
And finally, in the Jesus accounts, they could measure the outcomes. They were measurable and they were reproducible. They had been given something, and they returned it—two-fold, five-fold, ten-fold. There was a clear marked investment and a return.
Let’s then take a moment, and say, “What is investing your moment now?” It’s not things that simply “help” or “serve”. If there’s not some sort of clear and measurable outcome, then it’s hard to know the payoff, and it’s hard to know the investment. It’s not is a position within an organization, a title, a role—those are NOT what Jesus was talking about.
About a decade ago, I contacted a church in West Florida, and said “Hey, I’m going to be down there, I’m available—Would you like to use me to do something that would cause an outreach or classifies an outreach as we move towards Christmas?” And the pastor said, “Actually, I’d like you to come, but I need you to talk about stewardship”. I said, “No, it’s two weeks before Christmas”. He said, “Look, we’re trying to pay off our new building, and we’ve got this great family center with a gymnasium, and a kitchen, and it’s our Sunday to pay it off, and we need a half million so it’s debt free, and that was the Sunday we were going to do it.” I said, “Let me make you a deal—Let me come talk about discipleship, and one of the applications will be for finances.” He was not happy, but he agreed to do it.
So I gave a classic “how do you make your life count” discipleship talk about 10 days before Christmas, and at the end, I simply said “There are a number of you that are at a stage of life where it is that easier for you to invest your money and write a check than it is your time. Let’s make one thing very clear—we want to pay off this building, it’s only a half million, and we can take care of that. But please do not confuse writing a check to pay off this building, which will be used greatly in this community, with investing your life. There are a number of you who had just hoped to write a check and feel good about that. But how about you go ahead and write the check, and probably for a little more than you anticipated, but also then identify either within the church community or within the community at large, 3-5 people you could influence—Fatherless young men, coaching somebody who is trying to get a start at business, identifying a few younger people in relationships who could benefit by a few dinners with the two of you—Invest your life, not just your money. Write the check, but then invest your life.”
It was interesting, we actually took in more than 10% in addition to what it took to pay off the church that day, but I had a whole series of mostly men who came up in with a disgruntled voice and said “It would be a lot easier if you’d let me write the check, I’m comfortable with that—now you’re telling me I should probably invest in 3-5 young men?” And every time I put my hand on the middle of their chest and go “If you actually want to invest your life for Jesus’ sake, do both. Do both.”
Invest your life, the primary teaching of Jesus.