Ok, I’ll be the first to admit that my title might be a little misleading. This post is not a process for analyzing your personal financial situation (and whether or not you are ready to build a house). Instead, it illustrates a concept that is relevant to all of us–not just those looking to break ground. The following proverb caught my attention and I believe it relates a simple principle that, for all its apparent “obviousness”, often eludes us in day to day life.
“Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” (Prov. 24:27, NIV)
In order to fully understand this proverb, I must take a moment to mention its historical context. During the time these words were spoken, Israel was predominately an agriarian society. Most people were farmers. The reap of the harvest was life or death to the average Israelite of Solomon’s day. Secondly, it was not uncommon in biblical times for people to live in tents. Certainly upon entering and conquering the Promised Land life became more stablized and houses began to appear, but it would not be unheard of or unthinkable to live in biblical times without a permenant dwelling.
Therefore, a house symbolized a luxury–a level of financial security and success not necessary for existence. In this simple example, Solomon illustrates a timeless principle: Do what is essential first. Then, “build your house”. Cover your necessities, prepare for your needs, after that, build your house. This proverb is anything but outdated. Financially speaking, we must plan, prepare, and provide for our future needs long before working towards our future wants (all the while recognizing that ultimately it is God who provides).
So when do we build our house? After all of our needs have prepared and provided for–after we have the essentials covered. Now, we could argue all day long about just what exactly a household “needs” as wise provision, but I will leave that up to your prayerful consideration of God’s word and leading of His Spirit (but I will caution you that Solomon’s list was pretty short!). It is biblical to “take care of our household” first (1 Tim. 5:4,8). Solomon’s proverb furthers this idea and helps to point our ship in the right direction: keep first things first.
This sounds simple and obvious, but if we look at our lives honestly, we should be reluctant to cast any stones. In countless ways, I will admit to letting secondary things slip into the drivers seat. It is not all that uncommon for a person to build their house before getting their fields ready. How so? First off, we could take this proverb literally and look only at home ownership. Many Americans jump into home ownership. We graduate college, and shocked by the difference between our first paycheck and that coffee shop we worked at part time in college, we jump into a big fat mortgage. Only after we have lived in the “real world” for a while, we start to discover that we should have paid off those pesky student loans, car notes, and credit cards before signing up for a mortgage (not to mention preparing an emergency fund, organizing a budget…) “Get your fields ready, after that, build your house.”
For some of us advising caution on a home purchase may be a little too late, but I think the principle extends far beyond home ownership. We must be careful to keep first things first before burying ourselves in unnecessary purchases. (The Bible instructs our giving to be first as well, but that is a discussion for another day.) Prepare for retirement, then buy a flatscreen. Pay your bills, then go to the movies. Get out of debt, then go on a vacation. You get the point. “Get your fields ready, after that, build your house.”